This year we delivered our largest annual capital programme for a decade, investing £836 million – that’s £49 million more than the previous year.
We’ve been busy constructing giant underground storm water tanks to prevent flooding; building sewers large enough to drive a car through; cleaning and replacing some of the largest water pipes on the network and upgrading and maintaining our treatment works and reservoirs to keep them in tip top condition.
No one likes roadworks, of course, which is why we do everything we can to reduce disruption, give customers prior notice of work, and explain the reasons behind each scheme.
We work with customers and stakeholders to address any concerns they have, and accommodate special requests during work – such as maintaining delivery driver access for businesses.
For our medium and high impact projects, we plan an integrated communications approach using a variety of channels, including letters, leaflets, exhibitions and drop-ins; site signage; local press ads and online communications.
We try to make our material clear and down to earth, featuring easy to follow site and diversion maps.
This year, we’ve been looking at how we can use these communications to not only publicise our capital schemes, but also provide some added value to the communities we are potentially disrupting. For example, where practical, we’ve been including local business messages on our billboards and radio ads.
Despite our best efforts, however, we don’t always get it right. For example, a sewer improvement project to replace the sewer along with Wilson Bridge (a well-used footbridge) in Bolton, caused unhappiness among local residents.
It was one of our smaller schemes, comparatively, but generated some vociferous opposition, due to the length of time the bridge was out of commission. We planned the project thoroughly, liaising with local residents, businesses and council officers, but were unprepared for the level of opposition!
The sting in the tail occurred right at the end of the project, when we filled in potholes on the access road caused by our work traffic, resurfacing half the road to make good. Unfortunately, local residents wanted both sides of the road resurfacing and much was made of the ‘half job’ resurfacing in local media.
It goes to show that no matter how rigorous our planning, we won’t always get it right. We continue to learn from our mistakes, as much as our successes, so that we can anticipate potential pitfalls next time around.
If you would like to send us a comment about this report, please email our Head of Sustainability, Chris Matthews