Plans to sort out London’s aging Victorian sewerage system with a £3.6 billion super sewer have recently come under fire from the authors of a special report commissioned by London borough councillors.
As things currently stand, Thames Water are planning to tunnel 20 miles beneath London to reduce the discharge of raw sewage into the River Thames, a problem that has blighted local residents for decades. But although this project is being promoted as the only viable solution for dealing with the excess sewage discharge, in order to excavate 20 miles of new tunnel, many of London’s most affluent riverside communities are likely to be affected over the next few years.
According to the report, such a large scale and expensive project is completely unnecessary and Thames Water will easily be able to meet EU water quality directives without spending £3.6 billion on new tunnelling infrastructure. Jacobs Babtie Engineering has proposed an alternative plan involving a much shorter tunnel that would be half the cost of the current preferred option.
Many critics of the Thames Super Sewer scheme are concerned about the effect building work will have on local communities and there has been some suggestion that the project is being driven by a desire to make money rather than a determination to meet EU directives by reducing the level of pollution into the River Thames.
Cheaper solutions being put forward will cost considerably less than the Thames Water super sewer project, but they are considered to be much more environmentally friendly and therefore less likely to attract a barrage of criticism. As such, Lord Selborne, chairman of the commission responsible for producing the report, are calling for further study into the proposed alternative plans, including the shorter tunnel and green infrastructure solution.
A statement issued by Lord Smith, chairman of the Environment Agency, has confirmed the agency’s approval for the 32km Thames Tunnel project, and with the next stage in the consultation process already underway, the Environment Agency will be working closely with the Government and Thames Water to ensure everything runs smoothly.
“The River Thames has improved significantly over the last 20 years, but further improvements are needed to deal with the unsatisfactory overflows of sewage,” said Lord Smith. “Doing nothing is not an option. We consider the Thames Tunnel the best solution available to limit pollution from sewage in the Thames,” he continued.
The second fourteen week consultation process with local residents has just begun to try and narrow the list of potential constructions sites along the path of the proposed Thames Tunnel project. Several of the original green field sites have been removed from the list and new locations put forward.
Thirty four unsatisfactory sewage overflow sites along the River Thames have already been identified. Much of the problems with sewage overflow are as a result of the old and crumbling Victorian sewerage infrastructure. Each time the region experiences a heavy rainfall, the old sewerage system cannot cope and sewage overflows into the River Thames, which is causing a massive environmental pollution issue in the river.
Around 39 million cubic metres of sewage leak into the River Thames each year, which is why the Thames Tunnel is such an important project. The tunnel will be constructed under existing infrastructure beneath London, and once work has been completed, raw sewage will be channelled away from the River Thames and into the Beckton Sewage Treatment Works. There will also be a link from the Thames Tunnel into the Lee Tunnel, which is another major tunnelling project currently under construction.
Local residents of the Barns Elm site have been fighting plans for the Thames Water Super Sewer in their neighbourhood for months now and new research has added some extra weight to their arguments: it appears that at least 10,000 visitors enjoy the delights of the Barns Elm playing fields and riverside tow path every weekend now that summer is here, all of whom would be seriously inconvenienced should Thames Water’s plans for a Thames Tunnel Super Sewer main tunnelling drive go ahead on the Barn Elms site.
Surveys carried out on the numbers of visitors to the area have revealed that large numbers of local people and visitors use the area for recreational and sporting purposes. Tens of thousands of adults and children played sports on the Barns Elms playing fields between April last year and March of this year, including several schools and local sporting clubs. The riverside path is also popular with runners, cyclists and dog walkers and the Barns Elm boathouse and jetty regularly attracts school children and other water enthusiasts.
Should the tunnel drive go ahead at the Barns Elm site, local residents and councillors are concerned that tunnelling activity and associated construction works will have an adverse effect on peoples’ homes and businesses, plus it would negatively impact on the future generation’s enjoyment of the local area.
“Thames Water need to understand how many thousands of Londoners will be affected if they locate the main drive shaft at Barn Elms, not to mention the impact on wildlife,” said Sian Baxter, Chairwoman of the Barns Elm Stop the Shaft Committee. She also added, “Playing fields and natural spaces are too scarce as it is and once lost they will be gone forever, we must fight to protect them now.”