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Virginia Woolf’s great-niece: ‘Nationalise Thames Water after Angel floods’

Cressida Bell says Thames Water are ‘in it for profit’ after her kitchen was destroyed when a mains pipe burst in Upper Street

19 May, 2017 — By Koos Couvée

Cressida Bell: ‘They’ve given us [flood victims] long explanations as to how much money they put into [infrastructure] but on the other hand they pay big dividends – that’s the fact of the matter’

NOVELIST Virginia Woolf’s great niece, who was a victim of devastating floods caused by a burst water mains in Angel, has backed a Labour plan to renationalise water companies.

Cressida Bell’s kitchen at her Charlton Place home was completely destroyed when a mains pipe in Upper Street burst on December 5, sending millions of gallons of water pouring through streets.

She said Thames Water was “in it for profit” and suggested state ownership might improve infrastructure maintenance.

The floods destroyed businesses in Camden Passage and homes in Charlton Place and Colebrooke Row before flooding gardens and wrecking basements in Devonia Road.

Victims have blamed Thames Water for failing to invest in its creaking Victorian infrastructure.

Artist and designer Ms Bell is the daughter of critic, author and artist Quentin Bell and Anne Olivier Bell, grand­daughter of artist Vanessa Bell. The legacy of the Bloomsbury Set, in which her family were so influential, lives on in her colourful home.

“I was rather in favour of it [Labour’s nationalisation plan]. When I think of Thames Water it does not sound like a bad idea,” she said. “Because you know they’re in it for the profit.

“They’ve given us [flood victims] long explanations as to how much money they put into [infrastructure] but on the other hand they pay big dividends – that’s the fact of the matter.”

Her kitchen has now been refurbished following a compensation payout.

Angel was hit by serious flooding in December last year

As part of a raft of nationalisation plans outlined by leader Jeremy Corbyn this week, Labour would create nine new public bodies to run the water and sewage system in England, privatised by Margaret Thatcher in 1989, if it wins next month’s election.

By ending the practice of paying dividends to shareholders, bills would be reduced by around £100 a year per household, Labour said.

Ms Bell said the policy might persuade her to vote Labour, but she had not yet made up her mind because she is critical of the party’s position on Brexit.

Thames Water, the largest water company in the UK, has a market value of about £12bn. Its shareholders include Canadian pension fund Omers, Kuwait Investment Authority and pension funds and institutions throughout the world.

Jo Willet, whose Devonia Road home was also flooded, questioned whether nationalisation was the right solution. She said that tougher regulation might be more productive. Ms Willet has been leading efforts to get Thames Water to speed up paying out insurance claims.

Conservatives have dismissed Labour’s economic plans as “nonsensical”, saying taxpayers would have to foot the bill for “unfunded” spending commitments.

Thames Water said that it has invested an average of more than £1billion a year for the last 10 years, including spending on the renewal of more than 1,700 miles of ageing water mains.

The company has promised to pay compensation to all traders and residents affected by the floods, and many victims have received payments. Re-laying of just under a kilometre of new pipe to replace the burst mains has been under way since April 18.

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