£14bn plan to share Scots water with England

Kielder Water, the largest artificial lake in the UK. Picture: Getty
Kielder Water, the largest artificial lake in the UK. Picture: Getty
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IT IS a multi-billion pound plan designed to route fresh Scottish water to the rose gardens, cricket grounds and farms of England’s parched south-east.

A bold proposal to tackle water shortages in Britain’s southern counties by building a vast “super canal” between the two countries is being considered by both the UK and Scottish governments.

The plans, devised by one of the world’s biggest architectural and engineering design firms, envisage a new £14 billion waterway running from the Scottish Borders down through Newcastle and Leeds, winding its way along the west coast of England and taking in extra water on its way.

Known as the Natural Grid, it would eventually branch off as it reached the Home Counties, with routes running down into Hertfordshire and Hampshire to supply homes, businesses and utilities.

The company behind the canal project, Aecom, suggests an initial starting point of the northern Pennines, with the canal eventually extended north to begin its journey in the Southern Uplands.

The plans have been presented to David MacKay, chief scientific advisor to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and are under consideration. A spokesman for the Scottish Government supported the idea of exporting some of Scotland’s water supplies to the south. “Water is an invaluable resource which we are fortunate to have in abundance. Exporting water to England would be a long-term ambition which would assist an area with a less abundant water supply than in Scotland,” he said.

“There are undoubtedly significant logistical issues to overcome but we would be willing to consider and discuss any proposals which would link with our ambitions to develop Scotland as a Hydro Nation.”

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Aecom believes the canal would be a boon for food production, and would have significant benefits for transport, power and communications.

However, any appetite on the government’s part for the Natural Grid initiative is likely to be offset by the price tag. It is estimated it would cost between £11.1bn and £18bn, with a “most likely” figure of £14.1bn quoted by Aecom.

David Weight, a senior consultant at Aecom, last week gave a talk in London where he outlined the merits of the canal. Ahead of his talk, he said there was a discrepancy in supply and demand for water throughout the UK.

With more frequent extreme weather expected in the future, Weight believes severe water shortages will be “inevitable” unless a solution can be found.

He explained: “The Natural Grid is a proposed canal that would run from the Scottish Borders down to England’s south-east. The ambition is to have a large-scale water supply, with a slight fall, so that no pumping will be needed.

“The water would serve water companies, who are facing the combined challenges of greater restrictions on water abstraction, population growth, and climate change, but would be primarily for food security, to help satisfy immense un-met water demand for abstraction for farms without the need for pumping. There could be many other benefits for transport, power, communications and amenity.”

It is not the first time authorities in England have raised the prospect of using Scotland’s plentiful water supplies to help tackle shortages.

Two years ago, Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, endorsed the idea of transporting water from north to south via rivers and canals, highlighting the possibilities of the Grand Contour Canal, a scheme devised in the 1940s which would follow the contours of the hills from the Scottish Borders to the south-east of England.

At the time, he said: “The rain it raineth on the just and the unjust, says the Bible, but frankly it raineth a lot more in Scotland and Wales than it doth in England.”

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