Drought officially declared in north and south London, Hertfordshire and Kent

  • Tap above for video report by Natalia Jorquera

A drought has been declared for north and south London, Hertfordshire and Kent, following the driest summer for 50 years.

Thames Water said it plans to announce details of a hosepipe ban next week, after the National Drought Group declared drought status on Friday.

"The prolonged hot weather and ongoing lack of rain has meant that we are now planning to take our drought plan to the next stage which is to introduce a temporary use ban," a Thames Water spokesperson told ITV News.

"We anticipate announcing the details next week. In the meantime we continue to urge our customers to only use what they need for their essential use."

The Environment Agency has reassured the public that essential water supplies are safe, but said the total stock of water in England’s reservoirs at the end of July was 65% of its normal capacity – the lowest level for that point in the calendar year since 1995.

A grass fire at Leyton flats in east London on Friday Credit: PA

And while heavy showers are forecast for next week, it warned people that those would not be enough to stop the drought.

John Curtin, executive director for local operations at the Environment Agency, told BBC Radio 4’s World at One it will take "weeks of rain" to stop the drought.

"Mainly it is a signal that this is not a normal summer now, so that water will be an issue and probably will be an issue for months ahead depending how the winter goes," he said.

Water minister Steve Double said: "All water companies have reassured us that essential supplies are still safe, and we have made it clear it is their duty to maintain those supplies."

"We are better prepared than ever before for periods of dry weather, but we will continue to closely monitor the situation, including impacts on farmers and the environment, and take further action as needed," he added.

Labour accused the government of failing to fully prepare the UK for drought and criticised the response of water companies.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said: "Water companies aren’t doing enough to deal with leakages and other problems.

"We saw the sewage going into rivers and I think that some of the regulations should have been better used.

"I would have liked to have seen to see much greater fines against those companies that aren’t doing what is necessary. But there’s a familiar pattern here, which is we’ve got a government with no strategy.

"This drought, this hot period, was predictable. But, as usual, we had no plan from the government and this is the pattern, this is the character of this government."

What does a hosepipe ban actually mean?

Under restrictions, customers are banned from using a hosepipe to water their gardens, clean their vehicles, fill their swimming pools or water fountains, clean patios or any artificial outdoor surfaces, clean a private leisure boat, or clean the windows and walls of their homes.

A hosepipe ban will be announced by Thames Water next week Credit: PA

A “hosepipe” means anything designed, adapted or used to serve the same purpose as a hosepipe. This means garden sprinklers and most irrigation systems, connected to the mains water supply, are all considered to be hosepipes, together with anything attached to them like pressure washers.

People should not use a hosepipe that is connected to the mains water supply.

Businesses will only be allowed to use a hosepipe if it is directly related to a commercial purpose.

Which areas are affected by a hosepipe ban?

South East Water confirmed a ban on hosepipe and sprinkler use for its customers in Kent and Sussex, which came into force on Friday.

Thames Water, which has 15 million customers in London and the Thames Valley, has said it will announce details of a ban next week.

Can I water my garden?

No, you cannot water your garden using a hosepipe during the ban.

However, there are exemptions if you are watering an area of grass or outdoor artificial surfaces used for sport or recreation (on the active strip/playing area – not the whole grounds) when undertaken outside of daily peak hours that occur 8am to 10am and 5pm to 9pm.

Can I wash my car?

You cannot use a hosepipe to wash your car, van, or any other motor vehicle.

However, you may use a hosepipe to clean a car if it is done as a service to customers in the course of a business or to clean public service or goods vehicles.

Can I water my plants?

No, you cannot use a hosepipe to water plants in your home or garden.

You may water your garden with tap water by hand, using a bucket or a watering can. You can also water your garden using greywater (i.e. from showers) or rainwater from a water butt through a hosepipe.

However, you can use a hosepipe to water plants if they are crops, vegetables or fruit that are grown or kept for sale or commercial use, National Plant Collections or temporary garden or flower displays.

Are there any other exemptions?

There are certain exemptions when a hosepipe may be required for “unavoidable health and safety reasons” which could be removing or minimising any risk to human or animal health or safety, or preventing or controlling the spread of causative agents or disease.

A hosepipe can also be used if it is to protect the welfare and health and safety of animals including fish.

What happens if you break the hosepipe ban?

Rule-breakers face fines of up to £1,000 if taken to court, although water companies say they prefer “education over enforcement”.

People have been encouraged to report their neighbours if they spot them repeatedly breaching hosepipe bans.

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