London water plant designed to help households during drought is switched off until next year

The plant was built 'at great expense to Thames Water customers,' local MP Sir Stephen Timms MP said

A multi-million pound desalination plant built to supply Londoners with water during a drought has been shut down until next year. The Beckton Water Treatment Works in east London can draw 100m litres a day from the River Thames. It opened in 2010 with the capacity to pipe drinking water into 400,000 homes in London. But Thames Water has admitted the high-tech plant is offline and unable to be used before 2023.

'Out of service'

In a statement Thames Water said: "Due to further necessary planned work the plant is currently out of service.

"Our teams are working as fast as possible to get it ready for use early next year, to achieve protection to our supplies if we were to have another dry winter.

"However even if the Gateway water treatment works was operational this summer then we would still not rule out using temporary use bans as part of the next stage of our regional drought plan, due to the weather patterns we have seen this year and levels of customer usage."

The desalination plant uses a process called reverse osmosis to turn saltwater into drinking water.

Thames Water said: "We know that further future pressures for water will require more capability."

It was designed to act as an emergency source during water shortages or droughts.

East Ham MP Sir Stephen Timms said he was puzzled by Thames Water’s decision to mothball the plant after the driest July on record.

"The plant was built in my constituency at great expense to Thames Water customers twelve years ago," Mr Timms said.

"It was built to help out in a crisis exactly like the one we seems to be heading into at the moment with drought conditions.

"It was built in order to help in times of water shortage. It's expensive to run, it take a lot of electricity which at the moment is very expensive.

"So it may be that Thames Water does not want to pay the costs of running it at the moment," he added.

Thames Water is advising customers to cut down water usage by taking shorter showers, turning taps off when brushing teeth and using watering cans rather than hoses in the garden.

The water utility giant has not ruled out imposing a hosepipe ban if the heatwave continues.

The Beckton desalination plant was refused planning permission by former London mayor Ken Livingstone but the veto was overturned by his successor Boris Johnson. Environmentalists claim desalination plants have a poor carbon footprint because of the large amounts of energy needed. London Assembly Green Party member Zack Polanski called on Thames Water to fix leaking pipes before switching on the plant.

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