PLANS to build a huge new reservoir in southern Oxfordshire have been attacked by MP Layla Moran, who joined communities fighting the plans.

The proposed Abingdon reservoir, which would cover farmland between Steventon, East Hanney and Drayton, could help provide more than 100 million litres of water each day. With a surface area of 6.7km2 and depth of 25m, it would be among the biggest in Europe and provide water for much of the South East.

The resurgence of the controversial plan by Water Resources South East – a body of regional water providers – follows calls for more reservoirs by the water regulator Ofwat, to address climate change and looming water shortages. The plans have gone to public consultation.

Herald Series: The borders of the land near Abingdon where Thames Water wants to build a reservoir. Picture: Google Maps

Villagers, who face a decade of disruption if the proposal goes ahead, have won the support of Ms Moran. The MP for Oxford West and Abingdon called for the plans to be scrapped, with money instead going towards eradicating Thames Water’s discharge of sewage into the Thames and its tributaries.

Nearby parish councils, the Vale of White Horse District Council and Oxfordshire County Council have all opposed the scheme, saying it would destroy natural habitats and disrupt lives.

Ms Moran has said there was a “worrying lack of transparency” about the plans and said people deserved the “full facts”.

She said: “Whatever your views towards this proposal, I’m sure that everyone will be concerned if this process is being undertaken in a way which appears to many to be far from fully transparent.”

She said: “I am urging stakeholders in this process to be committed to open dialogue and transparency around these plans, and to make sure that involving residents is at the forefront of everything that goes on during this process.”

She added: “I would greatly prefer the amount of money and effort which is going into the proposed reservoir to instead be focussed on eradicating sewage pollution in our rivers. Once again, this week we have seen sewage released into the Thames in Witney, upstream from my constituency.

“I, and many people across our area, are feeling disgusted by the fact that these releases are almost being normalised, and people are expected to simply cope with rivers full of sewage. It is totally unacceptable, and water companies need to take action now.”

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Campaigners from protest organisation Group Against Abingdon Reservoir (GARD) have been opposing the plans for a reservoir in Abingdon since 1996, when it was first proposed. Meeting in Marcham on Tuesday, villagers questioned how Thames Water would build the reservoir without creating more water leaks. It called for a “better and cheaper” solution.

The group accused Thames Water of wasting the equivalent of two of the proposed Abingdon reservoirs each day through leaks and has called for the water company to fix its pipes before building a new reservoir.

Herald Series: Abingdon Reservoir Land
Picture by Ed Nix

Thames Water has admitted it needs to “do better” when it comes to water leakages. The company aims to reduce its leakage by 20 per cent by 2025 and by 50 per cent by 2050.

Villagers also raised concerns that many people believe the reservoir will be a location for leisure activities, and therefore will “better than more houses”.

At its meeting in Marcham, GARD members told concerned villagers there was “no space for leisure”.

The campaign group said the reservoir posed a “risk of producing poisonous algae which would pollute the Thames once returned."

It added: "The risk of invasive species and security risk mean high fences and no public access.”

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However, Thames Water said it aimed to work with the “country’s leading environmental specialists to design the reservoir to maximise environmental opportunities.”

The water company said this could include enhancing both the landscape and environment by providing new aquatic and terrestrial habitats that encourage greater biodiversity.

A spokesperson from Thames Water said: “We recognise there are local concerns about the potential development of a new reservoir and want to continue our ongoing dialogue with stakeholders including councillors, MPs and the wider community to address these; alongside discussing the long term benefits a new development could bring including job and skill creation, recreational opportunities and improved biodiversity and flood defences to the local community.”

Herald Series: Graphic by GARD showing the height of the reservoirGraphic by GARD showing the height of the reservoir

The water company's Cassington sewage treatment works has been referred to the Environment Agency for investigation over sewage spillage. Researchers from the Oxford Rivers Project submitted their data to the EA after finding that, in 2021, the works had spilled when rainfall was as low as 1mm, and sometimes before any rainfall had occurred.

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Further analysis indicated that raw sewage was being discharged into the Thames even when the works was operating below full capacity.

Herald Series: Graphic by GARDGraphic by GARD

It is legal for water companies to discharge raw, untreated sewage into rivers in times of ‘exceptionally heavy rainfall’. Water companies must monitor their overflows and provide data on spills of untreated sewage each year. However, analysis indicated that raw sewage was being discharged into the Thames even when the works was operating below full capacity.

Raw sewage has also been discharged from Thames Water's Witney treatment plant, polluting the Windrush, which flows into the Thames.

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