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Date set for public inquiry into Thames Water's mega £400M Abingdon reservoir

Thames Water’s plan to build a £400M, 150Mm3 reservoir in the heart of Oxfordshire will go before a public inquiry this summer.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has said the inquiry into Thames Water’s Water Resources Management Plan will take place next June. It called a public inquiry after saying Thames had failed to provide “adequate justification” for the project.

The plan outlines how the company will meet demand for water until 2035. A key aspect of it is to build the reservoir on farmland near the Oxfordshire town of Abingdon by 2026.

If built, the reservoir would supply an extra 350Ml of water a day, mainly to homes and businesses in London.

In March the water company pushed back plans to build the reservoir from 2020 to 2026 after revising its demand forecasts in the light of the economic recession.

It said additional water resources will still be needed by 2020 but that the company would promote some smaller groundwater abstraction schemes first.

However it said it would continue to develop the reservoir scheme and push it through the planning process to ensure that it can be operational when needed.

Key to this is a public inquiry into its Water Resources Management Plan. This was called in to public inquiry by Defra in August after it concluded that Thames had not provided “adequate justification” of its preferred options – including the reservoir - or the decision process in reaching that preferred programme of options.

Defra also said Thames had not provided enough detail on the changes made to household demand predictions in light of the economic recession.

Key revisions to Thames’ Plan included a substantial reduction in the forecast per capita consumption from 157 litres per head per day (l/h/d) to 135 l/h/d by 2035, driven in part by a greater understanding of its customers’ reduced water use during a drought and the downturn.

Defra was particularly critical of the reservoir plan. “The company has not satisfactorily explained why it is planning for an additional 100Mm3 of water, above its demand forecast,” it said. “It simply says it is needed to account for additional uncertainties associated with its supply-demand balance. The company proposes to meet this additional demand by building the Upper Thames Reservoir, which is of sufficient size to fall within the scope of the new National Policy Statements.”

The inquiry will be run by Wendy Burden and is expected to take place between 7 June 2010 to 8 July 2010. The Planning Inspectorate’s initial estimate is that the inquiry itself could sit for 10-12 days.

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