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Building reservoirs

In an interview with The Telegraph, Sir John Armitt, the chairman of the National Infrastructure Commission, warned that the need for additional reservoirs was becoming increasingly urgent amid the threat of prolonged droughts.

Continuing to allow locals to veto such projects would mean that the new reservoirs Britain needs never get built, he suggested, stating: “It’s a bit like people living in the Chilterns – if it was left to them HS2 wouldn’t go through the Chilterns.”

The last reservoir for public water supply was built in 1991, amid significant local resistance to new projects.

Thames Water, which has announced plans for a hosepipe ban because of water shortages, has spent more than 15 years trying to construct a £1 billion reservoir in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, but the county council has vowed to fight its latest attempt.

Unlike what everyone’s saying, the problem isn’t the privatised companies. It’s the planning system. Therefore nationalising the water companies doesn’t solve the problem, does it?

30 thoughts on “Building reservoirs”

  1. Boganboy the NIMBY

    Obviously if someone wanted to knock down my house to build a road, I’d be most unhappy. Indeed I understand that, during the great age of railway building, an act of parliament was necessary to lay hands on the right-of-way. Needless to say, the Duke of Damnation would get a better deal than the Puny Prole.

    This is why I’m happy to have the frackers drilling out in the bush. Though I understand that they do pay off the station owners. But of course there’s not too many of them. And I’m not one of them!!

  2. @Otto..

    I dunno… That the vanity project that’s costing an absolute fortune which nobody apart from “the elite” and government employees will use gets forced through by massive compulsary-purchase, yet the seriously-needed holes in the ground to store water to help keep us alive is stymied by planning regs, seems to me to be an excellent demonstration of where TPTB’s priorities lie.

  3. Personally, if ‘they’ want to knock down my house to build a road, but paid me the market price and something for the inconvenience, then the deal is as good as signed. It’s a fucking house, not a holy shrine, and it has the architectural value of a mud hut. But it was all I could afford at the time.

  4. @Boganboy the NIMBY:
    It’s worse than that; most of these projects aren’t touching their house. They just cause some local inconvenience, add an ‘eyesore’ or disrupt some tiny area of countryside that the complainers don’t visit. Yet all of them still expect water out of their taps.

    It reminds me of a conversation:
    “I’m hungry.”
    “Eat lunch.”
    “I have no food.”
    “Okay, go shopping.”
    “That’s too much effort.”
    “Order takeout?”
    “Too expensive.”
    “Alright, so don’t eat lunch.”
    “But I’m hungry!”

    Increasingly, I feel like problems affecting the country are well deserved.

  5. “Personally, if ‘they’ want to knock down my house to build a road, but paid me the market price and something for the inconvenience, then the deal is as good as signed. It’s a fucking house, not a holy shrine, and it has the architectural value of a mud hut. But it was all I could afford at the time.”

    Trouble is, they don’t pay a bit over the odds to sweeten the deal. They get their valuers to tell you its worth tuppence ha’penny and argue about every penny. If HST2 type schemes just rocked up and said ‘Right, we’ll pay 1.5 times market valuation for your property, tell us what its worth, cash waiting’ 99% of people would take the money and run, as you say you would. OK 1% would be the awkward squad, but they’ll always be like that even if you offered them 10 times the value. It would probably save a fortune in professional fees too.

    But no, the State just has to throw its weight around and get ‘value for taxpayers money’ when they are wasting tens of billions of the project anyway.

  6. Incidentally I doubt Thames Water are trying to build a reservoir ‘in’ Abingdon, rather somewhere ‘near’ Abingdon. A slight difference, especially to the residents of Abingdon.

    As someone who knows that area a bit I looked at the proposed site, and it is amazing that a suitable area of around 10+ square km can be found in Oxfordshire that has virtually no habitation on it at all. Apart from a few farm houses, no-one would lose their dwellings. All the complaints are from locals who wouldn’t be affected by it one jot, but just don’t like the idea of it. If that can’t be built then we might as well pack up and stop pretending to be a serious country at all.

  7. A lot of the issue with reservoirs is that they can take 10+ years to build and in that time the site is essentially a noisy quarry with large trucks coming and going. It is the noise and the disruption that the locals hate. One way of dealing with it would be to simply pay them hardship money – money to simply shut up and lump it during the construction.

    Franking these people are not nimbys. They are bananas – build absolutely nothing anywhere near anybody. My Dad is one of these. His solution to the national infrastructure problem is to simply cut the population down to 40 million. He swears blind that it would be a simply thing to do.

  8. Apart from a few farm houses, no-one would lose their dwellings. All the complaints are from locals who wouldn’t be affected by it one jot, but just don’t like the idea of it.

    Indeed, Jim, and there’s an extra irony in that a significant portion (maybe a quarter) of this precious traditional Oxfordshire countryside has already been given over to “solar farming” (the loss of which is actually being put forward as an objection). There are a few public footpaths that will be lost but since new reservoirs are surrounded by public access nature reserve amenity, there will be no shortage of routes for locals to take their dogs for a shit.

