Our long term strategy

The feedback we have received from our customers about what matters to them most when it comes to water and wastewater services, has helped us create five customer promises. These promises guide the way in which we deliver our services, now and in the future.

In the following sections we set out our plans for delivering each of these promises in the years to come.

  • Our priorities over the next 25 years

    Introduction

    The water industry is an extremely dynamic sector, both influencing and affected by a wide range of issues, from the health of the environment, to the health of the economy.

    In order to maintain a reliable, high quality water service for our customers in the future, we have to look to the far horizon and anticipate those changes and core issues that are likely to impact on our activities.

    In the next 25 years, we will face many challenges and opportunities: climate change and its implications for water resources and flooding; the emergent of a more open competitive UK water market; more rigorous environmental legislation and the ever present need to combine affordable bills with a modern, responsive water and wastewater service.

    In a series of documents we set out our strategy for the next quarter century, examining the challenges ahead, and explaining how we will focus our resources and talents in order to meet them. The content has been shaped by consultation with thousands of customers and stakeholders, including our Customer Challenge Group, to make sure what they expect of us in future is reflected in our plans.

    This 25-year view for our business will provide a roadmap to help guide each of our successive five-year business plans, ensuring our investment decisions are rooted in sound, consistent principles which best serve our customers and the region as a whole.

    Playing our part

    As the North West’s water and wastewater company, we are responsible for helping life flow smoothly for seven million domestic customers and 200,000 business customers.

    We are custodians of some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes which are integral to the region’s tourist industry. And through our role as a major employer, training provider and wealth creator, we help to keep the North West’s economy turning.

    With such an influential role to play, our future decisions can have profound implications for the prosperity of the region. Planning for the long term can never be a precise science, but we can anticipate some of the major opportunities and challenges facing our industry with a good degree of confidence

  • The big issues

    We supply 1,750 million litres of water every day to 3 million homes and 200,000 businesses and take away used water through 76,000km of sewer pipes. The big issues are set to include:

    Protecting the environment:

    The North West boasts some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, which is home to a variety of habitats and is a major driver of tourism. We will play our part in continuing to protect these environments, many of which are ecologically sensitive. We will also meet the requirements of new environmental legislation by working with our partners to find innovative and sustainable ways of working.

    Preparing for a growing population:

    The number of households we supply is expected to grow from 3 million now to 3.6 million by 2040. As people live longer, there will be a higher proportion of older customers. These changing demographics will affect our services – from our core water and wastewater services to support services such as customer liaison. There will also be technological advances and changes in the way in which we communicate with one another. We will adapt our customer services to meet the demands and expectations of our customers.

    Making full use of available technology:

    In the decades to come, there will be exciting new opportunities to generate our own energy, use more sophisticated network modelling and environmental modelling, and explore ‘open architectures’ – where our core service can be connected to other systems that enable us to be more resilient to extreme weather. We must embrace these technology driven changes to improve efficiency and customer service.

    Responding to a changing climate:

    As the UK climate continues to change, with severe dry periods becoming increasingly common, we must ensure we continue to have resilient water resources and an infrastructure capable of moving water efficiently around the region. We must also seek to tackle flooding incidents caused by the intensive bursts of rainfall, which are becoming more frequent due to changing weather patterns.

    Embracing regulatory reform of the water industry:

    Over the coming years, legislative changes will encourage greater competition between providers and open up opportunities to trade water between regions. We will continue to work hard for the benefit of our customers, to ensure that we’re in the best position to adapt as competition increases. We must also provide tailored, responsive services to our business customers, some of whom are already able to choose their water provider, due to deregulation.

    Keeping bills affordable:

    Our region has one of the largest populations of economically deprived households in the country. Many families are struggling to make ends meet as the economic downturn continues to bite. We will strike the right balance between keeping bills affordable whilst ensuring our water and wastewater infrastructure receives the investment it requires.

  • Provide great water

    We promise to provide you with great water

    We supply the North West with approximately 1,750 million litres of water each day. Every drop has been treated at one of our 89 water treatment works to extremely high standards and transported through a vast network of over 42,000km of underground pipes.

    Investment since privatisation in 1989 means we have one of the newest water networks in the UK, providing a reliable and high quality water supply.

    Carrying out more ‘live’ repairs (where water remains flowing even while pipes are being fixed in the street) and using sophisticated network monitoring techniques to detect leaks or spot problems before they can escalate has helped to reduce interruptions to supply for customers.

    We monitor our water quality through a rigorous ‘source to tap’ process, which involves regular sampling at our reservoirs, treatment works and customers’ taps. Thanks to these efforts, our water consistently meets the tough regulatory standards set by the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI).

