Search for water leak costs buckets of cash

Axminster councillors clash over �3,000-plus cost of finding a small hole in cemetery pipe

Axminster town council has been accused of pouring money down the drain after spending more than �3,000 trying to trace a water leak.

Cllr Paul Hayward is furious that contractors were employed for five days to find a hole in a cemetery pipe without the work being put out to tender.

He said it was an incredible way for the council to behave - especially as the leak had been costing them only a small amount in extra water charges.

“We are signing blank cheques,” he said.

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“It is absolutely unbelievable that this town council can spend that amount of money to not even repair the pipe but simply to cap off the supply. We now have a non-working tap.”

But cemetery committee chairman Sue Spiller said it had been an emergency and she defended their decision to call in a local firm to find the leak.

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“I understand it was a lot of money but we felt the decision at the time had to be made,” she said.

She stressed that even though the amount of water being lost was small, in financial terms, they had been concerned that it could have got much worse if the leak was left untraced.

“We could have arrived there one day to see water fountaining out of someone’s grave. We did not think that was an acceptable chance to take,” she said.

Cllr Spiller said the work was expensive - �2,637 plus VAT - because the plumbers couldn’t use mechanical diggers for fear of disturbing graves. Instead they spent five days digging by hand, in often poor weather, and with interruptions for funerals. They had been looking for pipes that did not follow any logical route because of changes to the water system at the cemetery over the years.

But Cllr Hayward said their failure to obtain quotes before calling in contractors was an on-going issue for the council. Expenditure on non-quoted works was “outrageous” and in this case a contractor should have been found to cap all the water supply and then quotes sought for the repairs.

Mayor Andrew Moulding said that was the wrong way around.

“Surely the first thing is to find the leak. You can’t go out to tender if you don’t know where it is,” he said.

Deputy Mayor Jeremy Walden said: “You have to bear in mind the sensitivities of the cemetery.

“Emergencies happen and you can’t always go down the route of quotes. Life is expensive.”

The Herald understands that the contractors were not able to find the exact location of the leak but were able to narrow it down to a section of pipe which has now been capped off, putting the cemetery standpipe out of action. Water now has to be drawn off the mains system and collected in containers for use by relatives visiting the graves.

Councillors have been told a decision will now need to be made as to whether the damaged section of pipe should be replaced and the water supply to the standpipe reinstated once a quotation for the work is received from the contractors.

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