COUNCIL chiefs and wildlife experts are opposing plans to build a £600m water desalination plant on the edge of the New Forest.

Southern Water has unveiled proposals for a facility capable of converting 75 million litres of seawater a day into drinking water.

If the scheme is given the go-ahead the plant will be built near Ashlett Creek, Fawley, on the western shores of Southampton Water.

The proposal also involves the construction of a 25km pipeline from Ashlett to Testwood Lakes in Totton.

But the scheme is condemned in a report signed off by the new leader of New Forest District Council, Cllr Edward Heron.

The report says: "Desalination at Fawley is a high carbon footprint, high environmental impact and high risk water supply option that NFDC should not support.

“The proposed desalination plant and its pipeline would have very significant environmental implications for internationally-designated habitats in the Solent, and on the New Forest National Park landscape.”

Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust is also opposing the scheme, claiming it poses "significant risks" to species and habitats in protected areas.

In a letter to Southern Water it says: "The Solent is already stressed and the unfavourable condition of its protected habitats such as sea grass has been attributed, in great part, to the impacts of poor water quality.

"The operation of a desalination facility abstracting and discharging into the Solent will do nothing to improve water quality and is highly likely to reduce it further."

People living in the Fawley area have launched an online petition that has already been signed by more 1,700 people.

The petition describes desalination as the most expensive way to provide tap water and also has a high carbon footprint. It claims the money would be better spent on fixing leaks and improving the collection and storage of rainwater.

Southern Water has defended the scheme, arguing it would safeguard against water shortages caused by drought.

The company's head of delivery, Mark Wintringham, said: "Our consultation sets out how we plan to keep Hampshire’s rivers and taps flowing as the population grows and the climate continues to change.

"This is early non-statutory engagement – there will be more opportunities to engage with the plans before we seek planning consent.

“Reductions to our abstraction licences in Hampshire, to protect the Test and Itchen rivers, mean we now have a shortfall of about 190 million litres of water a day during a drought."

"This puts the population at risk of water shortages when the weather is dry, so new sources of water are needed."


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