Without seeming to inconvenience anyone, a huge building site high above Ambergate on the outskirts of Crich has been well under way since October 2014. When it is finished in 2017 there will be two massive underground concrete reservoirs capable of storing water to supply most of the top-up needs of Derby, Nottingham, and Leicester along with the rest of the East Midlands.
Costing £30 million and known as the Ambergate Reservoir Project, the work is being undertaken by a collaborating partnership between Laing O’Rourke and NMCNomenca (part of North Midlands Construction plc) on behalf of Severn Trent Water plc. The plan is to eventually replace a single underground reservoir dating from 1907/10 and now coming to the end of its useful life; the purpose of this storage is to act as a buffer in times of high demand. Most of our water comes from the Peak District. It is purified at a local treatment works before it arrives at our taps. From there something in the region of two tonnes of water per second travels to the Ambergate storage. Before work started on the replacement project and no doubt long after the work is finished, all that can be seen of the old system are two squat low gritstone towers housing the automatic valve gear.
The replacement of this hundred year-old plus, underground reservoir, will continue to supply drinking water to Severn Trent water customers in the region, but just like the old, the new dual-reservoirs will be virtually undetectable once everything is in place and the ground cover restored.
I was taken to see the site of the new reservoirs by NMCNomenca’s Geoff Hancock. From a viewing platform above what was still a very big hole steadily being filled with reinforced concrete pillars and walls. These are the supports for the internal structure of the first reservoir; the roof will be made from pre-cast slabs. Literally and to my untrained eye, a huge tank eventually measuring 100×130 metres was being built on this wooded hillside. Three sides of this and the floor were almost finished and work was advanced on the fourth, leaving a gap for plant and ready-mixed concrete to move in and out. Concrete pillars were steadily growing in order to support the roof, or ‘lid’ as I facetiously put it. This concrete incidentally is all made to exacting standards on site by suppliers Lafarge, whose mixing machinery is sited only a hundred meters or so from where it is poured.
When finished both reservoirs will be partly covered by earth and landscaped to fit into the shoulder of the hillside at the top of Crich Chase. It was a sunny autumnal day when I was there and I could hardly drag my eyes away from the view. The Derwent Valley stretched away to the south to where the land flattened in haze beyond the Vale of Trent. Directly below the almost alpine-looking surrounds were the tree covered limits of the Amber Valley before it joins the Derwent. Over to my right and completing the picture were the autumn colours of Shining Cliff woods in all their sylvan glory. It was hard to realise that all this was only a few miles short of Derby.
Apparently, or so Geoff Hancock informed me, the main reason for replacing the old storage with modern, is for flexibility and water quality as well as coping with the expanding demands of the twenty first century. Despite the massive amount of work the project entails, when the switch from old to new storage takes place, there should be no delay; simply by closing one valve of the old system and opening the new, water will continue to flow down the three pipes leading to Derby, Nottingham and Leicester.
Once the first new reservoir is completed and up and running, work will start on the second phase. This will replace the old reservoir, filling more or less its exact footprint, but neither will be obvious once the work finishes.
The construction team are very much aware of the potential impact on the local environment. To keep disruption to the lower end of the spectrum, heavy lorry movements only take place at times when they don’t clog the local roads, or make too much noise: in fact, from a personal point of view, and despite frequently using the roads around Crich and the Amber Valley, I have yet to be inconvenienced by anything large and heavy making its way towards Crich. Happy to get involved with the locals, several of the workers on the site have taken part in fund raising events – a recent sponsored gruelling 52 mile cycle ride raised over £2000 for local charities.
As part of the project’s P.R. message, during the summer seventy children from the local primary school were kitted out in high visibility jackets and safety helmets and taken to have a look at where their water will come from throughout the rest of their lives. While they were there one of the massive 30 tonne crawler cranes arrived on site to help with the work. The children were invited to give the machine a name and came up with ‘Cranky’ – well I suppose it does crank itself along doesn’t it?
When finished the new reservoirs will be bringing secure water supplies to thousands of taps for generations to come – the old system lasted over a hundred years and no doubt this will be the same. In years to come gently sloping tree covered slopes blending into the hillside will be all that there is to see. There should therefore be no problem for English Nature to go ahead in designating Crich Chase as a Site of Special Scientific Interest, preserving its beauty for all time.