Forest of Bowland tunnel plan concerns ahead of council decision

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Plans for a huge new water tunnel system through the Forest of Bowland, affecting villages, roads, footpaths and land across Lancashire and edges of North Yorkshire, are to go before Ribble Valley councillors.

The scheme has been described by a councillor this week as the biggest civil engineering project in Lancashire since Heysham nuclear power station.

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United Utilities has submitted a massive planning application to replace the Haweswater Aqueduct system, which runs from the Lake District through Lancashire to Greater Manchester.

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The route of the new water tunnel systemThe route of the new water tunnel system
The route of the new water tunnel system

The water system was originally built between the 1930s and 1950s, but needs to be updated. It supplies drinking water to over two million people.

Sections of the new proposed tunnel will pass through the official Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which has similar status to a national park.

Proposals by United Utilities include earthworks, creating new tunnel shafts, taking up to 1.5million tonnes of waste from tunnels to Waddington Fell Quarry, building new valve houses, work compounds, drainage, transport arrangements and new crossings over the River Ribble and Hodder.

United Utilities has sent local applications to different district councils along the route, plus Lancashire County Council and other organisations. It has been publicising the plans in various ways, a report to Ribble Valley councillors states.

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In the Ribble Valley area, the Haweswater Aqueduct Replacement Scheme, (also known as HARP), is divided into sections around Marl Hill and Newton in Bowland.

Parishes which have been consulted about the plan include Waddington, Newton in Bowland, West Bradford, Grindleton, Slaidburn & Easington and Bowland Forest Higher Division, according to a Ribble Valley Council report for councillors on the planning committee.

Many comments have been raised about a wide range of issues. Questions include the impact of HGV lorries on rural roads and villages, traffic safety and management, protection of land and rivers, handling of waste-water, and potential noise, light and dust disturbance.

Lancashire County Council has granted planning permission for taking waste to Waddington Fell Quarry. However, county councillors have also emphasised their concerns about the impact of HGV movements and asked Ribble Valley Council to include highway measures and traffic controls, if it grants permission for work in its area.

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Ribble Valley planning officers are recommending borough councillors to defer and delegate the plan to the council’s director of economic development and planning for approval, following a legal agreement, within six months. or for the director and a top planning committee councillor, if it goes beyond six months, Many conditions are suggested with the recommendation.

The planning committee meets on Thursday, February 9.


A Ribble Valley Council planning report for councillors states: “Full planning permission is sought for the Haweswater Aqueduct Resilience Programme (HARP), to replace six existing underground tunnel sections of the aqueduct. It is needed to protect future water quality and provide a more resilient supply of clean drinking water.

Within Ribble Valley, the Bowland and Marl Hill sections consists of three compound areas at Newton-in-Bowland, Bonstone and Braddup.

“The Newton-in-Bowland compound would be the launch compound for a tunnel boring machine to the Lower Houses compound in the Lancaster district, around 9km away. Tunnel arisings from the bore to the Lower Houses compound will be brought to the surface at this compound.

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“This compound would be a temporary working area, required for around seven years, with an expected start of 2023. A permanent valve house structure with infrastructure is proposed to remain at the site following completion.

“The Bonstone compound would be the reception compound for the tunnel machine from the Braddup compound. This compound would be a temporary working area, required for around four four years, with an expected commencement of 2024. A permanent valve house with infrastructure is proposed to remain at the site following completion of the works.

“The Braddup compound would be the launch compound for the tunnel machine to the Bonstone compound. This compound would be a temporary working area, needed for around four years, with an expected commencement of 2024 and a permanent valve house structure with infrastructure is proposed to remain at the site following completion of the work.”

In addition. the following permanent works are proposed at thecompounds:

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  • Valve house buildings and stone road or hard standing ith stock-proof fencing
  • Air valve or an underground chamber
  • Permanent accesses to United Utilities infrastructure
  • Local ground re-profiling over the new pipeline.

Some significant temporary works are also planned. These area a River Hodder crossing bridge for the Newton-in Bowland compound and haul route; a River Ribble bridge between Waddington and West Bradford, a Clitheroe park-and-ride compound in an existing car park opposite the Ribblesdale cement works, west of West Bradford Road; and a Clitheroe HGV lorry holding facility in the cement works.

Also proposed are road changes with passing places added and widening for safe access to the work compounds.


Haulage routes are suggested and HGV traffic operating times and movements per day.

