Councillors were left “disappointed” after a no show from Thames Water’s CEO at a meeting they demanded.

Oxford City Councillors were “frustrated” after a meeting planned with Thames Water’s CEO to address sewage and leaks was not attended by Sarah Bentley.

The no show from Ms Bentley comes after councillors voted unanimously on January 30 to demand that the chief executive of the region’s water utilities giant met with them to be quizzed about its performance on leaks, sewage releases and shareholder dividend.

READ MORE: Oxford city councillors debate 'rotten apple' Thames Water

Hundreds of people also protested in January at Oxford’s Port Meadow to demand an end to the release of raw sewage into the county’s rivers.

Thames Water confirmed Sarah Bentley asked her Operations Director for Thames Valley and Home Counties and her Director of Sustainability to represent her on this occasion.


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This protest was part of 80 dirty water demonstrations around the region, which included protests in Banbury, Faringdon, Wantage and Witney.

The council motion which called for Thames Water’s CEO to meet with councillors was brought by Green Party group leader councillor Chris Jarvis, who said it was “quite frustrating” she chose not to turn up to Monday’s meeting over Zoom.

READ MORE: RECAP: Protestors at Port Meadow over sewage release in River Thames

Mr Jarvis said: “It was quite frustrating that Sarah Bentley didn’t join as that was explicitly what we requested.

“With the scale of the issues that Thames Water have had from the flooding of underpasses to sewage pollution.

“Realistically the buck stops with her, and we wanted to put views directly to her.”

Mr Jarvis said over forty questions were submitted for Thames Water to answer at the meeting.

Richard Aylard, Thames Water’s sustainability director, and James Bentley, the operations director, attended the meeting on Ms Bentley’s behalf.

Mr Jarvis said now was the right time to bring “water back into public ownership”.

He explained: “We are not seeing them taking proper action on sewage pollution, waterways or leaks.

“Yet tomorrow people are going to be facing higher bills.”

“In the short term, Thames Water need to get their act together.”

Labour councillor Linda Smith said there was a “palpable sense of frustration and anger from councillors” due to the CEO not turning up.

Oxford Mail: Councillor Linda Smith on the leftCouncillor Linda Smith on the left (Image: Linda Smith)

Ms Smith said Thames Water representatives were “very keen” to highlight investments which had been made and to outline their eight-year plan and “how improvements were coming”.

Ms Smith added: “Eight years seems a long time when we have sewage being released directly into the rivers which is clearly unacceptable.”

READ MORE: Pictures from the Thames Water protest in Port Meadow

Last year in April, a stream at Port Meadow was granted bathing water status and it became only the second river in England to receive such a status from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Oxford Mail: MP Layla MoranMP Layla Moran (Image: Contributed)

The status means the Environment Agency will monitor the water quality of the river during the bathing season, which runs from May 15 to September 30.

Ms Smith said the meeting was “productive” in allowing her to ask questions about how the stream was being monitored.

Green Party councillor Lois Muddiman, who seconded the motion which demanded Thames Water’s CEO met with councillors, said her initial reaction to the meeting was “very disappointed”.

Oxford Mail: Councillor Lois MuddimanCouncillor Lois Muddiman (Image: Lois Muddiman)

She explained: “We had questions for her about leaks, sewage, the lack of investment in infrastructure and the long delay in fixing the water pipe on Osney Bridge.”

Ms Muddiman said the answers given to councillors by Thames Water representatives were simply “not good enough”.

She added: “Their work to fix leaks and stop sewage entering our rivers is not happening at the speed it needs to.”

Ms Muddiman echoed Mr Jarvis’ call for the management of water supply to be put back into public ownership.

A Thames Water Spokesman said: 

"Our turnaround plan stretches over eight years and will fix the basics, raise the bar and shape the future.

"It has already seen a number of improvements including improving trends in water quality, complaints management and supply interruptions performance.

"It will take time and we know there is a lot of work we need to do but we’re making progress.  

“We’ve committed £1.6 billion of investment in our sewage treatment works and sewers over the next two years.

"This will help us to deliver our commitment to a 50% reduction in the total annual duration of discharges across London and the Thames Valley by 2030, and within that an 80% reduction in sensitive catchments.  

“We’re currently increasing sewage treatment capacity at a number of our sewage works across the Thames Valley, including Witney, Chesham, Church Hanborough, Bampton and Fairford to be completed by 2025. 

“We’ve also brought a range of critical functions in-house since launching our turnaround plan in 2021, including our customer service, leaks repair and engineering teams, creating 550 new permanent positions and rebuilding the capabilities essential to improving performance. 

“That means more leakage technicians in the field and we’re carrying out more than 1,300 repairs per week, or one every 7.5 minutes.

"We’ve also already seen a 60% decrease in household complaints over the last two years ago, and we expect complaints to continue to decline in the future.  

“We are taking these steps to rebuild our business in order to deliver on our turnaround plan.

"This will take time and significant investment, but we are committed to achieving this plan and ensuring our customers see and feel the progress we are making.”