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Four strategic water resource projects have become the first to pass the initial assessment by the Regulators Alliance for Progressing Infrastructure Development (RAPID).

Ofwat has published draft decisions for the four projects involving Southern Water, which due to abstraction license changes by the Environment Agency is one year ahead of the rest of the sector in the RAPID process.

RAPID, which brings together Ofwat, EA, and the Drinking Water Inspectorate, will enable the construction of large-scale water infrastructure projects by addressing any current barriers to development and encouraging collaborative working across regional boundaries.

The four projects are:

  • A desalination plant in Hampshire that would be the UK’s largest, supplying up to 75 million litres of water daily.
  • A water recycling scheme proposed as an alternative to the desalination plant that would likewise provide 75 million litres of water each day.
  • A reservoir built in Bristol Water’s area that would transfer water through Wessex Water’s patch to supply customers in Southern’s.
  • A water transfer scheme from Portsmouth Water’s proposed Havant Thicket reservoir, including abstraction from the reservoir, a high-lift pumping station and a pipeline to a treatment works.

Hampshire, in Southern’s western region, is home to a number of protected chalk streams that the company has reduced its abstraction from to protect the rare ecosystems. The change in abstraction licence means the company needs to secure alternative water resources to ensure demand can be met.

Each of the four schemes have passed the first checkpoint in the RAPID process but concerns were raised on the progress of key activities expected by this stage including inefficiencies in some parts of expenditure on the desalination and recycling projects. Ofwat said not all spending should be permitted and a 10 per cent incentive penalty would be implemented unless action is taken to address the concerns.

Ofwat also questioned the predicted timeframe as Southern said the projects are not expected to be completed before 2028, which could cause a longer-term environmental risk as drought permit reliance would likely continue.

Managing director of RAPID, Paul Hickey, said: “We were pleased to see that all the submissions were on time and that the RAPID regulators, together with Natural England, were able to conduct such a thorough and co-ordinated assessment. The draft decisions represent the first indication of whether the companies are on track in progressing work on the strategic resource options in a way that offers value to customers.”

Hickey said the collaboration was encouraging and urged companies to continue to demonstrate that they can secure resilient water supplies and deliver benefits to customers, the environment and society.

A Southern spokesperson said the company is committed to reducing abstraction and protecting the Rivers Test and Itchen: “To do this, we need to find new ways of supplying an additional 190 million litres of water a day to our customers in the area. That’s why we’ve developed our Water for Life – Hampshire programme, to help keep taps and rivers flowing during droughts.

“Over the coming months, we’ll be conducting further public engagement on these proposals to ensure we deliver the best value for customers and the environment.”

The transfer from Bristol through Wessex to Southern’s region will progress to the second stage, while Ofwat will make a final decision on the other three projects in January.