Oxfordshire Greens have objected to the latest proposal for a mega-reservoir outside Abingdon, calling for water companies to first get their house in order by prioritising measures that manage demand, reuse water wherever possible, upgrade and repair existing infrastructure, and prevent wastage through leaks.
The response has been submitted at the first stage in the development of the Environment Agency’s water resources strategy which sets out plans to meet England’s long-term water needs in the face of climate change. The plans include a 150 million cubic metre reservoir the size of Heathrow airport between East Hanney and Steventon, which would be surrounded by walls up to 30 metres high and take a decade to build.
Explaining why such proposals were on the table, Sarah James, one of the response authors’, and a resident of East Hendred, says;
“The South East is the most water-stressed part of the UK. The whole of the south of England - including Oxfordshire - is at real risk of severe water shortages over the coming decades. We desperately need to come up with robust, resilient plans to make sure we have water in the years to come. But we have to make sure that local people are protected as well. It is clear from these proposals that a reservoir in the Vale will not help this area. Instead, it will continue to drive high water demand in London. Instead of destroying a huge swathe of countryside to feed a greedy, leaky system, priority must be given to managing demand, mending infrastructure, preventing waste, and reusing water wherever we can.”
The new proposals have been strongly opposed by a wide range of local groups including Oxfordshire County Council. Pete Sudbury, Green County Councillor and cabinet member for Climate Change and Environment explained: “To agree that a project of this size was justified we would expect to see the need clearly and compellingly made, and a complete lack of other viable options. Thames Water have a tarnished reputation and I have had discussions with them where I have emphasised the importance of them being transparent and open, keeping local people fully informed and answering their questions honestly.”
Katherine Foxhall, Chair of South and Vale Greens said: “Just a decade ago, a public inquiry concluded that Thames Water had not made the case for a reservoir here. This new proposal, now in partnership with Affinity Water, is an even bigger project but still fails to address major issues at even a basic level. The submission here is vague about the risk of flooding, and underplays the huge impact this will have on local communities and countryside. It gives no detail about cost or the profits that Thames Water would expect to make from selling water onwards.”
She added: “Far from being transparent, this initial consultation has been entirely opaque. The consultation date had to be moved twice after complaints about the amount of redacted information in the initial public documents. Missing material included maps that showed the possible project locations and sizes. This basic information is crucial in order to judge the likely effect of any proposals on our local communities and environment.”
RAPID - a group made up of Ofwat, Environment Agency and the Drinking Water Inspectorate - is expected to publish its final decisions on the first stage of the process in early December, before more detailed plans are made available for public scrutiny in 2022. More information about the plans can be found on the OFWAT website.
Read our full response to the Gate 1 submission here.