  9. As to the wider issue of extra reservoirs vs drought, isn’t it just a cold economic calculation like dealing with floods or snowfall? If the negative impacts of occasional natural events cost less than protecting against those impacts, do nothing.

    If some people in the beautiful sarf need to queue for water for a week every so often (one year in seven, ten?) then does the country as a whole need new reservoirs or other water infrastructure?

  10. So play swapsies. We’ll spare you HS2 as long as you agree to a reservoir which will be surrounded by trees and bridle paths, and fully equipped for fishing, swimming, and the sailing of dinghies.

  11. Interesting website – Al Beeb….. put in your postcode and see what the land is used for: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-41901294.

    Salamander – Bananas, could I use that please?

    PJF, but, but ,but the Met office have been telling us that man made global warming has caused the UK to become not only warmer but WETTER also, so calls for new reservoirs are superfluous, no?

  12. . . . put in your postcode and see what the land is used for . . .

    Or look out the window and check it hasn’t changed since last time you looked out the window.

  13. @salamander
    My Dad is one of these. His solution to the national infrastructure problem is to simply cut the population down to 40 million.

    Is he volunteering to lead the field?

  14. That south oxfordshire reservoir has been on the cards since at least 1994, as I remember talking about it in one of my GCSEs.

    That part of South oxfordshire is pretty empty of habitation – it’s mostly farmland for miles and miles. When I was a teenager there, this was a real drag!

    I seem to remember that the big objection was the disturbance during construction with 10 years of disruption on the cards.

  15. “I seem to remember that the big objection was the disturbance during construction with 10 years of disruption on the cards.”

    There’s no reason why the entire project could not be self contained. Its right by the GWR mainline, Thames Water could be told that they have to build a spur into the site and bring all aggregates and other bulk supplies in by rail.

  16. Bloke in North Dorset

    Tim has a piece on the ASI blog about Caroline Lucas demanding more infrastructure projects. It go me wondering why the Greens are demanding infrastructure projects in the first place and all I can think of is that their professional objectors are running out of projects and are in danger of losing their comfy, high status, high paying jobs.

  17. What’s the betting that if it were built, the reservoir would become a much-loved spot for relaxation and recreation? Sure, a real bummer for those who have to move, but for most other people, a boon, surely?

    A bit like those iconic railway bridges across beautiful valleys. If you tried to build such a thing now, the usual suspects would have a fit! But try to demolish existing structures, and the same people would still have a fit! It’s the change they don’t like: someone else moving their cheese.

  18. When I lived in the vicinity, I was an all out NIMBY about T5 and Runway3 at Heathrow. But now I don’t and as a result I don’t give a monkey’s.

  19. Planning regs?

    No, EU Law – no new resoviors. Must hammer home the Global Warming & Droughts

    FT doing it’s EU Global Warming & Droughts bit

    The cult of man-made warming has lowered the standards of journalism. On Saturday, the Financial Times, a well-regarded EU Left-wing newspaper, wrote that water levels on the river Rhine in Germany had ‘fallen to new lows’. The same account noted that water levels at Kaub, where the Rhine is measured, were just above 18 inches.
    .
    Then it went on to note that four years ago, in 2018, this fell to just under ten inches, considerably shallower. So it was not a ‘new low’ at all.
    .
    When it starts raining again, it will be amazing how quickly we forget this panic. But we do need to do something. We waste so much water. My advice: Cancel HS2 and spend the money instead on building a national water grid which can quickly divert water from the wetter parts of the country to the drier ones when needed
    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-11109173/

  20. Jim: That’s how many reservoirs were actually built. There’s loads of nice flat country walks around the local reservoirs here which used to be the branch line built to transport materials while they were built.

  21. Hee Hee

    News now flooded with reports of too much rain in UK – seemingly ‘The Wrong Kind of Rain’

    Best is Cornwall: Hosepipe ban starts, floods in Cornwal

  22. The problem with reservoirs is that the costs of inconvenience etc to locals fall on a small number of people who gain a benefit once it is operational which is less than their costs. However, the benefits also extend to many more people outside the immediate area. This means that reservoirs are things that must be decided at a level big enough that it includes all those affected.

  23. @Charles

    What are “the costs of inconvenience etc to locals” of a new resovoir?

    Seems to me, like fracking, quarry, supermarket… the “cost” is “We are scared of any change”

    Then, once change happens they’re happy “Isn’t it great, I can walk to supermarket now. We’ve got a huge corner shop that sells everything”

  24. @Pcar

    The costs are whatever makes them feel bad. It might be that they like walking the dog along a route which will be blocked by the reservoir, or that it will block their view, or close some minor road that they use. Of course, it could be much more – reservoirs have been built in places where someone (or even a whole village) must move because it’ll be under water.

    But, I agree that some of the bad feeling is merely reluctace to change.

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