Proposal for giant reservoir faces continued opposition

Renewed efforts by water companies to move forward with proposals for a giant reservoir near Abingdon are again facing opposition in Oxfordshire.

Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet today discussed its draft responses to a series of consultations taking place concerning future water supplies, including the Water Resources South East (WRSE) draft regional plan.

The WRSE plan includes proposals for a reservoir located between Abingdon, East Hanney, Steventon and Marcham, which would hold up to 100 million cubic metres of water – known as the South East Strategic Reservoir Option (SESRO) – as well as other options for securing future water supply.

In the council’s draft response, the WRSE consultation is described as “deeply flawed” and based on “unrealistic and non-evidence-based assumptions” about climate change, as well as “ludicrously outdated population projections”.

The response calls the £1.244 billion reservoir “a destructive scheme, both environmentally and in its impacts on local people”, with bill-payers effectively being asked to “sign a blank cheque”, with no clear cost-benefit analysis or justification.

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.

“The consultation uses outdated figures for population growth and exaggerates water need.

“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, which is why we organised the recent water summit to look at the issues surrounding it. But building a huge reservoir, damaging the environment and the lives of the people living in this area, is not the answer.”

The SESRO previously appeared in the WRSE emerging regional plan, which Oxfordshire County Council responded to in March 2022. Despite about half of the 1,150 responses indicating direct opposition to it, the giant reservoir proposal was not removed from the draft plan.

A similar reservoir proposal was also rejected by the government in 2011 following a public inquiry.

Cabinet agreed to delegate the final responses on the WRSE consultation to Cllr Sudbury and Bill Cotton, the Director of Environment and Place, as well as responses to the Water Resources West draft regional plan, the Water Resources East draft regional plan, and the Affinity Water and Thames Water draft water resources management plans.

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