Haulage Route One has five sections

  • Route 1A would go through Waddington and Clitheroe for vehicles under 3.5metres high to access the northern end of the Ribble crossing. There is a requirement for construction vehicles to use this route for the first nine months.
  • Route 1B is through Chatburn for taller vehicles over 3.5m high to access the northern end of the Ribble crossing for the initial nine months
  • Route 1C is adjacent to Hanson Cement to access the southern end of the Ribble crossing. This section already serves HGVs frequently to Hanson Cement, the report adds. A bus stop at the proposed Ribble crossing access on West Bradford Road will be suspended during the project and reinstated once work is done.
  • Route 1D uses Slaidburn Road and is extension to 1A and 1B to reach the B6478 road for the eastern side of the proposed River Hodder crossing.
  • Route 1E through Newton in Bowland)is proposed to reach the western side of the proposed Hodder bridge.

However Route Two will become the main construction route from 2023 to 2030, the report adds. Route Two will use parts of Route One, such as 1C and 1D, the Ribble and Hodder crossings. The proposed crossings and haulage roads will only be for the use of aqueduct project vehicles with no public access.

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Average and maxim vehicle movements proposed for different routes at different phases of the project are given.

For example on route 1A, United Utilities plans an average of30 HGV movements in each direction in any one working day – a total 60 two-waymovements. However, it wants a maximum of 45 movements to be allowed in any one working day (a total 90 two-way movements).

On route 1B, the average number shall be no more than two in each direction per working day (a total four two-way movements). However, a maximum of seven HGVs may use this in each direction in any one working day (a total 14 two-way movements). Regarding the frequency, it suggests no morethan one HGV operating in each direction in any one working hour ( two two-way movements in an hour).

At West Bradford Road through the project, between the proposed haul road access and the B6478 Slaidburn Road, the average number of HGVs using this corridor shall be no more than 36 in each direction on any working day (a total 72 two-way movements) However a maximum of 60 HGVs may use this part in any one working day (a total 120 two-way movements).

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The B6478 Slaidburn Road and B6478 Hallgate Hill section may be the busiest for the full project.

The planning report states average number of HGVs using this corridor over the duration of the works shall be no more than 75 in each direction per working day (a total 150 two-way movements). However, a maximum of 125 HGVs may be allowed on a working day (a total 250 two-way movements).

Regarding the frequency of HGVs along this section, there shall be no more than 13 in each direction per hour (a total 26 two-way movements per hour), the report adds.

Lancashire County Council’s highways department has made various comments, the Ribble Valley report adds. The county council said Route 1A was a retrograde step from a previous proposal and is not supported because it ‘would result in adverse safety conditions for all users’, it states.

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In updated comments last month, the county council said the highways plans could be made acceptable but extra details would need to be approved and possibly a legal agreement drawn-up, the report adds.

Various matters are to be addressed with planning conditions or a legal agreement, the report adds. It has a long list of topics. These include regular parking reviews in Clitheroe, Waddington, West Bradford and Chatburn; checks and repairs to roads, 20mph speed reductions at some spots, traffic signs and possible road markings, measures to accommodate schools, bus and train services, bin collections and landowners’ needs. Also work on hedges and verges which protects birds in nesting seasons.


One councillor, Conservative Ged Mirfin, described the water scheme as the biggest civil engineering project in Lancashire after Heysham nuclear power station.

He understood its importance but said Lancashire County Council officers had flagged-up concerns, including plans for West Bradford, and he also felt Ribble Valley Council needs more information and time.

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Coun Mirfin said: “Highways officers say the United Utilities plans could be made could be made acceptable. But a number of matters need to be addressed and confirmed by planning conditions. Examples include agreed road changes, HGV restrictions, a legal agreement for any road deterioration or maintenance issues, rights of way maintenance and diversions, and other issues.

“They also say controls are needed to limit any traffic impacts, nuisance and vibration to properties. Some road or traffic issues may need other bodies such as Ribble Valley council or the police. Strong communication and cooperation will be needed so roads are safe and convenient, and any adverse impacts are addressed in good time by United Utilities.

So it might be better for councillors to defer this for now, get more details from United Utilities, and then make a decision.”

He added: “It’s a massive planning application with loads of documents, comments and reports. The proposed water tunnels are huge. A HGV lorry could drive along them and there would be plenty of space.

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“Whether small district councils such as Ribble Valley have the planning resources to deal with huge applications like this from a large utilities firm is an important question to ask. Maybe massive plans like this should go to the national Planning Inspectorate or the government’s secretary of state?

Lancaster City Council recently dealt with a separate application for United Utilities plans in its area. It had no objections provided that Ribble Valley Council ensures appropriate measures will be put in place for Waddington Fell Quarry or another option, to ensure all waste is properly managed, the planning report adds.