Thousands of staff at one of the UK’s biggest car plants have been sent home, after Jaguar Land Rover was forced to shut down production at its Solihull factory as a result of a water shortage caused by burst water mains after the recent cold weather.
The local water company Severn Trent said it had asked JLR to “manage” its water usage so it could prioritise household supplies. Neither the carmaker nor Severn Trent could say how long the shutdown would last at the West Midlands plant, which employs 10,000 people making models including the Jaguar XE and Jaguar F-Pace.
But even a temporary closure is likely to be costly for JLR, which has recently invested £1.5bn to upgrade the plant with state-of-the-art technology.
The UK’s water regulator, Ofwat, warned it would not “hesitate to intervene” if suppliers were found to have been ill-prepared for the cold weather, after thousands of homes were left without water. Severn Trent is expected to have to pay compensation to JLR as a result of the shutdown.
Water companies have blamed the situation on the rapid thaw after last week’s snow and freezing temperatures. Thames Water earlier advised its customers to limit their water usage while it dealt with the aftermath of the thaw, after at least 23,800 households were left without water.
Welsh Water said “unprecedented challenges” had affected 4,500 homes, while Scottish Water said it had not suffered a significant problem because the thaw had been less rapid further north.
Severn Trent earlier apologised to people in the Birmingham area facing outages while it dealt with a 4,000% increase in the number of burst pipes. It said JLR’s temporary closure would help it put domestic customers first.
“As well as bringing in extra teams and tankers, and ramping up production at our treatment works so we can continue to keep schools, hospitals, homes and vulnerable customers on supply, we’ve worked closely with Jaguar Land Rover to manage their water usage, which helps us prioritise household supplies,” said a spokesperson.
“We’d like to thank them for their support as we look to get everything back to normal for our customers.”
A message to staff from JLR, which was posted on social media, said: “Due to a series of water bursts on the Severn Trent water network, the water is now being switched off across our Solihull plant and across the Midlands.
“As a result, production will be temporarily affected. We would appreciate your support in safely and efficiently exiting site.” The memo advised staff to check a Facebook page for employees of the factory.
A spokesperson for JLR said: “Jaguar Land Rover’s Solihull manufacturing plant has been forced to close due to water shortages caused by burst water mains in the region. Employees are being sent home and those due to attend work on the night shift this evening are being stood down.
“We will continue to keep employees informed as the situation develops.”
Rachel Fletcher, chief executive of Ofwat, said: “When the taps are back on, we will take a long, hard look at what has happened here and we won’t hesitate to intervene if we find that companies have not had the right structures and mechanisms in place to be resilient enough.
“While the recent severe freeze and thaw have undoubtedly had an impact on pipes and infrastructure, this weather was forecast in advance. A number of water companies appear to have fallen well short on their forward planning and the quality of support and communication they’ve been providing, leaving some customers high and dry.”