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The Vale rejects the need for gigantic new “environmentally disastrous” reservoir

Plans for an enormous reservoir near Abingdon should be halted due to significant environmental concerns says the Vale of White Horse District Council in its published response to Thames Water’s public consultation on futureproofing water supplies in South East England. In addition, Vale raised questions about the validity of Thames Water’s public consultation process.

The district council – which represents the site of the proposed reservoir – has set out a wide range of concerns about the proposals, including the size of the carbon footprint of the construction project and the significant impact the reservoir would have on the landscape and local communities.

The council’s response adds that as the world is facing a climate emergency, building a new reservoir should be a last resort. The district council has questioned whether Thames Water has truly exhausted all other options that would have a lower carbon footprint and less impact on the environment.

One such option is the Severn – Thames Transfer Scheme – an ambitious project to provide additional capacity of water to South East England during drought events through an interconnector. This would enable the transfer of raw water from the River Severn to the River Thames.

The council has pointed out that during a properly-run and thorough consultation, the public and other stakeholders should have the opportunity to provide feedback on other options that have been considered, even if they don’t form part of the final proposals. The council says the Thames Water proposals do not provide any details of the other options that it claims to have considered and rejected.

Vale’s response suggests the proposals are not radical or forward-looking and says Thames Water shouldn’t be looking to use old infrastructure solutions such as reservoirs when it could be more ambitious. Council suggestions include investing in nature-based solutions like improving river catchments with new nature recovery areas and encouraging customer behaviour change so they consume less and take responsibility for their own water use.

It adds Thames Water is focusing too much on supply and not on reducing demand. By reviewing growth predictions and working harder to reduce demand through fixing leaks and changing consumer behaviour, the council believes Thames Water would be able to revisit previously rejected alternatives that are less carbon intensive and less environmentally harmful.

Cllr Emily Smith, Leader of the Vale of White Horse District Council, said: “Thames Water urgently needs to rethink its plans. A reservoir of this scale would be environmentally disastrous, doing permanent and irreversible harm to an enormous area of the Vale’s countryside. Just as we’re trying to tackle the climate emergency it’s hard to think of a more carbon intensive activity than a construction project of this magnitude.

“Thames Water has not given the public any opportunity to comment on any alternatives, nor explained why it has unilaterally rejected these alternatives, and I call on Thames Water to hear the messages the people of the Vale are sending – stop this reservoir now.”

The full response to Water Resources South-East Plan consultation is now available on the council’s website here and also raises concerns about increased flood risk, harm to public rights of way, and questions how the project will meet its required ten per cent biodiversity net gains.