CAMPAIGNERS fighting plans for a reservoir the size of Heathrow Airport near Abingdon are claiming a victory after Thames Water said it would hold a second consultation on its plans.

The water company revealed yesterday that it would take its 'water resources strategy' back to the people after huge pressure from Oxfordshire County Council, an Oxfordshire MP and village campaigners.

Oxford Mail:

However despite the calls from every political division in the county, Thames Water claimed it had been considering a second consultation on its plans for ‘at least a couple of months’ and said ‘legal considerations’ – not public strength of feeling – were behind the move to hold the new eight-week consultation at the end of September.

The company also said that there were ‘no significant changes’ to the reservoir project, but added that the timeline for building could now be altered as part of its long-term water management plan.

The firm's head of environmental regulation Yvette de Garis said: “There isn’t a silver bullet here – it’s not about ‘do we do a de-salination project’ or ‘do we do reservoirs’, ‘do we do leakage’ – what we’ve got is a package of measures of which the reservoir is but one part.”

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

Leakages at Thames currently account for wastage of 697 million litres per day. The reservoir’s maximum capacity would be 150 billion litres.

Ms de Garis refuted suggestions that re-consultation suggested problems with its original planning, claiming that up-to-date current population statistics and national infrastructure assessments had only recently become available.

She continued: “The whole point is about engagement… we do want to hear people’s views.

“The re-consultation is genuine: it really should be seen as a positive thing, not a negative."

Thames Water says the new reservoir is part of wider plan to ensure water supplies in Oxfordshire and the south east remain 'resilient' in future.

The Environment Agency predicts that the region will become increasingly 'water-stressed' due to climate change.

The campaign against the Abingdon reservoir plan has been spearheaded for decades by the Group Against Reservoir Development (GARD), which said the first consultation earlier this year was 'shambolic', and wrote one of a number of letters to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).

Chairman Derek Stork insisted that the second consultation was only happening because of the pressure that his and other groups had heaped on Environment Secretary Michael Gove.

He said: “GARD welcomes Thames Water’s news that the public will be given a second chance to comment on what, even from the very limited information available, can be seen as essentially a new plan, rather than one merely revised.

“The statement neglects to mention that this second consultation is only happening because of requests and pressure to Michael Gove and the regulators for more scrutiny – that pressure has come from a wide variety of Oxfordshire organisations."

He went on: “It is to be hoped that Thames Water’s new case will be put with much more transparency than the previous document, which was widely criticised (including by Ofwat and the Environment Agency) for being completely opaque on matters such as relative cost and environmental impact of competing schemes.

"If we find the new plan has failed to come clean on issues like this, we are likely to call for a public inquiry.”

Wantage MP Ed Vaizey said he was 'delighted' Thames Water was to hold a second consultation.

He added: "This is the right decision and I think it important that all stakeholders look at the revised aspects and feed back to the new consultation.”

A county council spokesperson said: “Our county councillors unanimously called for a second consultation in July. We welcome the fact that people will again be able to have an opportunity to have their say and will continue to scrutinise proposals from Thames.”

County councillors for Steventon Mike Fox-Davies, who initially proposed that the county council call for a second consultation, said: “Thames Water say they will be re-consulting on changes made to their draft water resources management plan, but I would expect they would look at the overall plan, as I am sure that some, if not all, of those changes will have an effect on the whole.

“This reservoir, as proposed by Thames Water, would have a 10-to-15-year build programme, bringing all the unwelcome pressure and disturbance of such a major construction project to the already overcrowded infrastructure in this essentially rural part of Oxfordshire and I am pleased to support my residents in fighting against the reservoir.”