Water industry veteran retires

Martin Kane retires after nearly 50 years working in the water industry

This week saw the retirement of trenchless pioneer Martin Kane after nearly 50 glorious years working in the water industry. No-Dig Live spoke with Martin as he reflected on his career and looked ahead to the challenges and opportunities faced by the sector.

Martin’s route into the water industry was rather different to most. He left school at 18 and did not go to university. Instead, he signed up for an apprenticeship with Hertfordshire County Council and started an ONC in Civil Engineering. Following that, he completed an HNC and joined Severn Trent in 1975 as a senior technician. He notes however that it soon became apparent that without a degree, he had reached a glass ceiling at the age of 23! Fortunately, an enlightened and supportive boss agreed he could do a day release degree course at a polytechnic in London. The only downside was that he had to make the time up at work and pay his own expenses! After 4 years Martin had his degree in Civil Engineering and was on his way to becoming a chartered engineer.

Following the privatisation of the water companies, Martin helped create the Severn Trent Water Mains Rehabilitation Department in 1989.  With responsibility for the southern area, he built and managed a highly skilled team of around 100 designers and site managers, utilising cement and epoxy lining techniques to reduce colouration and meet the needs for increase pressure and flow.

Buy the mid 1990’s, it became clear that the water sector needed to get to grips with the issue of leakage and Martin led the search for new and innovative installations for water pipes. The programme drew on the experiences of the gas sector which had stolen a bit of a march and looked at how techniques being employed there could be adopted for water.

Thanks to the work of Martin and his team, Severn Trent found itself firmly at the forefront of polythene pipes – the adoption of which was to be a key enabler for future trenchless opportunities.  The team also established that mains bursting was the optimum solution for urban and suburban areas and worked hard with contract partners to perfect this technique. Over time, their toolkit expanded to include close fit lining techniques and directional drilling.

Severn Trent soon became recognised as a centre of excellence for trenchless technology and Martin was invited  to join the UKSTT committee, serving as Chair from 1997 to 1999. He also acted as UK representative for the ISTT international committee attending events in Lausanne, Taipei and Budapest.  During his tenure, Martin presented numerous papers on Severn Trent’s approach to the evaluation of the network and the optimised solutions it developed. As Severn Trent’s reputation grew, it became the “go to” company for advice, with visits from the US, Canada, Russia, Scandinavia, Hong Kong , Australia, Holland and South Africa to name but a few.

Martin has been a member of the Board of Guarantors of ISTT for many years. When he became Chairman a few years ago it became apparent that the Society had outgrown the operating model which had been in place from the beginning and is proud to have been part of a small group who redesigned the governance of ISTT, to give the members a greater say in how the Society is run. He is handing over the Chair of Guarantors/Trustees to Jari Kaukonen, Chairman of ISTT and Martin and Dec Downey hope to join the Advisory Panel that Dec is intending to form as ISTT President ( as a Former Chairman of ISTT).

By the late 1990’s, over 80% of Severn Trent’s work was completed using trenchless techniques. Martin looks back fondly at taking part in the AWWA Research Foundation mains rehabilitation seminar and still regards it as one of the highlights of his stellar career. The event was filmed in TV studios in Denver and broadcast live to cinemas across the US to an audience of over 2000 people. In addition to his burgeoning film career, Martin was still able to find time to be a frequent contributor to the Trenchless Technology Manual and the Pipeline Materials Selection Manual.

Throughout his career Martin remained conscious of the route he took into the sector and always encouraged people working for him to get the highest qualifications they could, ensuing that part of their CV never become a limiting factor. “My philosophy,” he says, “is that you should find your career limits based on desire, ability and opportunity.”  Other attributes Martin values and encourages are curiosity and a bit of intuition but always built on a really solid technical foundation. “I have sought to become as good as my ability allows” he notes.

As you’d expect, Martin has some interesting views on the future of the UK water sector.  He makes the point that the impacts associated with climate change are starting to be felt more deeply and frequently and that the predicted hotter dryer summers and warmer wetter winters are already with us.  With water being such a finite resource, all plausible future scenarios show that we cannot carry on as we are.

Martin believes there are three components which hold the key to protecting this valuable resource:


Water is either captured in reservoirs or abstracted directly from rivers and aquifers. We should plan for water for human consumption which also fulfils the needs of nature and the environment. This year, we have gone from intense flooding in February and March through to demand pressures as we have the hottest, driest May on record. Creating supply capacity whilst protecting rivers and groundwater levels is a problem to be solved over the next decade.


Our society has been used to using water without too much regard for the finite nature of the product. In future, more effort has to go into making demand match supply as it cannot be taken for granted. This will include building homes which have appliances which use far less water and from a water company supplier perspective, running a pipeline network which leaks far less that today. All water companies have signed up to ambitious leakage reduction targets and are now busy developing detailed plans to deliver. Mains renewal will be a critical factor in this so there has never been a better time for innovative companies to step forward with solutions which deliver the desired outcomes quicker and for less cost.

Customer behaviour

We have to look to move public opinion from waste being okay to being unacceptable. Reducing consumption will require full support from consumers, particularly during times of high demand. The concepts of a circular economy have been around for a while and now seems to be the time to evaluate waste in all its different guises and then work to eliminate it. Water needs to be at the forefront of our thinking.

Let’s hope we are able to balance these factors in time to limit any issues with availability.

Everyone at Westrade and No-Dig Live wold like to take this opportunity to thank Martin for taking the time to speak to us and for all the work he has done for the trenchless sector over his fantastic career.  We wish him all the best with his retirement and hope to still see him on the trenchless circuit in the future.

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