Oxfordshire County Council calls for giant reservoir plan to be scrapped again

Oxfordshire County Council has called for revived plans to build a seven square kilometre reservoir between Abingdon, Steventon and East Hanney to be dropped.

A draft regional plan for securing future water supplies includes proposals for the south east strategic reservoir option (SESRO), which would cost up to £1.4 billion. Similar proposals were rejected by the government in 2011 following a public inquiry.

The council’s official response to the Water Resources South East (WRSE) regional plan was discussed by the council’s Cabinet at its meeting today [15 March]. It recommended that the SESRO should not be included as there is insufficient evidence that it is needed and other options would be better value.

At its full council meeting on 2 November, Oxfordshire County Council passed a motion opposing the SESRO.

Councillor Pete Sudbury, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Climate Change and Environment, said: “This authority’s message to the water industry has been clear and consistent over many years – the people of Oxfordshire have no wish to see this vast reservoir imposed on them.

“In my opinion the assumptions underlying the reservoir plan are deeply flawed. The forecast need for additional water supply appears to be exaggerated, particularly given the sharp reductions in England’s predicted population over the last few years.

“It makes no sense at all to build a reservoir in Oxfordshire to cater for London and the South, instead of bringing water in from other less water-stressed regions or progressing other options. These include recycling and better water management which their own data reveal have the potential to produce over 10 times as much water as the reservoir, with far less climate and environmental impact.

“The water companies must dramatically reduce leakage from existing water pipes to meet future needs. The target in this plan is to reduce leakage by 50 per cent between 2017 and 2050. However, we believe there is scope to reduce leakage faster, and by more. The water companies, including Thames Water here in Oxfordshire, need to do more to reduce pipe leakage and give preference to low carbon and least environmentally damaging solutions.”

WRSE is an alliance of the six water companies that supply drinking water across south east England, including Oxfordshire’s supplier Thames Water. They are working with government, regulators and stakeholders to develop a regional plan to secures the region’s future water supplies.

The council’s concerns about SESRO, expressed in its response to the WRSE plan consultation include:

  • the carbon footprint
  • significant construction effects over a long period
  • impacts on the landscape
  • impacts on the amenity of those living nearby
  • impacts from traffic including congestion and air quality issues
  • the need for active travel and public right of way connections
  • the potential for the railway to be used to reduce impacts on roads 
  • how the Hanney Road/Steventon Road will be diverted.
  • impacts on flood risk
  • water quality including potential for algae growth
  • impacts on archaeology
  • impacts on biodiversity
  • the potential to replace existing solar farms on the land
  • the high cost of the reservoir and associated pipeline transfers.

The proposed reservoir would be located in an area adjoining East Hanney and Steventon, and in very close proximity to Drayton, Marcham and Abingdon and therefore will impact on those residents.

The consultation ended on 14 March and Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet submitted their final response after their meeting o 15 March.

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