Woman with head in hand

1 week ago

Contaminated Water Woes for Local Businesses

Bramley, three miles south of Guildford, is grappling with a water contamination crisis that has sent ripples of concern through the community and local businesses. The problem stems from a historical fuel leak at the village’s petrol station, leading to a 'do not drink' notice affecting hundreds of residents.

Troubled Waters in Surrey

Thames Water issued a precautionary notice to 616 homes in late May 2024 after detecting unusually high levels of ‘hydrocarbons’ in the water. Britain’s biggest water firm has been conducting extensive water sampling in Surrey since October 2023, but the latest results have caused concern.

The landlord of the Jolly Farmer, a well-known village pub, claims the contamination issue is severely impacting his business, forcing a shutdown of their on-site hotel and a significant loss of revenue. Chris Hardstone, who runs the pub with his brother Steve, told Surrey Live that he first raised the alarm about the fuel three years ago.

"Back in 2021, our cellar just stank of fumes - and this petrol smell was wafting up into the bar. It took ages to get people to come and have a look, but when they did, we had people checking for gas leaks for fire safety. We were told initially it was mould - but it wasn't, of course. It was a leak from the petrol station.

"These issues meant we had to close our accommodation section down - so we lost business there. And, of course, when word goes around that the local pub stinks of petrol, that affects business too."

Metal kegs in a cellar

Sinking Feeling for Locals

Thames Water has set up bottled water stations in Bramley, and locals are advised not to use their water supply for drinking, cooking, or brushing their teeth.

Tess Fayers, Operations Director for the Thames Valley and Home Counties, said: "The health and safety of our customers is our number one priority, and we would like to reassure residents that this is a precautionary measure. We are in the process of delivering letters and bottled water to the affected properties and identifying locations to set up bottled water stations."

A spokesperson for Asda, which acquired the petrol station responsible, acknowledged residents' frustrations: "We are continuing to work closely with Thames Water and other partners to address the issues we inherited after acquiring the Bramley site. We recognise the impact this has had on the residents of Bramley and share their frustrations."

The Impact of Contamination

The contamination of water supplies in villages like Bramley can devastate small, local businesses. The Jolly Farmer pub is a prime example, but other industries can be equally vulnerable.

Health Concerns

When water contamination occurs, businesses should immediately address health and safety concerns. Restaurants, cafes and pubs cannot use contaminated water for cooking, washing dishes or serving drinks. Hair salons and spas, which rely on clean water for treatments and services, face similar challenges. A lack of safe water will force many businesses to cease operations while their local water authority resolves the issue, resulting in lost revenue.

Loss of Trust

Once news of contamination spreads, it can severely damage customer trust. Patrons may avoid local businesses and be worried about health risks. This apprehension can linger long after the issue is resolved, as customers might doubt the establishment's safety and cleanliness. Businesses like the Jolly Farmer rely on steady footfall and are particularly vulnerable.

Increased Costs

Businesses affected by water contamination often get hit with an increase in operational costs. They might need to purchase bottled water and incur expenses related to inspections, cleaning and certifying the premises as safe. These unexpected expenses can strain the finances of small businesses, which typically operate on tight budgets.

Disruption to Supply Chains

Water contamination can also disrupt supply chains for businesses that work with local suppliers. Partners may need help with water safety, affecting their ability to deliver goods. These operational hurdles can lead to shortages and delays, compounding the challenges for local businesses.

Vulnerable Industries

  • Food and Drink: Restaurants, pubs, breweries and bakeries are most affected. They require constant clean water for production, cooking, cleaning and serving customers.

  • Hospitality: Hotels and B&Bs are highly vulnerable as guests expect safe water for drinking and bathing. Even minor contamination can lead to cancellations and negative press.

  • Health and Personal Care: GP surgeries, dental practices, barbershops, and spas depend on clean water for hygienic treatments and services. Contaminated water can force these businesses to pause all operations, significantly impacting their clientele and revenue.

  • Retail: Greengrocers, butchers and fishmongers that sell fresh produce may find their supplies compromised, leading to food waste and health risks for customers.

  • Childcare and Education: Nurseries, schools and colleges need safe water for drinking, cooking and sanitation. A contaminated water supply can lead to closures, resulting in problems for parents and lost learning time.

Stemming the Flow of Risks

Small businesses can take several proactive steps to mitigate the risks posed by water contamination. One is to develop a contingency plan that includes sourcing alternative water supplies and openly communicating with customers about the safety measures you're taking. Another is conducting regular checks of plumbing systems to ensure they’re in good working order and can handle potential contaminants.

Stay informed about local water quality issues and work closely with authorities for timely updates and assistance. By understanding the potential impacts of water contamination and taking proactive measures, your business can efficiently deal with crises, safeguarding your operations and reputation.

Can I Change my Water Supplier?

If you want to make a change, your company must operate within a property designated for business purposes only because residential properties aren’t currently eligible for water contract changes.

While optional, providing your Supply Point Identification Number (SPID) can speed up the process of switching. Your SPID, consisting of eight numerical digits, should be at the top of your water invoices. Your chosen supplier can use this code to contact your previous provider and facilitate a smooth transfer.

The switchover typically takes approximately 28 days to complete, with the exact timeframe depending on the number of properties you want to transfer, your location and the terms of your previous contract.

Let us Help Your Business

We help you compare essential business products and services, ensuring you get the best deal and helping you with your bottom line. Save time and money with us by comparing today.

Business Loans icon

Business Bank Accounts icon

Invoice Finance icon

Business Energy icon

Business Broadband icon

Card Machines icon

Business Credit Cards icon

Business Insurance icon

Leased Lines icon


Sam White