FOR most urban Australians, reticulated sewerage systems are taken for granted.
More a right than a privilege. But for people at Hexham - and those at the unsewered areas of Raworth, near Morpeth, and North Rothbury, near Greta - the situation is not so simple.
As we report today, Hexham residents say they have had decades of promises but no progress, as they get by with ageing septic tanks on the flood-prone flats.
Wanting to see how things looked from the perspective of Hunter Water, we put a series of questions to its management earlier in the week.
Hunter Water's response was to say, in essence, that its hands were tied by the state government's Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART).
Hunter Water said, in short, that it could no longer collect money to pay for what are described as "backlog sewer services", and so the householders of Hexham would have to foot most of the bill, if not all of it, themselves.
IPART, though, has another view.
In setting Hunter Water's prices from 2020 to 2024 it said that Hunter Water wanted to end a $41-a-year Environmental Improvement Charge that had paid for "backlog" projects, including the nearly completed $36-million connection of 400 properties at Wyee.
As the government had not "directed" Hunter Water to "deliver further backlog sewerage services' - to connect Hexham, Raworth and North Rothbury, in other words - IPART said it could stop charging the levy.
The situation, then, looks like a beautifully circular game of pass the parcel, with each arm of the bureaucracy able to defend its decision-making.
Hunter Water even told the Herald it was "working collaboratively with local councils across the region to understand priority backlog sewer areas including Hexham".
From the Herald's point of view, Hunter Water has had a long time already to understand that Newcastle residents are living in unacceptable conditions at Hexham.
The cost of connecting the sewer would be a fraction of the money it sends to Sydney each year in dividends.
Perhaps water minister Melinda Pavey, or Hunter Water's shareholders - treasurer Dominic Perrottet and finance minister Damien Tudehope - might like to look for themselves.
If there are undeclared reasons for the lack of progress at Hexham, it's time to say what they are.
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