Southern Water boss grilled by residents and councillors and reveals £1m upgrade to Rumfields Tower

Rumfields water tower Image Nigel Cox 

Southern Water has completed works in a £1million upgrade at Rumfields Tower in Broadstairs to “extend its life and make it more resilient.”

The six month upgrade was carried out due to infrastructure problems including leaks. Water director Tim McMahon said the tower is a reservoir with storage for 6 hours, meaning that timespan is available to restore water. But during works it was operating on two pumps and did not have the six hour supply so interruptions immediately hit customers.

A burst water main in December and outages due to lost power supply to the pumps in January and February affected some 13, 395 properties with around 12,000 being homes and just over 1,000 non-household (business/commercial). Around 9,000 of those properties had no water for 33 hours.

Southern Water at the Rumfields burst Photo Neal Parton

Between January 12-15 the booster pumps failed, on January 21 there was a mains power failure and the generator also failed leaving 4,000 properties without water for 11 hours. On January 30 the pumps were down for around 30 minutes and on February 25 they were down for around 45 minutes.

For the December incident compensation was paid to 9,696 household customers and 1,043 non household by January 20. Late payment to 2,656 customers meant an additional £20 had to be paid to each of them.

A total of £782,000 was paid in compensation to customers and local businesses.

With the completion of works the 6 hour storage is back in place. A further £250,000 will now be spent on boosters in areas such as control and power systems and grid connections to make sure the pumps do not ‘trip’ with works expected to take 6 months.

Tim McMahon

Mr McMahon said work is also taking place to stop the discharges from outfall pipes which then  result in sewer water going into the sea.

He said: “First is to stop it at source, so in Margate we have 10 schools with green roofs which are to stop the water going into the sewer.

“Second is upgrading the existing network, so bigger sewers and bigger storm overflows and third is to have clever management systems.”

Price review plans that include future investment will be submitted with the water regulator by this September and those proposals will be confirmed by September 2024. It is likely that work will include a mains replacement programme, plans for water recycling systems as well as the pledge to cut discharges by 2030.

Mr McMahon and other Southern Water staff attended a drop in session at St Andrew’s community hall in Reading Street yesterday (March 14) to apologise to customers and explain what work had taken place and what is planned.

Demonstration Photo Penny Anne Wells

In the evening Mr McMahon also attended a Thanet council meeting to give a presentation on the same subject and answer questions from councillors and the public. Prior  to the meeting a demonstration was held outside the offices to protest at Southern Water actions such as the sewer discharges into coastal waters.

During the meeting questions were asked by residents  Elizabeth Wickenden, of the Wimpey estate, about why some people were still waiting for compensation and by Jackie Brown of the Westgate and Garlinge Action Group about how Southern Water could ensure supply to a projected 21,000 homes set for development on the isle.


Councillors Mike Garner and Ruth Bailey raised the compensation issue as well as questions over continued sewer outfalls, lack of communication during outages and the placement of bottled water stations which caused traffic chaos in December. Cllr Aram Rawf also asked why Thanet council had to use taxpayers money to clear seaweed that traditionally farmers would take for use on fields but could not because of sewage contamination.

Mr McMahon said customers who were missed in compensation pay outs were now being dealt with on a ‘case by case’ basis. He said the water company had a statutory duty to make sure new homes had water supply and connections and that compensation over the seaweed issue could be looked into.

He added there have been improvements in the number of discharges from outfall over the past year  with a 30% reduction following a £5million investment at the Margate and Broadstairs pumping.

He added that there had been no dividend payments to shareholders since 2017.

Cllr Yates with a lump of the fencing from Foreness Point

Further questions included a query from Cllr Rob Yates over whether any Southern Water staff had been reprimanded. Mr McMahon said staff had been affected, such as his predecessor, but added that it was his job to make sure teams on the ground had the tools to do their job properly.

He also pledged to return to Thanet council in one year’s time to give a progress report.

During the meeting Cllr Yates returned a piece of metal fencing that had come loose from the Foreness Point station and ended up on the beach.

Following the presentation a spokesperson for Westaget and Garlinge Action Group said: “Some excellent questions were asked by councillors. Southern Water answers about draft plans and better arrangements for bottled water (distribution) did not give us any confidence that they will be able to improve incidents of loss of water or sewage dumping in our seas any time soon.

“The big question for us is how Thanet council will be ensuring Southern Water will cope with planned housing developments if they can’t manage the current demand?”


  1. I see that nothing has been said about compensation for all the trouble it caused to very many people.
    So I take it that they have got away with all the trouble caused, typical

  2. Does the investment mean no more pathogen and drug infused raw sewage being illegally dumped will cease?

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