Blog: Outstanding Customer Satisfaction SECBE Awards 2020 finalist - Heading underground - upgrading Thanet’s sewers

15 June 2020

sponsored by Southern Construction Framework (SCF)

Outstanding Customer Satisfaction SECBE Awards 2020 finalist - Heading underground – upgrading Thanet’s sewers (submitted by TPMD)

Victorian Thanet was a thriving place and miners dug tunnels through the chalk under Ramsgate and Broadstairs, up to 28-meters below the streets. This subterranean labyrinth became Thanet’s sewer network, with pipes resting at the bottom of tunnels carrying wastewater away. More than a hundred years later this unique network is still in use. Each tunnel is different, matching the stature of the teams that created them – some tall and thin, some wide and stout – but all showing their age.

Southern Water (SW) committed to rehabilitate and restore the integrity of the sewer network across Thanet. Representing an investment of £34m, work started on site in summer 2018 with a regulatory completion date at the end of March 2020.

Delivering a programme of work covering more than 170 streets, successfully upgrading Thanet’s ageing sewer system to ensure it is fit for the future would rely as much on its community engagement as construction skills. Joint-venture TPMD brought together the specialist construction skills needed for this unique project. Each of TPMD’s joint venture partners focused on delivering their area of specialism overseen by one management team. Work was planned in sequence to remove the need to return to sites with different teams.

With a dedicated project liaison team managing proactive engagement, complaints have stayed low for a project of this size. Over 18-months, 272 people contacted the project - ranging from requests for help to get removal vehicles through road closures to wanting more information about the project. Less than 100 of these contacts were complaints - averaging at around four a month across as many as 15 live sites at a time.

The Ramsgate-based team would focus on carrying out proactive activities, keeping people informed about where they would be, for how long and any traffic management, allowing residents to plan extra time into journeys or find alternative routes, aiming to keep contact low.

Each site followed a customer journey focused on providing proactive, regular and informative communications to those impacted. For any questions, a freephone number was available, manned by the project team.  As much of the work is hidden underground, efforts were made to explain what was happening, giving residents a better understanding of what was being done and why sites can look like there’s not much going on, giving residents an understanding of the unseen long-term benefits of short-term disruption.

The scale and impact of the project

Existing manholes were used for access - minimising site footprints, and flexible working was adopted to minimise disruption - with some elements being undertaken at night, weekends and during school holidays. Regular meetings with Kent County Council Highways (KCCH) and flexibility in the work programme kept the roads of the towns moving.

Regular client liaison between SW and TPMD quickly dealt with technical queries. Through a collaborative and agile approach to delivery, work is on time and on budget. In 18 months the project has:

  • Upsized 624m of pipework
  • Built 1,240m of new pipework
  • Lined 5,358m of tunnels and prepared a further 1,590m for lining
  • Relined over 1,500m of sewers
  • Completed 146 patch repairs using trenchless technology
  • Refurbished and rebuilt 172 manholes

A unique and complex project, hidden under the streets of Thanet, the delivery team has been described as ‘professional, polite and considerate’ by local residents.


  • With work covering 170 streets across two busy seaside towns, successfully delivering this project on time and on budget has been as much down to its community engagement as the specialist construction skills of working underground in the 100-year old chalk tunnels. More than 30,000 letters have been delivered, and only 272 direct contacts received.
  • As a new joint-venture, TPMD registered the project with the Considerate Constructor Scheme (CCS). Having started from scratch, within 18-months the project was delighted to achieve a score of 43 out 50 on its final visit.
  • Since summer 2018, 84% of public feedback scored their experience during the work between 6 and 10 (10 being the best). With 65% scoring 8, 9 or 10.

About the Outstanding Customer Satisfaction Award:

In the best companies, the customer drives everything. These companies really understand and then provide precisely what the end customer needs, when the customer needs it and at a price that reflects the product’s value to the customer. Activities which do not add value from the customer’s viewpoint can be classified as waste and eliminated.

> Find out more about the other finalists here

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