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Plans for 200-acre reservoir at Broad Oak near Canterbury will swallow up homes

For 26 years, Karen Isaac and her family have enjoyed the idyllic setting of their home in a beautiful valley near Canterbury.

But plans to create a 200-acre reservoir at Broad Oak mean their house - and six others - will be swallowed up by a vast new lake.

The homes will be demolished as part of South East Water's vision for the huge water resource, details of which have just gone on display as part of a public consultation, which closes on February 20.

The scheme has been in the pipeline for decades but has now moved a step closer to reality as the firm presses ahead with its proposals for the £130 million project.

"We always knew that one day we would have to move, but it doesn't make it any easier as that time draws nearer," said mum-of three Mrs Isaac, who lives off Barnet's Lane.

"We have no idea when it will happen or how much notice we will get, but clearly things are moving ahead now so it's quite unsettling."

Mrs Isaac says the family loves living in the peaceful location, surrounded by nature.

Karen Isaac faces losing her home to the reservoir
Karen Isaac faces losing her home to the reservoir
Ardingly reservoir in West Sussex which is how the Broad Oak reservoir could look
Ardingly reservoir in West Sussex which is how the Broad Oak reservoir could look

"Everyone living around here and affected by having to leave in the future feels the same way," she continued.

"It's such a beautiful location and I do fear for the wildlife like nightingales who sing to each other across the valley."

Mrs Isaac, who works for the Turn2us charity for people in poverty, and as an administrator at her local GP surgery, now has concerns for the future.

"I don't know where we will live because rents are so high and it is very unlikely to be in a location like this which we love so much," she said.

South East Water says it cannot yet give any time-frames for when its tenants will be required to leave their homes, but hopes to have the reservoir operational in 2033 or 2036, depending on progress.

A map of the planned Broad Oak reservoir
A map of the planned Broad Oak reservoir

It also plans to save and relocate a listed farmhouse.

The company says it is developing a comprehensive environmental and nature strategy.

It also points to the leisure opportunities a new reservoir could provide, including lakeside walks and cycle routes around the four-mile perimeter, as well as picnic locations, an educational centre and sailing and fishing activities.

The plan is part of the company's draft water strategy management plan which includes a desalination plant at Reculver near Herne Bay to boost water supply in the wake of huge housing development across the south east.

The £130 million reservoir project will be similar in scale and appearance to the company's reservoir in Ardingly, West Sussex.

Its water resources strategy manager Andrew Halliday says water will be extracted from the Great Stour at Grove Ferry during winter months to fill the reservoir, which is expected to take about a year.

South East Water water management strategy manager Andrew Halliday
South East Water water management strategy manager Andrew Halliday

When operational, the 'raw' reservoir water will then go through an on-site treatment plant before being piped into the household supply network, providing an estimated 22 million litres a day.

South East Water says special attention will also be given to enhancing the surrounding environment, and protecting habitats and the village from construction traffic.

To that end, the site will be accessed by contractors via the Herne Bay Road to avoid the village.

But David Wadmore of the Sturry and Broad Oak Residents group says there are mixed feelings about the scheme, which has some advantages but also elements that concern locals.

"The exhibition is very comprehensive and South East Water staff very helpful," he said.

David Wadmore from the Sturry and Broad Oak Action Group
David Wadmore from the Sturry and Broad Oak Action Group

"Obviously, the security of future water supply is important and we have some environmental safeguards," he said.

"And given all the housebuilding we are facing, I guess we should be grateful the land isn't being used for yet more new homes.

"But the negatives are all the construction traffic and all the extra visitors coming through the village when the reservoir is operational.

"There are concerns for the nearby SSSIs (Sites of Special Scientific Interest) and ancient woodlands, and the ability to put in an effective green corridor.

"Also, given the scale of the construction which will take several years to build and what we have experienced with the new homes at Broad Oak, we can expect a large amount of local disruption.

"The full extent will only be known when the detailed plan and schedule are submitted."

An artist's impression of the Broad Oak reservoir
An artist's impression of the Broad Oak reservoir

The idea of a reservoir in the area was first drawn up by Mid Kent Water almost 50 years ago.

But the plans were dropped in 1976 following a public inquiry.

They were then revived in 2003, with the aim of having the reservoir operational between 2019 and 2030.

After the merger of Mid Kent Water and South East Water, the plans continued to make slow progress but the reservoir, which will be capable of holding five billion litres of water, is now deemed vital to meet future demand.

Lee Dance, Head of Water Resources at South East Water, says as the need for the reservoir grows, the company wants to hear the community's views and what wishes can be incorporated into the scheme.

As well as last week's drop-in session at Broad Oak village hall, a further public exhibition will take place at Tyler Hill Memorial Hall from 1pm to 6.30pm today (Tuesday).

Lee Dance, from South East Water
Lee Dance, from South East Water

“Attending one of the drop-in sessions is where people will have the opportunity to speak directly to those behind the plans as well as sign up to be a member of our community panel which will help shape the reservoir proposals further over the coming years," he said.

“Plans for the reservoir are included in our wider draft water resources management plan, and feedback can be given on these too at the exhibitions.

“This is very much long-term and takes into account the recent extreme weather we have experienced and the changes to how we use all use water following the Covid-19 pandemic.

“It is also ambitious and wide-ranging and has been guided by extensive research, detailed data, customer involvement, and engagement with stakeholders and other interested parties.”

Due to the size of the reservoir, it does not require government approval and a planning application will be submitted through Canterbury City Council.

When the application is presented will depend on the outcome of the consultation, says South East Water.

However, if the company decides to aim for the 2033 completion date, it will look to submit an application around the year 2025.

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