Enquiry supports shorter tunnel with added green solutions
A commission sponsored by five London councils, including Hammersmith and Fulham, has recommended a rethink on the planned Thames Tunnel, or super sewer.
The Thames Tunnel Commission, a panel of experts led by Lord Selborne, was asked by the councils to investigate whether the proposed tunnel, which would run for 20 miles under the Thames, is the best solution to cleaning up the river.
The investigation was commissioned because of worries over the cost of the project, estimated to be at least £3.6 billion and protests by local residents, including many people in Fulham who are campaigning against the possible siting of an access shaft to the tunnel on a site in Carnwath Road.
The results of the commission's enquiry have been released on Monday October 31 Selborne, containing these main recommendations:
- The primary reasons for rejecting the "Babtie option", which recommends a shorter EU compliant tunnel that costs less than half the current super sewer estimate, should be revisited as a matter of urgency.
- Complementary green infrastructure solutions that minimise the amount of fresh rain water entering the sewerage system should be considered, particularly in light of new EU legislation on environmental sustainability.
- Defra, the Environment Agency and Thames Water should give very careful consideration to the other alternatives as proposed by Chris Binnie, Chairman of the Thames Tideway Strategic Study Group from 2000 to 2006, and Professor Colin Green, who is a national expert on water economics.
- Thames Water should examine the experience of other EU member states in complying with the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive and take note of the experience of world cities like Chicago and Milwaukee.
Lord Selborne says: " Our forensic analysis shows there is a substantial body of evidence pointing to the fact that there is 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.
" There are serious concerns about the escalating costs of the Thames Tunnel and the impact this will have on customers. Many bill-payers will be pushed into water poverty which is not acceptable when there are viable alternatives that should be explored further."
The commission's report comes just a few days after Professor Colin Green claimed that plans for the tunnel are motivated by profit, with Thames Water - which is owned by a consortium led by the Australian bank, Macquarie - potentially making at least £100 million a year from the project.
Hammersmith and Fulham Council, which has consistently campaigned against the super sewer, and which paid £5,000 to help sponsor the commission, also claims that if the super sewer goes ahead the regulatory capital value (RCV) of Thames Water will increase by at least 40%. This says the council will allow Thames Water executives to charge customers much higher bills in future and make a large profit on their borrowings.
Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh, H&F Council leader, says: " The Selborne Commission has done some sterling work in taking a cold, hard look at the facts. It is now clear from the commission’s detailed report that Thames Water has failed to make the case for the super sewer.
" Thames Water has a vested interest in pushing through this gold-plated scheme and this is why it has chosen to ignore the water industry experts who have repeatedly come forward to say there are alternatives. We now know that there is another way to improve the cleanliness of the river without the huge environmental, social and economic costs."
Thames Water is now studying the commission's findings, saying it will be a "valuable contribution" to a second public consultation beginning this week.
A spokesman said: "To be a viable proposition, any alternative to the Thames Tunnel would need to provide a more economical way of meeting the environmental objectives set by the Environment Agency for the health of the river, within the time scale required by the government."
Last week, Thames Water responded to Professor Green's claim saying: " "Detailed and independently-chaired studies have identified the Thames Tunnel as the most economical way to deal with the 39m tonnes of sewage that overflows to the Thames in a typical year. We do not yet know who will finance and build the tunnel, but it is by no means certain that it will be Thames Water."
A spokesperson for industry regular Ofwat said: "We are working with Thames Water, Defra and other stakeholders to support the development and financing of the Thames Tunnel and to ensure that any incurred costs are efficient and continue to represent best value to customers."
November 1, 2011