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Pop star Feargal Sharkey has raised concerns about the future of the River Cam




Pop star Feargal Sharkey has raised concerns about the future of the River Cam in the face of rapid house building growth in Cambridgeshire.

The former lead singer with The Undertones is campaigning to save to country’s chalk streams and fears the aquifer that feeds the Cam and the Granta is running dry after extremely low water levels were witnessed over the summer.

Feargal Sharkey (17434333)
Feargal Sharkey (17434333)

Along with other environmental campaigners, he is calling for the city council to find out how water companies and the Environment Agency think the thousands of new homes planned for Cambridge will be supplied with water.

He said: “The Cam and the Granta, we have discovered, are in the process of drying up simply because the whole area is over abstracted. We have taken too much water out of the aquifer (water table) that feeds the springs that generate these rivers. Now these rivers do not have enough flow to survive.”

He added that the city council should ask itself “where are we getting the water from for the houses and what are we doing with their sewage? They also might want to demand an answer from the Environment Agency and Cambridge Water as to what on earth they are going to do to return these rivers back to healthy ecosystems.”

Feargal’s interest in the health of rivers began as he is chairman of a fly fishing club.

His concerns are echoed by Arbury resident Monica Bijok Hone, who is petitioning the city council to stop all house building because the low level of water in the ground is causing trees to die.

She says: “If we are to continue to have and grow trees in Cambridge, we need to be able to maintain a healthy water table. This is not compatible with the current urban growth agenda. We are therefore demanding a moratorium on all new housing development, including an immediate pause on any building in progress in Cambridge.”

Water levels on the River Cam have hit a low this year
Water levels on the River Cam have hit a low this year

Their concerns come after the Environment Agency classified the River Cam’s flow rate as the lowest recorded since 1949.

Meanwhile, Cambridge City Council still has plans to build 14,000 new homes in the city between 2011 and 2031.

The possibility of future water shortages have worried the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations so much they have written to the city council to warn some new developments should not be allowed.

Wendy Blythe chair of FeCRA says:“Refusal of some developments may be necessary where there is no available water to supply them and/or the environmental impacts caused from supplying that water outweigh benefits of the grant of that permission.”

But Cllr Lewis Herbert, leader of the city council, said sustainability of water supply would be addressed in the next local plan.

He added: “In the summer there were levels we haven’t seen for 10 or 20 years and the water companies need to answer for that as do the Environment Agency. We can't have streams dying.

A punt on the River Cam beneath The Bridge of Sighs, St John's College, Cambridge
A punt on the River Cam beneath The Bridge of Sighs, St John's College, Cambridge

“We are all consuming too much water and it isn’t just related to housing. A large amount of water is abstracted for non housing uses, like industry and agriculture. Nothing will start on the local plan until we have a thorough assessment of water provision.”

A Cambridge Water spokesperson said: “We are looking at how we can meet everyone’s needs in a sustainable way, while protecting the environment. This includes looking at options to store and transfer more water from wetter to drier parts of the country.”

And they added: "Water is a precious resource, which people often take for granted. We have a duty to supply water, even when it is dry and hot, however, we can all play a part in reducing the volume of water we use."

Monica's petition is here.



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