A multi-billion pound infrastructure project to build a reservoir on land near Sleaford in South Lincolnshire would transform the local landscape as well as devastating families and farmers who would lose their homes and businesses.
Private utility Anglian Water has kicked off a 10-week public consultation which will run until 21 December. This is the first part of a multi-phased consultation process on the proposal before a Development Consent Order is requested. A final decision is expected to be made by the government in 2027.
The application process will see test digging and excavations across the area and, if approved, full-scale construction could be underway within seven years. The reservoir would start supplying water to the Anglian Water region by the end of the 2030s.
The driest part of the country
The five square km reservoir would be sandwiched between the villages of Scredington, Swaton and Helpringham, with the A52 road near Threekingham marking its southern boundary. It is expected to extend over 1,000 acres – similar in size to Anglian Water’s Grafham reservoir near Huntingdon – and cost an estimated £2bn.
Alex Plant Director of Strategy & Regulation for Anglian Water, said: “The reality is stark for the East of England. Getting these projects underway now means the chances of our taps running dry in the future are significantly reduced.
“We operate in the driest part of the country and receive a third less rainfall than anywhere else in the UK, but we’re also one of the fastest growing regions, with 175,000 new homes to be built in the next five years. Without action we will face a water deficit of millions of litres a day within the next five years – let alone 25 years.”
Anglian Water anticipates that its ‘South Lincolnshire Reservoir’ would be able to supply around 100 million litres of water per day throughout the year. By comparison the utility company loses 183 million litres of water per day across its network, an equivalent leakage of approximately 16-18% when compared to the amount of water running through its pipes each day.
Les Parker a member of Sleaford Climate Action Network (SCAN), said Anglian Water should first demonstrate it has done all it can to reduce demand and thereby the need for additional storage.
“This means not just minimising leaks but also ensuring users, and particularly large industrial users, reduce demand by becoming more efficient.
“We should also ask whether this is the best location from an operational point of view and be sure it causes the lowest ecological impact achievable for any of the workable locations.
“This would mean not only considering existing ‘nature’ but also minimising the impact on land requirement for food production by avoiding high grade agricultural land.”
Parker added that Anglian Water needed to ensure any new reservoir improves the ecology of an area used, including damage caused to local infrastructure during construction.
Farmers Ian and Rebecca Chick have been at Highgate Farm, Scredington, since they bought it seven years ago. They now supply 4,000 pigs a year to Waitrose and Marks & Spencer as well as having 600 sheep, 40 goats and nine alpacas.
“It’s not only about the farm’s value but also the investment we have made, which is twice what we paid for the farm and its land,” said Rebecca.
“We’re fully established now and very productive. The farm is our future and, like everyone else affected, we are totally devastated. So far Anglian Water has not even bothered to turn up at any of the meetings to hear our side of the story.”
Lyn Sills of Spanby, says that after news of the reservoir plan first came out in September the sale of her farmhouse had immediately fallen through.
“I am now in a situation where I am unable to build, unable to sell and unable to remortgage, and Fisher German, the agent for Anglian Water, has requested an eight year option – it’s a joke!” she said.
After meeting with residents, local MP for Sleaford & North Hykeham Dr Carolyn Johnson called for clear and honest communication by Anglian Water.
“Many of my constituents living within the Scredington, Helpringham, Burton, Spanby and Swaton communities will be incredibly concerned. People are understandably distressed about what these proposals, should they go ahead, mean for their homes and livelihoods, with this area being home to many local farmers in particular,” she said.
“Not only are there deep concerns about the location of the reservoir in the first instance, but also about the knock-on effects such as house prices, business plans for farmers and the mental health of those affected by the reservoir.”
The MP says she plans to hold further meetings with Anglian Water to highlight the impact that the proposed location of this reservoir and the timescale for construction would have on her constituents.
“I will keep local residents updated on these meetings and I would encourage those affected to engage fully in the public consultation processes,” she added.
Another of the many farming families devastated by the project is Hannah Thorogood, who runs an organic farm known as The Inkpot which lies right at the heart of the area laid out in the plans.
“Of course we are all heartbroken,” she said. “The whole area is now blighted for a very long time and though Anglian Water have repeatedly indicated just 12 residents would be affected our calculations are that at least 100 people, and probably a lot more, will lose their homes, or land or both. In addition, some 1700 residents in neighbouring villages will potentially be looking at steep, bunded banks.
“There is so much more to this than meets the eye and the massive construction and land moving effort will give it a huge carbon footprint. Among other things, the uncertainty this has delivered is already affecting people’s mental health.”
Over the past decade single-mum Hannah has transformed 18-acres of land into a diverse and vibrant organic farm, recognised nationally and producing award-winning food.
The Inkpot is an example of regenerative agriculture and permaculture with a herd of rare breed Lincolnshire Red cows, sheep and turkeys. It has been home to Hannah’s family since September 2010, in which time they have also planted 3,000 trees and introduced the holistic grazing of cows and sheep.
“We understand that affected residents will not receive the value of their homes or farms until 2029, so effectively none of us can move on with our lives until then. We will be forced to live under this shadow while in the meantime they can come and start intrusive advance surveying,” Hannah added.
In response to questions, Anglian Water said the outer faces of the embankments would be designed to “reflect the character of the existing landscape” with embankment height around the reservoir up to 25m in places.
As a comparison, one of the area’s most recognisable local landmarks – Heckington’s historic eight-sailed windmill – stands at about 20m high above the flat fen landscape.
A spokesperson also stated that the majority of excavated materials will be re-used in construction so they will not need to be transported off site, reducing the number of HGV movements.
“Whilst there will be some associated construction traffic, it is too early to say which routes will be affected and we will work closely with relevant highways authorities, local authorities and the surrounding communities to mitigate impacts as much as possible.”
The spokesperson added that the existing Helpringham to Scredington Road – falling within the reservoir’s planned footprint – would be diverted on a new route around the embankments.
Deputy President of the National Farmer’s Union (NFU) Tom Bradshaw, stressed that the development process must protect the needs of farmers, landowners and tenants, and ensure they are actively involved in decision-making at all stages.
He said the NFU recognised the critical importance of water to build resilience in domestic food production systems, but would be seeking assurances that farming businesses would benefit from the additional water resources of a new reservoir.
“Such major schemes can have significant adverse impacts on farm businesses and the people involved. It’s vital that the design and implementation during construction must be carried out in a way that minimises the impact on land ownership and farming operations.
“We will be working to support any members affected by these schemes and to ensure that agricultural water needs are recognised as an explicit part of future resource use plans.”
A petition against the reservoir set up by Helpringham resident Laura Wesley has so far attracted almost 3,000 signatures. It can be found here.
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