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Cambridge sewage treatment plans cause a three-way stink

Three communities are living in fear of a new sewage treatment works being built in their back yards.

The waste water treatment works are currently on Cowley Road, but a new site is needed to free up land for the north-east fringe development. The brownfield site at Milton is proposed for redevelopment to create around 8,000 homes.

Anglian Water has selected three possible sites on which to relocate the sewage works and is holding a consultation – ending on September 14 – to decide which will be chosen.

However, campaigners opposed to the move have questioned the need to relocate the facility. Anglian Water has admitted the relocation was only happening because of the housing plans, as the Milton sewage works had been upgraded in 2015.

Residents of Fen Ditton and Horningsea are protesting about plans to site a large Sewage Treatment works near the village..Pic - Richard Marsham. (40478270)
Residents of Fen Ditton and Horningsea are protesting about plans to site a large Sewage Treatment works near the village..Pic - Richard Marsham. (40478270)

A spokesperson said: “Although the relocation project is not an operational necessity, it provides an opportunity to design and build a brand new, modern, carbon-efficient waste water treatment facility to serve the needs of Cambridge and the wider area now and in the future while supporting sustainable growth for the city.”

Two of the three potential sites for the works are located between Milton, Impington and Landbeach, with the third between Fen Ditton, Horningsea and Stow-cum-Quy.

Residents and businesses in the three areas are all fighting to avoid being the preferred location.

Depending on where the new plant is sited, the impact could mean a soft fruit farm, that has been in the area for 50 years, is “destroyed”; villages, schools, a nursery and a popular footpath could suffer from an “odour cloud”; or prime agricultural land used by communities to exercise during lockdown is overshadowed by 26-metre high sewage treatment tanks.

Farmer Paul Harrold, whose family runs Sunclose Farm in Milton, which grows strawberries and raspberries, could have the sewage works sited on part of the farm under option one.

He said: “We weren’t very concerned about the proposal at first because it seemed obvious that this place was totally unsuitable. This is a long-established soft fruit business and we have been supplying fruit locally for nearly 50 years. We normally open a summer shop, apart from this year, and we supply wholesalers and supermarkets. If the water treatment plant goes anywhere near here we will have to close because I can’t see anyone wanting to pick strawberries from next to a sewage works.

Cambridge Waste Water Treatment Plant (CWWTP) shortlisted sites for relocation. Picture: Anglian Water (40478296)
Cambridge Waste Water Treatment Plant (CWWTP) shortlisted sites for relocation. Picture: Anglian Water (40478296)

“Even if they built it somewhere near and were travelling across our site to build it, we have polytunnels and underground irrigation systems that we would have to down for a year or two while they did the building. By then we have lost our markets and our staff and seasonal staff who have been coming 10 or 15 years.

“We just didn’t think this could happen to us. We didn’t take it too seriously, we thought Horningsea was the obvious site as it affects the least people and there are no villages downwind of it. But people have told me ‘Paul, you are seriously threatened’.”

The farm has the support of Histon & Impington Parish Council. Cllr Denis Payne, chair of the council, said: “We are objecting to both sites one and two, and it’s not just about proximity to us. Site one will destroy a local business that produces 700 tons a year of soft fruit and if we don’t get it from there we will be importing it from Spain or somewhere else.

“With site two I think everybody has concerns about odour from the sewage. It would be close to Impington Village College, it is close to the Wendy House nursery, the Cambridge Spire Lea hospital is nearby as is a recreation ground. So those could be badly impacted by smell.

“And if we have to develop in the green belt, is a sewage works really the best thing to put there or is there something more constructive?”

Residents in Horningsea and Fen Ditton are also concerned about the destruction of green belt land if the works move to site three, Honey Hill.

Campaigners have built signs saying ‘Don’t turn Honey Hill into Poo Corner’ after learning one of their favourite walking spots is under threat.

Resident Margaret Starkie said: “All three sites have some green belt, but Honey Hill is the only site that is completely green belt. It is a local recreation area because it has lots of paths. People go there not only from Fen Ditton and Horningsea but from north-east Cambridge. It’s a green lung for the city and it was terribly important during lockdown when people needed to exercise.

“It is also good farming land that shouldn’t be wasted like this.

“The odour and the height of the towers – which could be 26 metres tall – will affect Fen Ditton, Teversham and Quy as well as the new Marleigh urban village on the Marshall site.”

"Don't turn Honey Hill into Poo Corner," says the Save Honey Hill campaign
"Don't turn Honey Hill into Poo Corner," says the Save Honey Hill campaign

An Anglian Water spokesperson explained why it had chosen potential sites on green belt land: “Although the green belt was considered as an important planning constraint during our site selection process, the remaining suitable areas were largely part of the Cambridge urban area, or rural areas distant from the existing plant. This would mean greater impact on local communities from the construction of the new plant and the transportation of waste water to the new site.”

They added: “As the green belt designation is a non-statutory planning policy, development within it may be permitted if the right circumstances exist.”

Landbeach Parish Council is worried about smells from the sewage works and the view of the sewage tanks from homes. Chair Melanie Hale said: “We are particularly concerned by the inclusion of site one as a possible location. It is to the south-west of Landbeach – the direction of the prevailing wind – and very close so any odours would affect the village.”

Milton Parish Council has raised concerns about the impact of sites one and two on the village in terms of smell, job losses and water levels in the River Cam. Councillors strongly object to building on green belt land and state better sites are available if Anglian Water was to increase its budget.

They said: “It seems that sites that were discarded in the earlier shift caused less environmental impact but required longer tunnels that would incur higher cost; whereas the three retained sites have a more severe impact on the green belt but have been accepted on grounds of lower cost. This suggests cost is influencing the decision to such an extent that it brings the ability to build a good quality, high-tech site into question.”

The consultation about the move has been extended until September 14 after intervention from Lib Dem councillors.

Have your say at cwwtpr.com.

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