An important step forward was taken towards Gibraltar's first sewage treatment plant this week, with the announcement that the government has awarded an Advanced Works Contract to a joint venture company formed by NWG Commercial Services Limited (Northumbrian Water) and Modern Water.
The company will carry out the design and survey work which is required for final planning and environmental approvals and will also carry out preliminary site works for the treatment of sewage in Gibraltar.
Once these are completed, work can begin on the overall project, which will not only treat the whole of Gibraltar's sewage but also handle storm flows.
Modern Water will be responsible for the design and build portion of the contract. Once that phase of the project has been completed, Northumbrian Water will run the plant for 20 years under a sub-contract with AquaGib.
If all goes according to schedule, the on-site works will begin within the next few months and the plant should be completed in 2020.
The new plant will be located at the Brewery Crusher site near Europa Point. It will be odourless and covered, so it will not have a negative impact on views in the area or the Gorham's Cave World Heritage Site.
This major step forward in a much-needed project has been welcomed by the government. John Cortes, the Minister for the Environment, Energy and Climate Change, said he was delighted at the announcement, which fulfilled a commitment made by the government several years ago.
“On a personal note, as an environmentalist, I take pride in being a part of leading the further developments of Gibraltar's environmental credentials and the delivery of Gibraltar's wastewater treatment works,” he said.
Meanwhile the chief minister, Fabian Picardo, said he was very happy to see that following the detailed work carried out so far, there was now going to be progress on treating Gibraltar's wastewater.
“It has taken us time to be able to progress this as we had to start literally from scratch and the technical aspects of the work required was extraordinarily complex and challenging,” he explained.
One of the difficulties in treating sewage in Gibraltar is the fact that, unlike most countries, the lavatories are flushed with sea water and therefore special bacteria are needed which can survive in sea water and break down the sewage.
In the past the EU has criticised Gibraltar for its outdated - almost historic - sewage system. No fines were imposed, but the authorities on the Rock were required to provide a proper means of treating its waste.
The new plant will cost in the region of £22 million.