Coca-Cola plans 'Will Bleed Hills Dry' in UK
By Nick Britten
November 23, 2004

Plans by the drinks giant Coca-Cola to bore into the Malvern hills to quadruple its supply of mineral water could have a catastrophic effect on plants and wildlife, environmental campaigners said yesterday.

The company wants to expand production of its bottled water from 2.6 million gallons a year to 11.3 million gallons.

But an application to tap into a second source of water from the famous springs on the Herefordshire-Worcestershire border has left conservation groups furious.

They say the target spring supports a fragile wet woodland environment and that extracting such a large amount of water could deprive rare flora and fauna of much-needed water.

Rose Garrard, the vice-chairman of the Malvern Spa Association, which preserves 20 wells in the Malvern hills, said: "The level of water talked about is massive. We worry whether this amount of exploitation would bleed it dry."

The Malvern hills provide much of the country's best-selling mineral water and Malvern Water is said to be the Queen's favourite.

However, Coca-Cola Enterprises, an off-shoot of the main company that is responsible for mineral water, has seen its market share slide from 20 per cent in 1984 to two per cent.

It is hoping a large increase in production will help to re-establish it as a market leader.

At the moment it takes its water solely from Pewtress spring, also known as Primes Well, which feeds directly into its factory in Colwall, Worcs. The plan is to open a line into the nearby Walms Well.

A planning application submitted to Herefordshire county council this month proposes a 1.7-mile pipeline through an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Mrs Garrard said the spa association was concerned that the nearby News Woods, which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and contains rare flora and fauna, would be left short of water. "Walms Well is hidden away in a very vulnerable area and needs to be treated with care. It is a haven to all sorts of wildlife," she said.

"The Coca-Cola plans came completely out of the blue. There really needs to be a thorough consultation."

Peter Holmes, English Nature's lead conservation officer for Worcestershire, said: "We have concerns over the effect of the hydrology of the area and on wildlife. At the moment there is insufficient information and we will be requiring more."

The Malvern hills, which attract millions of visitors every year, are home to more than 100 springs. They are host to a number of rare species, including the plants spring sinqefoil and upright chickweed.

Garry O'Neill, the operations manager at the Colwall plant, said the production of the second spring was the final phase of a long-term plan to boost Malvern Water sales.

He said: "That is the end goal for three or five years' time. It is not in the plan for the next two years, but obviously we need planning permission to be sought because it takes time."

Along with the planning application, Coca-Cola Enterprises submitted an environmental report to the council carried out by an independent consultancy. The 16-page document said the construction process would not damage the area any more than farming does.

However, it is the long-term effects that are worrying campaigners.

A spokesman for Herefordshire council said: "The planning application was only received very recently and we are still in the very early stages. The council has to consult a number of organisations and agencies by law as well as carrying out our own internal investigation.

"So far we have passed on the report to all the bodies concerned and we are waiting to see whether they raise any objections. It is perfectly reasonable that people are concerned about the impact the pipeline may have on the environment."

A spokesman for the Environment Agency, which needs to grant a licence for the new pipeline to be laid, said it was keeping a close eye on proceedings. "No licence will be granted unless we are satisfied there will be no impact on the environment."

A spokesman for Coca-Cola Enterprises said the application for a second spring was "part of just one development option" it was looking at.

He said: "Although we are seeking permission from the council to add another spring, we have no immediate plans to do so.

"We have pledged to keep an open and honest

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