Plans to build a giant reservoir in the Abingdon and Wantage areas that would serve five million people in the South East have been resurrected, writes Karen Rosine.

Thames Water says the idea is being looked at again as the "best option" under its water resource development plan.

Studies on a proposed reservoir near Steventon and West Hanney have been carried out since 1975.

In 1993 a similar scheme was abandoned at the consultation stage. But since the 1995 drought the water company has become increasingly concerned about supply availability over the next 20 years. Environment and quality manager Dr Peter Spillett said: "The Abingdon area is seen as one of the best possible sites for a reservoir.

"We are looking at it again. We have carried out a number of studies to see the impact on the ecology and to prepare a case for a reservoir.

"No decision has been taken, but it is one of our favoured options."

He added: "There is continual discussion on the matter. In the next year we hope to be able to decide whether to apply for planning permission."

The reservoir is expected to cover an area 3.75km by 2.5km west of the A34, south of Abingdon.

Dr Spillett explained that Thames Water had considered a variety of options, including underground storage, campaigns to encourage people to conserve water, recycling, reducing leakage and water metering. He said: "We are looking at lots of things, but we are still finding a problem with the South East in 20 years' time."

Scientists are predicting further global warming and climate change. This would result in less rainfall during summer and more intense rainfall in winter.

It is hoped that a new reservoir could ease the problem and also provide water for fast-growing towns such as Swindon, and in many other areas earmarked for thousands of new homes.

The Abingdon site is considered suitable because it is well placed and does not have a high density of housing.

Thames Water claims that though plans would have to go to public consultation, a reservoir would boost the economy, employment and leisure and improve biodiversity of wildlife.

But the Environment Agency is less than confident that a reservoir is the way forward. Geoff Mance, director of water management, said: "The agency is not totally averse to new reservoirs as long as all available options have been properly explored.

"But I have to say that at the moment the company's leakage record is not good. It still loses 28 per cent of the water it puts into supply.

"A reservoir such as the one suggested at Abingdon would only increase supplies by five to ten per cent.

"We feel that Thames Water is trying to avoid the treadmill of reducing leakage simply because it is hard work."