Thames super sewer plans should be reconsidered

thames143.jpgThames Water has been urged to reconsider its plans to build a £3.6billion super sewer along the River Thames.

A report published this morning recommended a moratorium on the scheme, which could add up to £65 a year to Thames Water customer bills without addressing the wider problems of dealing with sewage in London.

The proposed tunnel would stretch 20 miles from west to east London, but according to the Commission's chairman Lord Selborne, it would not provide value for money and alternative options should be more fully examined.

lord selborne.jpgHe said: "Our forensic analysis shows there is a substantial body of evidence pointing to a smarter way to make the River Thames cleaner.

"A shorter tunnel, combined with green infrastructure solutions that are built up incrementally in the medium to long term, would be both compliant with EU directives and less costly and disruptive to Londoners. These alternatives require further study.

"We must have long-term sustainable solutions and a full-length tunnel can only be part of that long-term solution. The benefits will come from managing water in all its forms."

The crux of the problem facing Thames Water is that it was told by Government in 2007 to build the sewer to deal with the increasing volumes of waste water being discharged into the Thames, particularly at times of high rainfall.

The Commission found that the figures used for the plan are out-of-date by five years, which means the cost will be considerably more, and Lord Selborne urged all parties to reconsider the true cost of the project.

The Commission's findings were also backed up by two academics, Professor Chris Binnie, who worked with Thames Water to create the original super sewer plans - and Professor Colin Green.

Professor Binnie, who has produced his own report on the tunnel, said the basis for the project was out of date and should be re-examined, but has recommended the western part of it should be built.

Professor Green, from Middlesex University, argued that other water management options, such as green rooves which have been long-used in places like Germany, should be explored.

He said: "Why is England 30 years behind Germany? The technology exists to reduce the amount of rainwater that runs into the Thames, but why aren't we using it?

"We could do things like retrofit rooves in the City of London, where just five per cent of the land is green space. That would deal with the problem and cost probably less than half the amount of the tunnel."

The report was sponsored by five London boroughs, including Tower Hamlets. They broadly agreed with the findings, although Tower Hamlets Councillor Stephanie Eaton reserved judgment over the alternatives the Commission recommended.

She said: "We're told there is potential for other forms of green infrastructure and these need to be looked at. But I would question whether it provides the solution in the medium term, whether it would be sufficient to stop waste water going into the river."

Thames Water were represented at the press conference by director Richard Aylard. He declined to comment on the specifics of the Commission's findings.

He said: "We do take it very seriously, but I'm not going to give any immediate reaction. We will go away and digest the reports and give our response in 10 days or so."

aa-MAr24-Supersewer4.JPGThere have also been impassioned protests against the scheme from residents living along the river, including in Tower Hamlets, where King Edward VII Memorial Park has been earmarked as the site of an overflow outlet for the tunnel.

However, not everyone is opposed to the proposed tunnel. A consortium of 15 environmental charities and amenity groups, calling themselves Thames Tunnel Now, has pledged support to the project.

The group includs the RSPB, Thames 21 and the London Wildlife Trust. It argues that the tunnel will end the release of 39million tonnes of untreated sewage into the river, and said it was the only "viable solution".

Carlo Laurenzi, Chief Executive of London Wildlife Trust, said: "The Thames Tunnel is an important project for the long term health of the River Thames.

"At the moment untreated sewage overflows into the Thames regularly, as the Victorian sewerage system cannot cope with London's current population. A less polluted river would create greatly improved conditions for a wide range of wildlife.

"We must all ensure the wider legacy of the Tunnel is one of ecological gain along its whole route. London Wildlife Trust calls for proper and creative mitigation in excess of any damage caused during the construction phase, for the benefit of both wildlife and local residents."

A second public consultation on the scheme will start on Friday and will last for 14 weeks.