The expansion of one of Bristol’s key utilities sites will get under way early next year after planners threw their weight behind an investment of more than £100 million to keep pace with the city’s rapid growth.
More storage and processing infrastructure will be built at the water recycling centre in Avonmouth, which treats sewage and wastewater from Bristol and areas of South Gloucestershire, Bath and North East Somerset and North Somerset, to meet the demands of the expected increase in local population and business in the next 25 years.
Wessex Water will boost the size of the centre by installing tanks and biological reactors on land it already owns to break down and handle more incoming sewage, ensuring the quality of treated wastewater continues to be improved before it is released back into the environment via the Severn Estuary.
An increased treatment capacity will also play a role in reducing the automatic operation of storm overflows when rapidly-increasing flows caused by sudden heavy storms can overwhelm the sewer system.
The project is also set to significantly boost the drive for sustainability in the area, with the environmentally-led plans including enhanced habitats for protected species such as bats and birds, restoring local heritage sites including the Mere Bank Scheduled Monument and improving underused rights of way in line with the city’s commitment to active travel.
The expansion is expected to be in operation by 2028, with Wessex Water investing £1.4 billion between 2020 and 2025 to improve water treatment, sewerage and water recycling capability and pollution prevention throughout the region.
In the Bristol area alone, the company has invested more than £70 million in new sewerage infrastructure in recent years to allow for population growth, which has involved the construction of 11.5km of new sewerage tunnels.
Planners gave the go-ahead for the Avonmouth scheme after considering the volume of evidence presented following Wessex Water’s five-year-long consultation process, which extensively gauged both the views of the public and a wide range of organisations about the plans.
That process has already resulted in a number of positive local developments, including the formation of a community liaison group made up of representatives from Avonmouth, Lawrence Weston and Shirehampton, Wessex Water and others, which meets regularly to discuss the impact of operations at the water recycling centre.
Wessex Water is also continuing to step up its work with other local organisations as potential enhancements to local historic sites such as the Mere Bank next to the centre, opportunities to promote active travel in the area and developing the environmental enhancements included in the scheme proposals are taken forward.
Simon Osborne, Wessex Water’s project delivery manager, said:
“We’re delighted that planning members have backed these detailed proposals to ensure the Avonmouth site keeps pace with the rapidly-evolving communities it serves.
“Bristol and areas around it are projected to grow substantially further over the coming decades and this expansion will help our services keep pace with the inevitable increase in demand as a result, while living up to the city’s vision of good social and environmental outcomes helping to drive sustainable economic growth.
“Our site at Avonmouth is already the largest in our region, but by enhancing our capacity and operations there to treat more sewage and wastewater, we can help to ensure that treatment continues to safeguard the environment by maintaining the highest standards for release back into the Severn Estuary.’’
He added: “While upgrading our operations to meet the needs of Greater Bristol is a primary driver of this scheme, this is so much more than merely an infrastructure project.
“The planning and consultation process has given us the opportunity to build relationships with the local communities around Avonmouth and forge potential collaboration on other important elements of this scheme, such as business and employment, environmental and historical enhancements and active travel opportunities.
“As construction of the expansion gets under way, we will continue to explore these options with them to ensure this project continues to make a wider contribution to the area around the Avonmouth site.’’
Wessex Water is proposing its largest ever investment in water and sewerage services to improve the health of rivers, reduce pollution and create around 2,000 extra jobs across the region later this decade.
Around £3.5 billion of new investment is proposed between 2025 and 2030 – more than double the current five-yearly spend of around £1.5 billion – subject to regulators approving the company’s business plan.