Thames Water seeks Camberley stench redemption and says its working 'to agree on funding for a community project'

Thames Water said it would work with Surrey Heath Borough Council to “agree on funding for a community project” to show that it was “deeply sorry” for subjecting Camberley residents to a “miserable” summer of stench.
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In October, Thames Water was accused of backtracking on a goodwill gesture after having left raw, untreated, human waste festering last summer

Between February and March of 2023, raw sewage sludge was imported to Thames Water’s sewage treatment works in Camberley and remained untreated until September, water services regulator, Ofwat, has detailed.

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The smell was so strong that it impacted the mental health of residents and some reported physical problems, the water regulator found.

Camberley Sewage Treatment Works (Image Google)Camberley Sewage Treatment Works (Image Google)
Camberley Sewage Treatment Works (Image Google)

It prompted meetings with the borough council and the MP Michael Gove – with both coming away believing the water company would help fund a playground as a way of giving something back to the children who missed out on their summer.

The company denies any deal was made but now, after being told by Ofwat an apology was “the very least” residents deserved, Thames Water has said it was working on an agreement.

A Thames Water spokesperson said: “We are deeply sorry to people across Camberley who were impacted by abnormal levels of odour last summer.

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“We’ve listened to our customers and want to give back to the community.

“That’s why we’re working with the local council and residents to discuss ideas and agree on funding for a community project. Once we’ve agreed on a project, we will share details.”

Residents told Ofwat how they struggled to go about their daily lives because the smell was inescapable and permeated their homes.

They also relayed that they did not feel reassured Thames Water was taking the problem seriously and only eventually acted when under pressure from Mr Gove and councillors, Ofwat said.

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Lynn Parker, senior director for casework, enforcement and customers at Ofwat said: “Camberley residents were subjected to a miserable experience last year when a persistent foul stench stopped them enjoying the summer in the way they would have wished.

“Thames Water’s handling of this incident and communication with customers was unacceptable.

“At the very least they deserve a proper explanation and apology and that should happen now.”

Mike Keil, chief executive of the Consumer Council for Water said: “People’s anger and frustration is palpable having endured months of disruption to their daily lives, while being left with the impression Thames Water had gone into hiding.

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“Much of this upset could have been avoided had the company kept residents regularly and clearly informed of what was going on instead of leaving a communication ‘black hole’.

“All the people affected deserve an apology and reassurance that this will never happen again as a first step to repairing trust in the company.”

A Thames Water spokesperson said: “We accept full responsibility for the unpleasant smell endured by local residents and are carefully reviewing the findings published in Ofwat and the CCW’s recent incident report.

“We acknowledge that we didn’t deploy odour suppression equipment quickly enough and when we did set the equipment up, we encountered problems in running it continuously. We also accept that we could have communicated better with our customers and affected residents and are acting on those lessons learned.

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“Furthermore, we’d like to reassure customers that we have decommissioned the emergency sludge storage tanks on site, so that they can’t be used to store sewage sludge again.

“We’ve also looked at the resilience of our sewage treatment facilities and planned investment, so that this doesn’t happen again.”