Farnham Town Council joint-leader David Beaman has called on South East Water to reopen a lane of West Street with immediate effect to ease the town’s traffic misery.

Key stakeholders in the town, including councillors, shopkeepers and business owners, were invited to join a Zoom meeting with South East Water project managers today (Thursday).

And ahead of the meeting, Councillor Beaman (Farnham Residents, Castle ward) wrote to the company with “three critical questions”:

1) Do South East Water acknowledge and fully appreciate the economic consequences for local businesses many of whom depend on passing trade arising from the closure of West Street especially given the extension of the proposed closure to the end of May and are South East Water prepared to make any financial compensation payments to those local businesses affected?

2) What is to prevent South East Water reopening West Street earlier (like from tomorrow) even if only on a one lane traffic light controlled basis which would ease if not totally resolve the current traffic problems being caused by the closure of West Street.

3) Given the proposed unwelcome extension of the closure of West Street and if a partial one lane reopening cannot be implemented would South East Water pay for the provision of a free minibus service to compensate for the fact that the scheduled hourly bus service has had to be diverted from serving West Street.

Responding to a residents’ concern that Farnham is now a “no go” area for many, Cllr Beaman added: “My personal patience and ability to defend South East Water’s actions are now totally exhausted and I expect some positive answers to be given to the questions I have raised.”

The month-long delay to South East Water’s water network improvements in West Street is likely to cost the company around £75,000 – as a result of having to pay Surrey County Council £2,500-a-day road rental fees.

However, the Herald understands the company has dodged an additional £22,500 in £750-a-day over-run charges after arguing the reasons for its month-long extension to the West Street works are “reasonable”.

South East Water has blamed the delay on unforeseen “utility congestion” below the road in West Street, saying its crews have been working additional hours to complete the job as quickly as possible.

But Councillor George Hesse (Farnham Residents, Castle ward) has disputed this claim, saying in an email to the company: “The human resources to get this project done as quickly as possible has been woefully inadequate.

“Most of the time there have been only two men working, and their hours of work seem to follow a typical builder’s day. The town’s people are thoroughly fed up with South East Water’s inadequate and slack approach to this project.”

However, a Surrey County Council spokesman confirmed South East Water (SEW) “do not currently have any over-run liabilities”, adding “the need for extensions to SEW’s work programme have been considered reasonable under legislation thus far”.

The county council also confirmed its street works team is having weekly meetings with South East Water to review its progress and a street works officer is visiting the site two to three times a week to check on progress.

But legislation does not enable Surrey to stop the works and deferring them would have an undesirable knock-on effect to other planned works.

The spokesman added: “Given the high volume of works needed on the network and the time scales they need to be completed in, it is not possible to programme all works to avoid overlaps.”