The Reservoirs that Weren’t

According to Dr Owen, “When planning major infrastructure projects in the UK, there is often an assertion that the difficulty of such projects is a modern phenomenon.   We grumble that great plans have to deal with many, often conflicting, constraints and considerations and it was all so much easier in the great era of Victorian engineering that delivered much of our water infrastructure still in use today.”

That inspired Dr Roelich, Dr Owen and Dr Stark to create a small, interdisciplinary project, that combines engineering, social science and historical enquiry to suggest that the view is too simple. Exploring a previously uncatalogued archive of the development of Leeds water infrastructure, held at Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills, has revealed the fascinating story of “the reservoirs that weren’t”.

In 1901, the Leeds Corporation applied to parliament to build six large reservoirs a long way north of the city.  Only one of these reservoirs was ever built.  Reasons for abandoning plans for the other five included issues of politics, economic impacts, demand modelling, competing infrastructure, competition for water between cities and towns, and geology amongst others.  Many of these issues have resonances in contemporary infrastructure planning.