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Insights Havant Thicket Reservoir

Atkins was commissioned to design, and secure planning consent for, the Havant Thicket Reservoir and associated pipeline in Hampshire to ensure that there will be adequate provision to meet water supply needs and to secure sub-regional supplies in the medium and longer term, including bulk supplies to Southern Water.

The proposed reservoir and pipeline will provide improved resilience for existing Portsmouth Water customers, support additional housing growth in the Portsmouth Water supply area and enable additional water to be supplied to Southern Water to meet its forecast deficit.

Complementary to its infrastructure resilience function, the reservoir will provide a new recreational resource in South Hampshire which will include a visitor centre with education facilities, accessible open space, a network of trails linking to the wider area and a new wetland habitat and associated area for nature conservation. Opportunities for local employment will be maximised during the reservoir’s construction, as well as the development of skills locally to leave a positive legacy in the local communities.

We prepared and submitted three successful outline planning applications (under the Town and Country Planning Act) in Autumn 2020, the reservoir and pipeline applications were supported by one overarching Environmental Statement, Transport Assessment, Flood Risk Assessment and a Biodiversity Mitigation and Compensation Strategy. We are also providing a Design Guardian role to support Portsmouth Water and the contractor during construction.

Public consultation

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Households received awareness postcards


Feedback forms submitted 


of respondents confirmed that they supported our plans for the reservoir.

Environmentally-led design

The reservoir site has complex environmental issues including areas of ancient woodland and protected species including Bechstein’s bats. It also contains part of a conservation area and a grade II* registered park and garden, Staunton country park.

The design of the reservoir was environmentally-led and integrated the operational and visitor facilities within the landscape to provide an attractive setting for the scheme, minimise its visual and environmental impact and maintain the rural character of the site. The design reflects the history of the landscape and pays tribute to the ‘lost’ parts of the landscape. The proposed staircase to the top of the embankment celebrates the interface between the reservoir and Staunton country park with views across the water to the visitor centre and wetlands. The variation in slope gradient and planting proposed will also give the embankment a natural appearance in keeping with the park.

A 5km pipeline will transfer water from Bedhampton Springs to fill the reservoir in the winter and draw it off to treat and supply when needed in the summer. The development includes the pipe, an emergency discharge structure and upgrades to existing culverts. The pipeline will be routed through residential areas and was the result of substantial optioneering to ensure disruption to communities and environmentally sensitive areas was minimised as far as possible.

Connecting with communities

Plans for a full-scale public consultation in May 2020, centred around a series of public exhibitions, were well underway when COVID-19 hit. The situation and subsequent government measures made the planned ‘face-to-face’ approach impossible, but with a planning application that had to be submitted that Autumn and a mail-drop artwork deadline looming, the project team had to quickly adapt and develop a fully remote, digital approach, and sign it off with the local planning authority within a couple of weeks. Working closely with Portsmouth Water and their communications team, plans were revised to include the following activities:

  • Spreading the word: working harder to raise awareness with a postcard drop to 50,000 households; promoting the consultation in the local media, promotion through partner websites/newsletters – local council; community organisations and parish councils and direct emails to an extensive stakeholder database and reservoir newsletter list.

  • Creating a suite of flexible print and digital materials: including a 24-page consultation brochure; a 3D visualisation film; and a series of video podcasts, interviewing different project team experts.

  • Developing an interactive, virtual exhibition: housing all the materials and capturing feedback through a questionnaire, comments and ideas boxes and an interactive map.

  • Using technology to answer questions: through a series of public, stakeholder and staff webinars, presenting our proposals and answering questions via a live Q&A; and taking questions through social media and telephone.

  • Creating different ways to feedback: through the microsite and social media profiles, but also using a physical feedback form with a freepost return envelope, posted to 1,250 neighbours. A guiding principle for the community engagement was accessibility, ensuring that materials presented the proposals, the issues and the options in a clear and engaging way. This focused on accessible, visual materials; but also on face-to-face events, giving the public an opportunity to meet the team virtually and ask questions.

For many, this was a convenient and flexible way to engage with the project, but it was critical to provide options for those who couldn’t or would prefer not to use computers. A dedicated project answerphone was also setup, where people could leave feedback, submit questions and request printed copies of the consultation brochure and feedback form, sent with a freepost return envelope.

In the absence of public exhibitions, the materials had to provide both an accessible means for the average person to participate in the dialogue, but also enough information to satisfy people with specific interests or concerns. An extensive consultation brochure, including a detailed overview of the environmental and transport assessments was produced and video podcasts were created, interviewing the project leads on different topics, from ecology, to landscape architecture.

The team was also conscious of low levels of participation from young people during previous rounds of consultation. In anticipation of this, several initiatives were undertaken to capture their views, including an activity sheet sent to primary schools and a survey of secondary school students aged 11 to 18.

The consultation was a great success, nearly 2000 responses were received. The public webinars had a similar level of attendance as previous public exhibitions for the scheme and the feedback on our approach was overwhelmingly positive. The webinar Q&As were lively, with lots of questions asked and answered and, from analysis of the ages of people that submitted feedback using the website, these digital tools were not the barrier to older people that might have been expected.

Feedback received on the reservoir proposals demonstrated a high level of support, with 80 per cent of people completing the consultation feedback forms either strongly agreeing or agreeing with the proposals, and 90 per cent support from young people.

The feedback informed final design decisions as the planning application was prepared, including an access road route and design features to mitigate landscape impacts. Feedback was summarised and responded to in a ‘You said, we’re doing’ report. A design and access statement was also submitted with the planning application, charting the evolution of the design, as informed by engagement with stakeholders.

A stakeholder group was designed to bring a range of perspectives into an ongoing dialogue and build consensus through influence and shared ownership. This group has evolved as the scheme progresses to implementation stage, into two specialist groups - a Strategic Advisory Group and a Community Advisory Group - with a shared independent chair.

Our collaborative approach to stakeholder engagement won the CIEEM Best Practice Stakeholder Engagement Award in October 2021.

Photo of Rebecca smiling towards the camera

Creative and innovative stakeholder engagement

Creative Design, Atkins’ in-house creative and digital agency was a key partner in delivering a creative public consultation solution. In collaboration with Portsmouth Water, the Creative Design team created a visual narrative and strategy alongside a suite of creative and innovative public consultation material, bringing the largest reservoir project in the UK to life.

Our Creative Design team brought to life an emotive campaign illustration that showcased the beauty of the Havant Thicket Reservoir, a sanctuary for the local community and wildlife, and transformed the traditional consultation approach with materials including a digital interactive consultation brochure, mail-drop brochure, social media assets, a 3D visualisation taking the community on a virtual tour of the scheme and a stunning animation using the latest CGI technology. The suite of both creative and innovative communication pieces helped the local community to envision the plans for the reservoir.

These digital tools were essential to navigating what was an unprecedented situation and will provide an invaluable, viable option for consulting the public moving forward.