It’s Scotland’s water, but Westminster confirms an interest

THE UK government has confirmed it is willing to discuss SNP plans to sell Scotland’s water to drought-hit areas of south-east England, following an offer of assistance from Scottish infrastructure and capital investment secretary Alex Neil.

But engineering chiefs have warned major costs and “environmental damage” will scupper the ambitious proposals.

Mr Neil wrote to the coalition in March, offering help with water supply in the long-term, if this could be both commercially and practically viable.

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He conceded yesterday there would be “massive logistical issues” to overcome.

But he revealed that the UK government is now seeking exploratory talks on the issue with Scottish Government officials.

Mr Neil said: “I am pleased that the UK government has responded positively to our offer.

“Even as some hosepipe bans are lifted, the south of England continues to face real issues with water supply, which look set to continue well into the future.

“Scotland has a plentiful supply of water and superb industry expertise, so it was only right that we offered our assistance.”

He continued: “Of course, we readily acknowledge there are massive logistical issues and there will need to be major developments to ensure the transfer of water is commercially viable.

“But this is a government that thinks long-term and our hydro-nation agenda is ambitious and offers huge opportunities in this area.”

However Sara Thiam, director with the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) Scotland played down the prospect.

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“I don’t think anybody, least of all the Scottish Government, is seriously suggesting a long pipe as a solution,” she said.

“We certainly don’t see that as a solution because of the likely costs and environmental damage. It’s too grand a design for the problem, really – that’s the issue.”

No cost has been put on the project although its believed it could run into hundreds of millions of pounds.

“The transfer capabilities we need are more likely to take the form of short interconnections between adjacent water supply areas,” she said.

This would allow water to be smoothly shifted to areas which experience sudden shortages and ICE have been calling for a UK Water Security Task Force to be established involving “better joined-up working” between Holyrood and Westminster.

Mr Neil was speaking at a conference in Edinburgh, where he restated the importance of keeping Scottish Water as a publicly owned corporation.