BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC OnePanorama


Last Updated: Friday, 4 August 2006, 18:15 GMT 19:15 UK
Whose water is it anyway: The headteacher's story
The leak at Ley Park Primary
Julian Thomas is the head teacher of Ley Park Primary in Broxbourne, Hertfordshire. Here he describes his problem and why he contacted Panorama.

"On May 29 the school's site manager noticed a leak just inside the school car park. Obviously it is the school's responsibility to repair leaks but we needed help to do so.

We contacted Thames Water who came out two days later and followed this with a letter saying they would get it repaired within ten days time since it was a 'priority one' and a visible leak.

"Being a school, we asked for a quote for the repair so we could achieve the best deal. Thames Water gave us a date of some five weeks later so naturally we got the contractor to carry out the repair only seven days after we reported the leak.

"However, the contractor wasn't able to repair the leak due to the lack of cooperation by Thames Water and complained to Ofwat on our behalf.

"We asked Thames Water to keep the date they had for us, some four weeks later, not for the quote but to repair the leak instead.

"The school secretary was annoyed by the lack of communication from Thames Water, especially the email footer which offered advice about how to reduce the use of water during our area's hosepipe ban and drought order! She also noticed Panorama's website asking for stories about water leaks and we both thought that ours was a good story so far, never knowing it would get worse.

"The area surrounding the leak had got so water logged by week five that it started to overflow into the school's car park, until half of it was submerged. During the heat wave, which at the start of July was reaching 33C, algae started to grow on the pool.

"Just at this time I started getting communication with Millie, the researcher from Panorama. I also had communication from the county council's environmental health officer saying that the algae didn't look good. He advised that we didn't use our drinking water.

"A school, 200 + children during a heat wave, without water? With this in mind we had no alternative but to rush out to the local supermarket and get lots of bottled water for the rest of the day. Thames Water said we didn't qualify for free bottled water!

I made the decision to close the school for the next two days, until the leak was repaired. A difficult decision that affected the 150 families we provide for.

"The team from Panorama came to see the school that afternoon and filmed us closing the school gates.

"After many phone calls, Thames Water came out the next day and repaired the leak.

"The environmental health officer suggested we also chlorinate the water storage tanks (a further unnecessary cost to the school) and the original contractor was able to come out the very next day and worked all weekend to ensure we could open on the Monday.

"I cannot believe that our leak got as bad as it did, resulting in a huge cost to the school and an annoyance to the community. We did everything possible to solve the problem but felt that Thames Water didn't.

I really do think that having Panorama involved helped us to get the leak repaired sooner!"

Response from Thames Water

"Ley Park Primary School was advised that as the leak was on their property it was the responsibility of the owner of the property rather than Thames Water.

"The school were advised that if it wished Thames Water to carry out the repair, it would take approximately five weeks. Thames Water provided a quote for the work. This was declined by the school which chose to use an independent contractor.

"No permission was needed from Thames Water to turn off the water supply.

"This could have been turned off at the outside stop valve on the property by the contractor. In this case it appears that the contractor was unable to do so. It is advisable, prior to commencing any repairs, that contractors confirm with the customer that they are able to do this.

"We do not believe that the school's water supply would have been affected by the green algae. This does not contain harmful toxins and it is extremely unlikely that it would have entered the water supply system.

"Once it became clear that the contractor was unable to do the work we carried out the repair within the original timescale given to the school.

"The school will not be charged for any work carried out by Thames Water.

"Beat the drought: Taking a refreshing shower instead of a bath can save over 300 litres of water a week. Be careful though, a power shower can use more water than a bath! Visit

for more water saving tips."

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

banner watch listen bbc sport Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific