Aquatic plant that could prevent hose ban ‘secretly in mothballs’

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A £250 million water plant built to protect hundreds of thousands of homes from the effects of drought has been shut down, The Telegraph has learned.

When a further million people were banned from using garden hoses in the south of England, Thames Water admitted that a major water desalination plant opened by the Duke of Edinburgh in 2010 will not be operational until next year at the earliest.

The company repeatedly assured regulators in January that the Beckton, east London plant, was ready to be turned on “for drought use”, claiming it would help supply up to 400,000 households with fresh drinking water every day.

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But The Telegraph has been informed that the factory, the only one in the UK designed to turn salty seawater into freshwater, has in fact been shut down over whether it has ever been fully operational.

Instead, the company has asked bill payers to stop washing their cars and watering their lawns pending an expected ban on garden hoses in the capital.

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Senior industry sources suggested the plant has been effectively shut down by Thames Water over concerns about high operating costs, compared to asking customers to limit their own use.

The water company made a profit of 488 million pounds last year. Thames Water has raised bills by more than four per cent this year, with the cost of a family home in the area rising to around £415 a year.

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On Wednesday, a source at Ofwat, the water regulator, said it would look into Thames Water’s management of the plant during this year’s shortages.

It comes as households in Sussex and Kent have been banned from garden hoses and sprinklers as water companies blamed the driest July on record.