OCT 13, 2023
By Harry Mottram: Back in 2018 we thought the Cheddar Reservoir two project was dead. Ofwat had pulled the plug on the plans to dig a huge new reservoir south of the current one cost grounds. The plan had been to give the water customers the bill – which was ruled out by the regulator. Instead a pipeline was dug linking the Res with Barrow Tanks near Bristol – with the pipes running under the Strawberry Line and through Shute Shelve Tunnel.
Now the project is back on the utilities’ agenda with South West Water confirming it hopes to have the new reservoir in operation by 2033 – some 95 years after the first one was opened just before WW2. The plans were put forward earlier this year but have come to everyone’s attention in an article in the New Civil Engineer.
In the trade publication Greg Pitcher reported this month: “South West Water will invest £2.8bn to upgrade a third of water treatment works in Devon and Cornwall, reduce leakage to less than 10%, create a water grid to ensure all strategic reservoirs are connected and invest in large reservoirs starting with Cheddar 2 in Bristol.
“Water companies have set out plans to almost double their spending on the network during asset management period (AMP) 8, 2025 to 2030. The utilities filed their business plans to regulator Ofwat on Monday 2 October, asking for permission to hike customer bills to allow them to invest a combined £96bn in 2025-30. If approved, these proposals will see a raft of infrastructure projects carried out in AMP8 to improve the reliability of clean water supplies and reduce sewage spills into rivers and seas. Sector body Water UK said utilities had asked for approval to build 10 reservoirs as well to use cutting-edge technology and nature-based solutions to slash wastewater overflows.”
In 2013 it was Bristol Water who were behind the plans which would have seen a huge reservoir dug south of the current Res swallowing up the Clay Pits, Gypsy Lane Farm, Helliers Lane and Hythe Lane off the B3151 Wedmore Road. Since then the management of Bristol Water has been taken over by South West Water who clearly have major plans for the region. Apart from cutting down hundreds of mature trees, scrubbing out miles of hedges the project would mean massive amounts of earthworks and road traffic of heavy plant and trucks.
Back then there were concerns over anthrax infected livestock that had been thought to have been buried in the area decades ago, fears that the excavations would destroy a possible Saxon port linked to the River Axe and more fancifully a Roman farm. And rather more to the point there was a suggestion it would need a new road from the A38 by the petrol station up the valley to the site to accommodate the site traffic.
I was reporting for the Cheddar Valley Gazette then and it was a huge story – with people living in the homes near the potential site concerned their house values would plummet – let alone their concerns of all the dust and noise created by the construction.
Local Democracy Reporter Daniel Mumby writing for Somerset Live reported today (October 13, 2023): “Plans for a new reservoir near the Mendip Hills in Somerset appear to be back on the table, according to recently published plans. Bristol Water first teased plans for a second reservoir in Cheddar back in 2013, claiming that the reservoir would be built to the south of the village’s existing reservoir and could hold up to nine billion litres of water.
“The project (dubbed ‘Cheddar Two’) was scrapped in April 2018, with the water company claiming it was no longer needed and would focus on reducing existing leaks in its system instead.”
Patric Bulmer, head of water resources and environment at Bristol Water, stated at the time: “The information we now have on population growth and climate change has moved on significantly since we proposed the Cheddar Two project.
“That, coupled with our planned reduction in leakage and work to improve water efficiency means we no longer believe the reservoir is needed.”
Ofwat will publish a draft determination for each company by June next year. These will be consulted on before final determinations are set in late 2024.
David Black, chief executive at the regulator, said: “The water industry needs to deliver a step change in investment and performance to clean up our rivers and seas, while also helping to ensure that we can meet the challenge of climate change.
“Company business plans are an important first step in the price review process. Ofwat’s role is to forensically scrutinise their proposals, to ensure any increase in bills is justified, efficient and delivers significant improvements in river and bathing water quality. We will assess how companies are helping customers to afford any bill increase.
“As we work through the business plans we will continue to monitor companies’ performance, hold them to account for delivering improvements and push them to build meaningful plans to change.”
Daniel Mumby said the project’s revival has now been corroborated within South West Water’s business plan – though it will require Ofwat’s approval by June 2024 before it can begin the process of securing planning permission afresh. The plan said: “As part of our continued investment in the UK water sector, customers of Bristol Water, Bournemouth Water and those in the Isles of Scilly are set to receive their largest ever investment in their water infrastructure and in resilience, building on the track record for water services we have delivered in Devon and Cornwall, and sharing the learnings from the extended drought.
“It’s also why we’re resurrecting the previously disregarded plans for the Cheddar Two reservoir, that will benefit customers across the Greater South West. Our merger with Bristol Water, driven by synergies and strategic water resources benefits, and our active progression of the need for the new Cheddar Two reservoir, brings benefits to all of the wider South West region, including the Wessex region.”
In the late 1930s Cheddar Reservoir was constructed mainly by men with picks and shovels. A steam digger was brought in along with a branch line from the Cheddar Valley Railway to bring in materials to the site. Built as a saucer shape and relatively shallow it was state of the art at the time – with a second one planned to go along side – hence the straight side on the Axbridge side meaning it has the shape of a giant strawberry. The plan for the second Reservoir in 2013 was changed as the land to the west of the Res had since had a refuse tip built – now a grassed over field – and properties had been built that would have been in the way.
Now it is wait and see – Ofwat will publish a draft determination for each company by June next year. These will be consulted on before final determinations are set in late 2024. Remember there is likely to be an election next year and these costs could spiral as they did for HS2 so despite the plans nothing is certain in this 21st century world. One this is certain though – with more homes being constructed in Axbridge and Cheddar – and plans for even more in the region – the demand for water will only grow.
My thanks to George Tyte for spotting the Somerset Live article.
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