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Plans for reservoir continue despite local objections 

Plans for an expanded controversial reservoir near Abingdon have again been criticised by local communities, with Vale of White Horse District Council urging water providers to consider alternative solutions. 

The council has reaffirmed its objections to the reservoir in a formal letter to Thames Water following submission of their revised Draft Water Resources Management Plan (WRMP) to government. An alliance of the six water companies in the South East, known as Water Resources South East or WRSE, also submitted its revised draft Water Resources South East regional plan to government at the same time.  

The draft WRMP not only progresses plans for the reservoir, known as the South East Strategic Reservoir Option (SESRO), but proposed to increase the capacity by 50% from 100Mm3 to 150Mm3. Meanwhile, the proposed Severn to Thames Water transfer has been downgraded as an option.  

The council argues that the plans fail to fully consider the long term impacts to the local community and the environment, both during a decade of construction and the irreparable damage to the countryside. 

A reservoir would also come at the expense of significant carbon emissions which the council argues would impact the district’s ability to become carbon neutral by 2045. 

Cllr Bethia Thomas, Leader of Vale of White Horse District Council, said: “We are incredibly disappointed that the reservoir option is still being considered at all, let alone with the proposed increase in size. 

“I think it is ridiculous to think that a giant reservoir dominating our countryside, impacting our environment and involving significant financial and carbon costs, could be considered the best solution for providing water security to the South East. 

“Water suppliers should instead be focusing on fast-tracking less disruptive alternatives by fixing leaks, educating us all to reduce our water consumption and by exploring the use of water transfers. We’ve made it clear we’re eager to work with suppliers to support these initiatives wherever possible through our emerging Joint Local Plan. 

“We want to see meaningful local engagement in the early stages of these plans and greater consideration for the community and the environment which would be most impacted. 

“We will continue to represent our residents and urge water providers, regulators and government to listen to local voices and reject these plans.” 

Councillor Pete Sudbury, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Climate Change and Environment, said: “We have consistently opposed this reservoir proposal, which we believe could turn out to be a damaging white elephant that will not be resilient to the kind of multi-year droughts we are seeing in many parts of the world. 

“It will arrive too late – climate change is worsening rapidly, and this scheme takes 20 years before it does anything. Putting more than a billion pounds into this project will delay quicker and more reliable schemes, including recycling and transfers from less water-stressed regions, which provide the early, powerful climate resilience we believe is urgently needed. 

“Securing water supplies for the people of Oxfordshire in the medium to long term is something we as a council will do all we can to help. But building a huge reservoir, damaging the environment and the lives of the people living in this area, is not the answer.” 

The revised draft Water Resources Management Plan will now be reviewed by Government and, if endorsed, will be finalised and published in 2024. 

Thames Water will continue with the development of their SESRO project, focusing on environmental data collection and ground investigation surveys over the coming months, with engagement and updates to stakeholders to be held in Autumn this year.  

Notes for editors: 

In December 2021, Vale of White Horse District Council agreed a motion to: ‘reaffirm its position from the previous public inquiry that it opposes the reservoir proposal unless or until the case for need for this specific solution (over and above the other potential cheaper, less disruptive, and less environmentally impactful solutions) has been clearly tested, demonstrated and agreed by independent scientific experts.’ 

More information on Thames Water’s Water Resources Management Plan 2024 can be found online.

The Water Resources South East revised draft Regional Plan can also be found online