Campaigners take to streets to rescue park

aa-Mar24-Supersewer0.JPGCampaigners took their fight to save King Edward VII Memorial Park to City Hall last week in a bid to stop Thames Water threatening the future of the area's only green space. London Assembly member John Biggs, Limehouse and Poplar MP Jim Fitzpatrick and comedian and Limehouse resident Lee Hurst joined protesters to hand in 4,000 signatures to Mayor Boris Johnson against proposals for the Thames Tideway Tunnel that they fear will ruin their park.

Mr Fitzpatrick said: "The turn-out shows the strength of feeling about saving the park and we have a good spread of support. We will keep up the pressure and I am hoping for a positive outcome. Our message is clear and we want to get Boris behind us."

The park is on the proposed route of the new £3.6billion, 20-mile tunnel intended to relieve pressure on London's Victorian sewer system.

Thames Water want to use the park as one of the sites for construction of the tunnel, building shafts and access points.

But the SaveKEMP campaign believes the works will leave the park as an unusable building site for up to seven years. They are dismayed that Mayor Boris Johnson has accepted Thames Water's proposals rather than asking the company to look at using alternative brownfield sites nearby.

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Mr Biggs said: "The plans as they stand are not acceptable. Speaking as a Tower Hamlets resident who knows about the lack of green space in the area and also as a supporter of the tunnel, Thames Water should recognise the strength of local feeling and change the plans.

"They need to look at moving this to a brownfield site so the park can be spared altogether from the scarring and disruption of building works. It's disappointing the mayor has so far failed to support residents but we're hopeful we can change his mind."

Wapping resident and actress Helen Mirren has given her support to the campaign, thanks to Toni Davey, community liaison for the SaveKEMP group who posted a letter through the Oscar winner's letterbox.

Ms Davey said: "I found out her address and snuck up to her house in the middle of the night and posted a letter asking for her support - it's great she is now voicing her concerns and helping to raise awareness of our campaign.

"I come from a long line of East Enders who have all slowly had everything taken away - our view of the river has been slowly destroyed with the development of Canary Wharf and now we might lose a special park as well.

"Not only is it a green space but it is filled with a lot of memories for some people. It's heartbreaking to think that loved one's memorials might be destroyed - especially when they were not even consulted about it.

"Thames Water was very sneaky about the public consultation process and failed to inform most residents about the plans for the tunnel - no notices were put up nor were the relatives of people who have memorials in the park consulted.

"I was becoming very disillusioned with London but I am astounded and touched by how communities have rallied together to fight for this park."

Thames Water said the site needed to be close to the North East Storm Relief "combined sewer overflow" (CSO) located directly beneath the park. It is one of the larger of the 34 CSOs the Thames Tunnel needs to address. It said locating the site further afield would cause increased disruption in the local area.

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The company said that during the first phase consultation more than 4,750 people attended 25 public exhibitions and 3,085 people submitted formal feedback. Thames Water also attended more than 50 other public meetings.

A spokesman from Thames Water said: "We wrote to everyone within a 250m radius of our shortlisted sites inviting them to our exhibitions.

"We held two separate exhibitions at John Scurr Community Centre.

The fact is untreated sewage currently discharges into the river via one of the largest sewer overflow points, which is located directly beneath the park.

"We recognise intercepting these unacceptable discharges - getting them into the tunnel, not the river - won't be easy, but they have to be tackled. We are listening to people's feedback on every site and looking at potential alternative sites, which may be more suitable. No final decisions have been made.

"We will present our updated plans this autumn for our second phase of public consultation."

Following the protest last week campaigners met with Thames Water to put forward two alternative plans for King Edward VII Memorial Park's foreshore. They have been tasked by John Biggs, present at the meeting, to consider these alternatives.

Emma Dunsire, vice-chairwoman of SaveKEMP said: "Following the meeting Thames Water have told us that they will try to reduce the scale of the project and reduce the length of the build, but we will have to wait until April 20 for any further decisions."