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Villagers accuse Affinity Water of ignoring demands of 16,000 Gilston Park new homes

Building a new reservoir or transferring water by canal are two of the options being considered by a utility company to satisfy demand generated by more than 16,000 proposed new homes between Bishop's Stortford and Harlow.

Affinity Water is under fire from the Hunsdon, Eastwick and Gilston Neighbourhood Plan Group (HEG NPG). Campaigners say the supplier has failed to inform East Herts Council properly of the impact of the proposed Gilston Park development on already scarce water supplies or how the cost of new infrastructure will be met.

Places for People, one of the largest developers in the UK, wants to build 8,500 properties in six villages, with 40% affordable housing, on the border between East Herts and Harlow districts.

Gilston Park Estate (19883633)
Gilston Park Estate (19883633)

The scheme – close to High Wych, Hunsdon and Widford – includes two new crossings of the River Stort and is a central plank of the East Herts District Plan for growth to 2033.

A seventh village, with 1,500 homes, is planned by City and Provincial Properties. The two developments are part of wider plans for at least 16,000 new homes in the area.

To facilitate the new estate, land was taken out of the Green Belt. The HEG NPG launched a neighbourhood plan to safeguard the area and offered it up for public consultation this month.

Visualisations of the Gilston Park estate. (19883669)
Visualisations of the Gilston Park estate. (19883669)

HEG NPG chairman Anthony Bickmore said: "We've all seen the calls to use less water because of shortages and we've all seen local streams and ponds run dry, so we can understand the problem.

"So we've asked Affinity Water to help us understand how they have enough water to supply all the new homes planned in East Hertfordshire."

He added: "Affinity Water suggests that there isn't any problem and have not divulged any plans to ask the developers to pay for the infrastructure needed.

"I guess we'll all have to remember this if Affinity Water ever claims that consumers need to pay higher water bills because of water shortages or infrastructure needs.

Visualisations of the Gilston Park estate. (19883644)
Visualisations of the Gilston Park estate. (19883644)

"It all seems like nonsense to me; maybe Affinity Water has a cunning plan that they've not told us about."

This month, the Environment Agency declared an "environmental drought" in Hertfordshire and north London as a result of climate change, drier weather and high water consumption.

An Affinity Water spokesperson said: "We are not statutory consultees on proposed housing developments in our supply area.

Visualisations of the Gilston Park estate. (19883649)
Visualisations of the Gilston Park estate. (19883649)

"However, we prepare water resources management plans every five years, which take into account population growth, to ensure that there is sufficient water to meet the demand of existing and future domestic water use covering a period of 60 years.

"This plan is investigating six strategic supply options, such as a new storage reservoir or canal water transfer, if required, to meet future demands for water.

Gilston Park Estate (19883638)
Gilston Park Estate (19883638)

"We work closely with most local authorities and we are in discussions with East Herts Council to make sure there is the right infrastructure in the sites approved within their local plan and, at the same time, with the developers on potential strategic solutions.

"We encourage local authorities to think about creating sustainable communities and incorporating water conservation within their plans."

The water efficiency standard for new buildings is currently 125 litres per person a day or 110 in 'water-stressed areas'.

The Affinity Water spokesman said: "In order to drive large-scale reduction in water consumption, we need Government policies to help us.

"We recognise that we are not able to do this on our own, which is why we are asking people to get behind our #WhyNotWater campaign to demand the right to water-efficient housing and the introduction of a mandatory water efficiency labelling scheme on goods, bringing water on par with energy and empowering people to save water.

"Most household water is used for bathing, flushing toilets and through white goods. If all these were water-efficient to the levels we want them to be then everyone would be saving water without even noticing."

The HEG NPG neighbourhood plan is available at www.hegnp.org.uk. It will be ready for independent examination by spring 2020 and will go back to villagers for a referendum in the summer.

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