London's Victorian water network gets £300m funding boost to reduce leaks and pipe burst

Taxis and pedestrians are reflected in standing water on Oxford Street, London, following a burst water main in one of the capital's busiest shopping…
Taxis and pedestrians on Oxford Street, London following a burst water main in one of the capital's busiest shopping streets. Credit: PA

London's creaking Victorian water network is set to receive a £300 million funding boost to accelerate a major five-year overhaul.

The owners of Thames Water - the utility company that supplies water to most of London’s nearly nine million residents - plan to match the £300 million already included in the company's five-year spending plan to reduce leaks and pipe bursts. Currently, London loses more than half a billion litres of water to leaks every day.

The cash injection will accelerate work to upgrade the capital's pipe network to make it resilient to the impacts of climate change.

The additional funding will enable hundreds of kilometres of water mains to be upgraded, including huge trunk mains, which carry drinking water from treatment sites and reservoirs across London, as well as smaller distribution pipes which transfer water to millions of homes and businesses.

There will also be investment in work to stop spikes in pressure within the pipes that can increase the risk of bursts.

London's pipes are more prone to leaks and bursts than in most other places in the UK due to the fact the majority (89%) are made of cast iron, which is susceptible to corrosion.

Cast iron pipes, many of which date back more than 100 years to the Victorian era, will be relined or replaced with more durable plastic ones using innovative technology to keep disruption to the capital's busy roads to a minimum. The upgrades will begin in 2022.

There are also an average of 175 properties fed from each kilometre of pipework - two and half times the UK average - increasing the risk of weak points developing and leading to leaks and bursts.

Sarah Bentley, Thames Water CEO, said: "Reducing leaks and bursts is one of our most important priorities but also one of our biggest challenges, with nearly half of the pipes in London more than 100-years-old. We know it's a priority for our customers too so it's really exciting to be taking this big step forward with our turnaround plan as we start to build a brighter future."

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “This new investment in Thames Water's supply network in London is a welcome and overdue start to renewing the ageing system that all Londoners rely on.  “Following a series of disruptive water network failures, I have worked with Thames Water, their shareholders and Ofwat to secure an additional £300 million of investment. This will match the funds from customers’ bills being spent to reduce leaks and bursts in London.  “I have declared a climate emergency and I’m working hard to drive down emissions and divest our city assets from fossil fuels. With this investment, ahead of COP26, London can demonstrate that it is working to make its water network more resilient and help our city cope better with increasing demands caused by a changing climate.” Thames Water is jointly owned by 10 institutional investors made-up mostly of pension funds.