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UK Power Networks blames rain for increase in pavement explosions in London

17 September 2014

On September 16 the CEO of the company that maintains London’s power cables blamed a surge in potentially deadly pavement explosions on increasing rain, according to the Evening Standard newspaper. Basil Scarsella, who runs Hong Kong-based UK Power Networks, was appearing before Westminster Council’s Enviromment, Policy and Scrutiny Committee.

Stock image
Stock image

Scarsella said the increase in explosions was down to increased rainwater seeping into faulty underground wiring, and he admitted avoiding further explosions was “impossible”. He also said there was some evidence that the age of the asset (link box or cable pit) was a contributor.

A total of 64 of the explosions in the capital were reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) by mid-September 2014, an average of nearly two a week, surpassing the 51 recorded in the entire of 2013.

They include a lorry with its driver inside being engulfed in flames when an electrical fault caused an explosion in Piccadilly in July, one in Pimlico last year where a huge fireball shot up into the air after a faulty power cable shook nearby buildings and left a crater in the middle of the street.

In 2011 a man was left in a wheelchair for nearly three months in Harrow after a blast blew out a manhole cover he was standing on.

Chairman of the committee, councillor Ian Adams, said: “I think it is more by luck than planning that we haven’t had any serious injuries of fatalities.

“Without some significant uplift in the investment programme, we are more at risk to this happening in the future. If you look at the increase in the number of explosions, there is an increased chance of fatality or serious injury.”

Scarsella said as a result of the increase in incidents, UK Power Networks, which manages the more than 22,000 miles of electrical cable under London, had now launched a yearly inspection programme for all link boxes in central London. They were previously inspected every eight years.

He also unveiled interim measures to mitigate the explosions, including specially developed blankets to restrict oxygen levels around link boxes and putting sand inside chambers to douse any fires.

He said he would fast-track a programme to inspect and replace the ageing underground electric network, but it would require regulator Ofgem agreeing to help finance it, and discussions were ongoing.

But he said while his company would do everything it could to mitigate the problems, it was “impossible” to stop them completely, even if all the 150,000 link boxes in the capital were replaced.

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