Belfast Telegraph

NI Water: Sara Venning is fifth chief at the helm in eight years

By Chris Kilpatrick

Less than a year after being appointed permanent NI Water chief, Sara Venning is grappling with the latest crisis to hit the company.

The mother-of-three from Cookstown is the fifth person at the helm since the company was formed eight years ago.

Prior to joining NI Water, Ms Venning spent 14 years with Northern Ireland Electricity.

Ms Venning stepped up to the role of interim chief executive having previously been director of customer delivery.

She was appointed permanent chief executive last April, four years after joining the company.

She is said to receive between £130,000 and £135,000 a year in salary and allowances, plus pension benefits of £51,000.

The post could be considered as something of a poisoned chalice.

In late 2010 some 450,000 people were left without supply after freezing weather caused chaos.

More than 40,000 homes were off mains supply and, at the height of the crisis, one million people tried to ring NI Water.

Some were left without water for more than a week. NI Water chief executive Laurence MacKenzie resigned in the wake of the crisis.

The previous year chairman and interim chief executive Chris Mellor and three other board members were sacked over controversy regarding the awarding of contracts.

Its first chief executive Kathryn Bryan left in 2008 in the wake of controversy surrounding the miscalculation of future revenue. Ms Venning replaced Trevor Haslett who stepped down in August 2013 citing "personal reasons".

In November 2011 thousands of customers in Ballymoney had to boil their water because of problems with the supply.

And in 2013 a water pressure problem caused severe trouble in Ardglass. Homeowners were left with bills running into thousands of pounds after water pipes burst, hot tanks cracked and shower fittings were blown off walls.

Despite the problems, Ms Venning said she was confident stability would bring benefits, when appointed permanent chief executive. At the time she said: "The staff are more than happy that they know who their CEO is, how their CEO thinks, and they are clear on their goals and directions and the place that we want to drive the organisation to."

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