A CAMPAIGN to prevent treated sewage being discharged into the pristine waters of the River Lambourn has attracted nationwide interest and support.
But there was a major setback last week as the Environment Agency (EA) gave its backing to the hugely controversial proposals.
The row concerns a new housing development at Teekay Farm in Weston, which was granted planning permission eight years ago.
Critics claim developers have since been negotiating with West Berkshire Council planners to scrap initial plans to connect the homes to the main sewers and to use a cheaper option of discharging semi-treated effluent directly into the river.
A spokeswoman for the EA, Freya Dean, confirmed: “[The agency] issued the discharge permit at the end of last week. The permitting process included a number of modelling projections to make sure that the discharge would not reduce the quality of the water.
“The modelling assessments were reviewed and discussed before the permit was eventually signed off and issued”.
Villagers described this as “shocking and deeply disturbing news” and vowed, via their online campaign page, to “redouble our efforts in fighting this situation”.
Developers held an open day at the site last weekend – and visitors were greeted by a campaign sign placed in an adjacent field (pictured above).
Meanwhile one of the UK’s largest campaigning communities, 38 Degrees, has launched on online petition which was already heading for 300 signatories as this newspaper went to press.
It states: “The Weston Gate development, contrary to the approved original plans to connect to the main sewer, have decided instead to install a Klargester system.
“This system would entail discharging ‘secondary treated sewage’ directly into the River Lambourn.
“With no prior public consultation, the developers’ change of plan to install this system could upset the delicate balance of the river and result in contamination and damaging levels of phosphate developing.
“This could be extremely harmful to the purity of the river and its wildlife.”
Rare chalk streams like the River Lambourn have been compared to the rainforests – globally rare ecosystems which merit the very highest level of protection.
Villager Kirsteen Roberts said of the EA’s decision: “We’re incredulous that this has been allowed when there is a viable alternative that would prevent any discharge from entering the Lambourn.
“We have been told by the EA that they have to be reasonable with the developer on the basis of cost.
“Furthermore we don’t understand why original proposals which were agreed at the time of planning – to take the sewage to the mains – were not insisted upon by the council and those we pay to protect our rare environment.”
The proposals can be viewed in full, and commented upon by interested parties, by visiting West Berkshire Council website’s planning application section and using the reference 14/02257/COND2
The campaign Facebook page can be accessed at www.facebook.com/westongatecampaign