  • Dispose of wastewater

    We promise to dispose of your wastewater

    Every time one of our customers has a bath or flushes the loo, the wastewater is carried through a vast underground sewer network to one of our 571 wastewater treatment works to be cleaned and returned safely to the environment.

    Since privatisation, we’ve invested heavily in our sewer network to improve its capacity and performance. However, there is still more to do in order to deliver the wastewater service our customers expect.

    In particular, sewer flooding remains a major issue. We recognise that this has a big impact on quality of life for those affected. Flooding can be caused by blockages or collapses in a sewer, or by heavy rainfall which can overwhelm the sewer system.

    Increases in population over the past few decades, as well as the replacement of natural drainage with concrete and paving, have also placed more demands on our ageing sewer system

    Recent investment means our sewer network is performing better than ever before, while our work to reduce blockages and collapses is also having a positive effect. Information campaigns to encourage customers to help reduce blockages, by avoiding putting inappropriate materials down the sink or loo, are playing a positive role too.

    However, there is still more to do to make our wastewater service more resilient.

  • Give you value for money

    We promise to give you value for money

    Our region has one of the highest concentrations of economically-deprived households in the UK, many of whom are suffering as the economic downturn continues to bite.

    Meanwhile, the impact of the Government’s new welfare reform legislation is only just starting to be felt by 800,000 North West residents who claim benefits.

    To minimise the impact of customers’ bills on household budgets, now and in the future, we will balance the need for investment with the ability of our customers to pay, while ensuring we also meet environmental legislation.

    We will continue to find ways to support the most financially-disadvantaged people in our region, so that nobody is forced to suffer the stress and indignity of water poverty.

  • Deliver customer service you can rely on

    We promise to deliver customer service you can rely on

    Great customer service relies on understanding what our customers need, anticipating problems, resolving complaints quickly and courteously and developing new, innovative services that fit into people’s busy lifestyles. We want our customers to trust us and have confidence in our service.

    We’ve made really good progress over the past few years, developing new services and introducing a ‘right first time’ culture across our business. Improvements have included the re-introduction of all contact centres back to the North West and a system that allows customers to speak to an advisor instantly, rather than navigating lengthy automated menus; a more sophisticated online service to allow customers to manage their water accounts; clearer, plain English bills; a welcome pack for home movers; a specialist Careline team which supports customers who may need extra help, for example those suffering ill health, a bereavement, or with mental health issues.

    Our customer service scores, as monitored by our regulator, Ofwat, are on an upward trajectory, thanks to these efforts. However, we recognise that there is still room for improvement, and we have ambitious plans for the future

  • Protect and enhance the environment

    We promise to protect and enhance the environment

    We’re proud of our record of environmental improvement, which over the past 20 years has helped some of the region’s most beautiful landscapes to thrive, supporting wildlife and tourism.

    Although we’ve achieved a huge amount, there are still big challenges ahead of us. New European legislation means we must continue to improve our performance and explore new, collaborative ways of working.

    In our wastewater business the Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive, which designates sensitive areas, requires us to improve water quality at these locations. The Water Framework Directive will also drive tighter treatment standards at our wastewater treatment works, requiring us to remove substances such as phosphorous.

    Meanwhile, in our sewer network, we will need to provide more storage to reduce the number of discharges when it rains.

    We need to ensure we play our part in improving the beaches in the North West so that they meet the new standards expected by the Bathing Water Directive.

    This means we will have to provide further capacity and treatment at our wastewater sites on the coast.

    Over the past two decades we’ve undertaken significant work to meet the requirements of the European Habitats Directive where our water abstractions have impacted on internationally protected or endangered species. However, new and emerging evidence means there is also further work needed to meet our future obligations, particularly in the West Cumbria area. We also need to ensure our wastewater activities do not endanger areas of special ecological interest, such as Windermere and Rostherne Mere.

    For our water service, the Water Framework Directive will drive changes to the way we abstract water, either by reducing the amount of water we take to increase flow in rivers or by implementing new abstraction methods. This will help to protect fish, fresh water mussels, eels and elvers impacted by our abstraction

  • Conclusions

    Conclusion

    Although it is impossible to anticipate all future challenges, we feel confident that the key issues and solutions identified in this document will ensure we continue to provide a robust, good value water and wastewater service for our customers over the next quarter century.

    This roadmap for the future achieves a balance between value for money for our customers, security of supplies, playing our part in the social and economic prosperity of the region and a proactive, partnership-driven approach to tackling key environmental issues – from flood prevention to preserving and enhancing our stunning landscapes.

    The plan has been influenced by consultation with thousands of our customers and stakeholders – ensuring its content is grounded in the priorities of the people of the North West.

    Thank you to everyone who has played a part in shaping this document, helping us to ensure we can meet the future with confidence.