Justice for Lancaster farmers over water pipe fight with United Utilities

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A giant water company has been slammed for its shabby treatment of a Lancaster sheep farming couple and ordered to pay them almost £6,000 compensation.

Graeme and Rosemary Surtees just had to live with it when United Utilities Water (UUW) announced that it was going to lay a pipeline across their field.

However, when the company mixed up topsoil and subsoil and failed to reinstate the land properly, the couple launched a campaign for justice.

Handing them victory, tribunal judge, Peter McCrea, said many small landowners might have balked at taking on the might of UUW. He criticised the “fairly intransigent” attitude of the company, saying it had adopted “a take it or leave it approach” to Mr and Mrs Surtees.

As a result, the dispute took almost two years to reach a settlement, during which the couple had to spend time and money on the case.

Throughout negotiations, the company had insisted that its workman had reinstated the couple’s land satisfactorily. And it only backed down when threatened with legal action, said Judge McCrea.

He added: “For a public company, dealing with one of its customers, that is a disappointing stance to take”.

UUW installed a water main along the edge of the couple’s field off Snuff Mill Lane, Stodday Village, Aldcliffe, in July 2013. The work involved digging six holes on the couple’s land and topsoil and subsoil had been wrongly mixed together during the project. The judge said the relationship between Mr and Mrs Surtees and UUW “could not be described as warm” at the time. They had already fallen out over earlier drainage work carried out by the company on the couple’s land.

Mr and Mrs Surtees said their field had been torn up by heavy vehicles and excavators and parts of it were still not fit for grazing, and tonnes of topsoil would need to be imported to restore their land to full production. As well as £250 for the ‘disturbance’ they suffered, Judge McCrae awarded the couple almost £4,000 to cover the cost of reinstating their land. With other sums to compensate them for lost production, weed control and professional fees, the couple’s total award came to £5,886.