Villagers battle to keep free water

By Emily Pearce

Friday, April 17, 2009

 

Villagers battle to keep free water

Hilda Corbett believes the water deal was forever. Picture by Robin Crossley.

FOR more than 100 years residents of Gatcombe and Chillerton have enjoyed a free water supply — but not for much longer if Southern Water gets its way.

A deal signed by Charles Seely in 1907 meant properties built before that date are entitled to free water, while some newer homes are eligible for a reduced rate.

The news of Southern Water’s proposal to make everybody pay the same charges has been met with dismay by residents, who claim the firm cannot overturn a legal contract.

Hilda Corbett, 86, who was born and still lives at Rectory Lane, Gatcombe, said: “The agreement says we get free water forever, and a deal’s a deal. My father worked for Charles Seely when it was signed so I know what I’m talking about.

“It would make a big difference to me financially if I had to pay a water bill, as it would for most people.”

Fellow resident Robin Saunders said: “I think people would react very violently if the free water was taken away, especially as we maintain the pipes ourselves. I can’t believe people would accept it without a fight.”

And Gatcombe Parish Council, which has invited Southern Water to a meeting to explain its proposal, is also taking legal advice and preparing a case for retention of free water.

The water firm claims the pact, in which the free water supply was granted in exchange for private water sources and land used for the construction of water works, has run its course.

A Southern Water spokesman said: “Any right to a free or preferential water supply has run its course, as any loss sustained upon the acquiring of the source or construction of works has long since expired in the 100 years since the agreement was drawn up.”

The company also said residents of newer properties currently paying a reduced rate should pay the same as all their customers, and the company has refused several applications for free or reduced water from such residents.

On the other side of the argument, Chillerton resident Adrienne Horne said: “It’s extremely unfair to have some people paying for water and some not, and it’s remiss of Southern Water not to rectify the situation.”

Reporter: emilyp@iwcpmail.co.uk

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