Campaigners in Abingdon were this week seeking to head off plans for a scaled-down reservoir near the town after a planning inspector rejected proposals for a 100M.m3 facility.
Senior planning inspector Wendy Burden told ministers in early March that Thames Water had failed to justify the proposed 100M.m3 reservoir near Abingdon.
She was reporting to government as the head of a public inquiry into the company’s plans called for by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
Thames Water had included proposals for the reservoir − formally called the Upper Thames Reservoir (UTR) − in its revised draft Water Resources Management Plan (WRMP) for 2010 to 2035.
Burden recommended that the UTR be scrapped, and that smaller scale solutions including the 50M.m³ reservoir be appraised in its place and included as options in the final WRMP.
Thames Water originally discounted this smaller option as too small to meet long term needs, and because the company feared it would “sterilise” the site, preventing a larger reservoir being developed there in future.
However, the Group Against Reservoir Development (Gard) said that it would continue lobbying for all types of reservoir to be ruled out of the plans. Gard met with the Environment Agency on Monday in an attempt to influence its position on the inspector’s conclusions.
We don’t concur with where this is going. There is every sign that they will go in the wrong direction
Glynn Davies, Gard
Since March, the Environment Agency has backed the inspector’s recommendation that a smaller reservoir be considered.
“We support the Secretary of State’s decision to accept all of the Inspector’s conclusions and recommendations,” said Environment Agency Thames environment and performance manager Simon Hughes.
“We will advise Defra as requested and continue to work closely with Thames Water as it makes the changes to its plan [as directed by the environment secretary].”
In a letter seen by NCE, the Agency advised Defra to take forward the inspector’s recommendation for the 50M.m³ reservoir to be included in the final WRMP programme appraisal, and estimated it would take four months for a final WRMP to be produced.
“We don’t fully concur with where this is going,” said Gard committee member Glynn Davies. “There is every sign that they [the Agency, Defra and Thames Water] will go in the wrong direction if we don’t step in.”
The inquiry hinged on Thames Water’s projection of very high potential future water demand in London and the Swindon and Oxfordshire region. This could lead to water shortages which would have to be met by the construction of a major new reservoir.
Burden questioned the reliability of the forecasts and said the company should look at a series of smaller schemes that would allow for greater future flexibility.
“In view of the fundamental changes that have occurred in national economic growth, there are good reasons to question the reliability of the population forecasts.
“In view of the fundamental changes that have occurred in national economic growth, there are good reasons to question the reliability of the population forecasts”
Wendy Burden, planning inspector
“A reduced level of population at 2035 would make a significant difference to the need for new water supply infrastructure in the plan period,” she said.
But Davies said Burden had not gone far enough. “They’ve still overestimated the supply deficit. We think they’re overplaying the need for this 50M.m³ reservoir, when [the idea] shouldn’t be alive,” he said.
Gard prefers other options, based on its smaller projection of future supply deficit, including the small-scale option of the Oxford canal transfer, which would see groundwater from sources near Birmingham transferred to Grimsbury reservoir in Oxfordshire via the canal network.
“[With this option] you get the most water for the least capital outlay,” said Davies. Thames Water told the inquiry this would only offer a small yield of 15M.l per day and would require a licence, which might not be available in the long term.
Gard also supports larger options including the Unsupported Severn Thames transfer and water re-use. Unlike the Oxford canal transfer, each of these would in themselves meet the supply deficit.
Thames Water is currently looking at the conclusions of last year’s inquiry. “The inspector has recommended an extensive programme of additional work, looking in detail at options to meet demand in the longer term and we will work on this with the Environment Agency, as directed by the environment secretary,” said a spokesman.
“The inspector has specifically asked us to develop a proposal for a smaller reservoir at Abingdon, which will be one of a number of options available to us.”