Ex-pop star hits out over ‘unsustainable’ pressure on rivers and waterways

Feargal Sharkey, the former singer of The Undertones who is a critic of the bodies safeguarding rive

Feargal Sharkey, the former singer of The Undertones who is a critic of the bodies safeguarding rivers and waterways Picture: STEFAN ROUSSEAU / PA - Credit: PA

Massive housing development schemes in Essex have been given a broadside by former pop star Feargal Sharkey for placing extra pressure on critically low water supplies.

The proposed locations under the North Essex Garden Scheme Picture: NEGC

The proposed locations under the North Essex Garden Scheme Picture: NEGC - Credit: NEGC

He said the lack of foresight ahead of developments such as the North Essex garden communities - set to grow to as many as 43,000 homes - means water supply problems facing the south east could only be solved with large bill increases.

The former lead singer with The Undertones is now an ambassador with the Angling Trust and an outspoken critic of the various agencies tasked with overseeing the health of England's rivers.

North Essex garden communities - a scheme to build three new communities near Braintree, Marks Tey and Colchester - alone could consume 5.5billion litres of water a year, enough to fill more than 2,000 Olympic swimming pools.

About a third of the supplies of water for Essex in dry years comes from the Ely Ouse transfer scheme - around 455 mega litres a day. Much of that is sourced from underground aquifers.

Abberton Reservoir at Layer de la Haye near Colchester. Water is pumped from the rivers Chelmer, Bla

Abberton Reservoir at Layer de la Haye near Colchester. Water is pumped from the rivers Chelmer, Blackwater and Stour to fill it Picture: ESSEX & SUFFOLK WATER - Credit: Archant

Mr Sharkey said: "The south east is on the verge of running out of water. We are in a drought right now.

"Part of the madness of the whole issue is that the planning system doesn't ask a very simple question - where is all this water coming from? Because it is unsustainable.


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"There's no more to give so if you need millions of water a day just for north Essex, where is that coming from?"

Mr Sharkey said the Environment Agency had failed in its duties to protect rivers.

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"We are heading into the fourth dry winter in a row. So far in this area has seen just 16 per cent of the long term average of rainfall for September.

"If that continues there will be water rationing early next year. That's my prediction. There should have been hosepipes bans a year ago.

"The long term solution, and people are not going to like it, is water bills are going to have to go up to pay for all the infrastructure, we are all going to have water meters and we are all going to have to have some sort of cap on our personal water consumption."

But a spokesman for Essex and Suffolk Water said its Water Resources Management Plan 2019 confirmed it could sustainably meet forecast customer demand over the next 40 years, which included all of the proposed housing for the next 25 years.

"In Essex, this is possible following the £150million investment we made in the Abberton Scheme which increased the storage capacity of Abberton Reservoir by 60 per cent," the spokesman said.

"The vast majority of the water transferred is surface water from the Ely Ouse river catchments.

"We work very closely the Environment Agency to ensure all of our abstractions from rivers, reservoirs and ground water are sustainable."

The Ely Ouse to Essex Transfer Scheme is owned and operated by the Environment Agency.

It is used to support refill of our Essex reservoirs although the transfers are only required in dry or drought years.

An Environment Agency spokesman said it was working "flat out" to limit the effects of dry weather and ensure sustainable water supplies.

"Climate change and population growth will put even more pressure on rivers in the future.

"Longer term solutions include building reservoirs and pipes to transport water from other parts of the country to make sure there is enough water for people in the south east."

The spokesman said the EA was working with a range of bodies such as water companies, the government, farmers and businesses to ensure water supplies and protect the environment.

North Essex Garden Communities Ltd has been approached for comment.

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