Thames Water did not tell the truth about sewage works' undercapacity in its response to a planning appeal, say campaigners.

Developer Inspired Villages is appealing West Oxfordshire District Council's decision to refuse planning permission for a proposed 160-unit retirement village in Freeland.  

Sewage from the development will be sent to Thames Water's Sewage Treatment Works at Church Hanborough. 

Windrush Against Sewage Pollution (WASP) has evidence that Church Hanborough sewage treatment works is currently operating outside its permit conditions - that is, illegally.

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It says Thames Water has admitted this, stating to West Oxfordshire District Council that the works is only treating 88 per cent of the required 'flow to full treatment' figure stated on its statutory permit.

Concerns about sewage pollution from the works contaminating bathing waters downstream were raised by pop star turned rivers campaigner Feargal Sharkey in May.



But WASP says that at the appeal last week while Thames Water did tell WODC and the planning inspector that its pipework could not accommodate the sewage, it failed to mention that the sewage works itself was undercapacity.

Professional aquatic ecologist Vaughan Lewis said: "On behalf of WASP I gave evidence to the planning inspector that highlighted this undercapacity at the STW.

"I think it is fair to say that this was news to her and to the developer's legal team."

He added: "The inspector faces a clear choice - grant the development and risk increasing pollution of the River Evenlode. Refuse it and risk the ire of the developer and probably the Government - or, most likely, impose a condition that requires upgrade of the sewage treatment works by Thames Water prior to occupancy. 

"This will of course put huge time and financial pressure on Thames Water, and will send a clear message to local planning authorites to do similar for all future developments that threaten to increase loading at over-capacity sewage treatment works."

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The Environment Agency is carrying out an investigation into the unpermitted operation of sewage treatment works and WASP said it is believed that Church Hanborough works is included.

WASP says without the upgrade granting the development "will simply endorse its present unpermitted and illegal operation, and will increase further the spilling of untreated and poorly treated sewage into the River Evenlode catchment".

Ash Smith, chair of WASP, said: "Using WASP's data analysis to reveal how sewage works are really performing, we hope to see West Oxfordshire District Council stand out from the crowd and take a 21st century approach to infrastructure capacity.

"We want to force Thames Water to at least make its sewage works operate legally prior to connecting new developments rather than just accepting the billpayers' money  and dumping the sewage illegally as so often happens now.   

"If this works, we can expect to see real improvements in our environment and the protection of public health rather than the dubious charade that has gone before."

A Thames Water spokesperson said: “Following initial investigations, our developer services team have reviewed our comments on this planning application and the capacity of the sewage works to accommodate the needs of the proposed development.

"They are submitting an updated response to the council.”



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This story was written by Miranda Norris, she joined the team in 2021 and covers news across Oxfordshire as well as news from Witney.

Get in touch with her by emailing: Or find her on Twitter: @Mirandajnorris

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