Campaigners argue plans for 40 new homes in a village will simply put more sewage into an illegally operating works.

Obsidian Strategic Asset Management has applied to West Oxfordshire District Council for outline planning permission for up to 40 homes, including 50 per cent affordable housing, on the outskirts of Ascott-under-Wychood.

Campaigners Windrush Against Sewage Pollution (WASP) said the Milton Under Wychwood sewage treatment works, which it would be hooked up to, has no ability to deal legally with the increased sewage it would generate.

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It said data collated by WASP "clearly indicates that Milton under Wychwood sewage treatment works is operating outside of its statutory permit (ie illegally)".

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Thames Water said an upgrade to the works is ’likely’ to be in 2025.

But WASP said there is no guarantee that this timescale will be met.

"Indeed, many of Thames Water's projects have, and regularly continue to, significantly over-run," it said.

It argued that as the Milton sewage network has very significant groundwater infiltration issues resulting in long-term spilling of untreated sewage into the Littlestock Brook and the River Evenlode no new development should be allowed at all.

In its submission WASP stated: "Thames Water states that it is currently investigating the efficacy of various measures to control groundwater infiltration, including lining of pipes.

"However, no firm date has been provided for completion of these works, other than that they are expected to be completed by 2030.

"In essence this means that Milton Under Wychwood sewage treatment works is in breach of its statutory permit issued by the Environment Agency."

It also said "it is believed" that Milton under Wychwood sewage works is included in an Environment Agency investigation into unpermitted discharges.

The application has attracted over 200 objections on the West Oxfordshire District Council planning portal.

Friends of West Oxfordshire Cotswolds object, saying it is “in breach of national and local policy”.

Ascott-under-Wychwood Parish Council said at a public meeting in July attended by 100 villagers the 20 who spoke all opposed the development.

"Specifically, nobody suggested that the inclusion of 20 affordable homes in the proposals made the development desirable or welcome," it said.

It added that there was "unanimous concern" that it would create an oversupply of houses that would be bought as second homes increasing the unaffordability of the area, there are very few services in the village and it would increase the risk of flooding.

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It said  the proposal "would harm the landscape of the village in the Lower Evenlode Valley part of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty". 

Thames Water initially commented that it had no objection.

But "due to campaigners' vigilance", said WASP, it later suggested a condition of approval that the development shall not be occupied until either the sewage treatment works upgrades have been completed or a phased plan has been agreed with the local authority.

A Thames Water spokesperson told the Oxford Mail: "The Milton Under Wychwood STW is currently being upgraded to accommodate this and other development in the catchment and the upgrade works are due to be completed by April 2025."

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A planning statement in support of the application states the proposals will not cause "long-term adverse effects upon the landscape character and visual environment and would conserve (and in some cases, enhance) the natural beauty, landscape and countryside of the Cotswolds AONB".

It said the development "will provide much needed housing within the district, more specifically up to 20 affordable homes in an area where affordability poses a serious challenge to those in housing need".

An Environment Agency spokesman said: “We are unequivocal that polluting our rivers is unacceptable.

“While we have seen a culture shift from the water industry in recent months, this needs to lead to a prolonged change in how they operate and treat the water environment.

"We continue to play our role by driving up monitoring and transparency to ensure the public can see what is going on, improving the way we regulate the sector through a bigger specialised workforce to focus solely on water companies, and there is an ongoing major criminal investigation into potential non-compliance at wastewater treatment works.

“We will always seek to hold those responsible for environmental harm to account – including through our new powers to deliver penalties that are quicker and easier to enforce, which will act as an important deterrent against criminal behaviour.”