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Government gives the green light to first desalination plant

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BRITAIN MOVED a step closer to getting its first desalination plant this week after the government gave the east London scheme the green light.

The government said it was 'minded to grant planning permission' to Thames Water's scheme after its planning inspector rejected London mayor Ken Livingstone's objections.

A five-week planning inquiry was triggered in May 2006 after Livingstone forced the London Borough of Newham to object to the scheme on the grounds of environmental sustainability.

Livingstone argued that Thames should instead cut leakage and invest in effluent reuse.

But planning inspector Robert Lyon ruled that Thames' proposal amounts to 'very special circumstances', ensuring sufficient water supply to the capital during droughts and providing resilience against possible terrorist attack.

He added that while all parties agreed that Thames urgently needs to address its leakage performance, there was no technical evidence to support the potential savings asserted by Livingstone.

He ruled that it would be unrealistic to assume that effluent reuse could be brought online by 2017.

Lyon also overruled objections that the plant on the north bank of the Thames at Beckton, which will deliver 140Ml of water a day, amounted to inappropriate development within Metropolitan Open Land (MOL), a status with similar protections to green belt.

He said that the openness and character of the site, an existing sewage treatment works, had already been compromised.

He stipulated that the design of the buildings should present an impression of 'quiet efficiency'.

Thames has also pledged to power the plant from 100% renewable sources. Its original planning application promised just 10%.

It now has two weeks to finalise an operating agreement with the Environment Agency before environment secretary David Milliband and communities and local government secretary Ruth Kelly make a final decision.

'We are pleased that the government has recognised the importance of the desalination plant to safeguard London's water supplies, ' said Thames Water's director of sustainability Richard Aylard. 'Without it we face an unnecessarily high risk of severe water shortages.'

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