Search Companies Complain About Water Search Response To Virus
In the light of reduced services some water companies are suspending free walk-in mapping services and charging search providers for digital alternatives.
Severn Trent water have followed governmental advice and suspended their mapping terminal service in both Coventry and Wrexham from Friday March 20.
The water provider apologised for closing their asset information services and pledged to open the offices to the public as soon as it is safe to do so.
They have also provided alternative digital access to their water and sewer maps through an online service called digdat which can provide PDF copies at a ‘fair and reasonable price’ to download the maps.
However, search providers feel aggrieved with this response, claiming that a denial of access to usually free asset maps, without imposing a fee, would appear to be a commercially motivated and an opportunistic decision tantamount to ‘unjust enrichment.’
The information provided from these maps makes up an integral part of many searches which would suggest search providers will need to pay the fee to ensure their searches are completed efficiently and without undue disruption to an already strained information gathering service.
Trent Severn is not unique in demanding a fee for digital information whilst the physical locations are closed to the public and employees work remotely. A number of other local authorities and water suppliers have also taken this stance to charge for their digital assets.
Search providers are urging water suppliers and local authorities to collaborate in these times of need rather than creating perceived financial barriers to services which are usually provided free of charge.
Unfortunately, the stale mate could impact search times with both search providers and water suppliers able to quote legislation to support their position on this issue.
Search providers cite Article 7 of DIRECTIVE 2003/4/EC of The European Parliament and of The Council of 28 January 2003 on public access to environmental information and repealing Council Directive 90/313/EEC, which suggests ‘Member States shall ensure that environmental information progressively becomes available in electronic databases which are easily accessible to the public through public telecommunication networks.’
This argument, from 2003, encourages providers to make information easily accessible and promotes continued innovation in providing ‘electronic’ alternatives.
Conversely, Trent Severn refer to Sections 198 and 199 of the Water Industry Act 1991 to outline their obligations and expectations in providing information to the public at all reasonable times ‘at an office of the undertaker.’ Given the unprecedented times we are in, water suppliers should be in a position to close their offices to the public.
As the regulations were enforced in 1991, a time before electronic communication and storage was the norm, search providers argue that electronic access be classed as the ‘reasonable’ norm in 2020.