Assembly sets out concerns about Thames Tunnel proposals

Posted: Thursday 10th February 2011

The London Assembly has set out a number of concerns about Thames Water’s proposal for a new tunnel to reduce the amount of untreated sewage flowing into the River Thames each year.

When London’s sewer system becomes overloaded from rainfall, overflows of sewage and rainwater discharge into the River Thames. To tackle the problem, Thames Water is proposing building a new tunnel underneath the river so that any overflow from the sewers can instead be transported to the treatment works at Beckton.

In its response to the scheme, the Assembly’s Health and Public Services Committee concludes that building a new interceptor tunnel is the most viable solution available. However, it says a number of issues need to be addressed, in particular how much customers will have to pay, continuing uncertainties over the planning process and how Thames Water will maximise the employment of Londoners during the project’s construction.

James Cleverly AM, Chair of the Assembly’s Health and Public Services Committee, said: “Every year, 39 million tonnes of untreated sewage is discharged into the River Thames from London’s sewers – enough to fill the Albert Hall 450 times over. [2] There is widespread consensus that this problem is getting worse and we believe the Thames Tunnel offers the best solution.

“However, there are a number of concerns that need to be addressed by Thames Water and its partners and we look forward to receiving further details of the scheme in the future.”

Costs to customers
The Committee is concerned that the full costs of the Tunnel to Londoners are not yet known. Thames Water has estimated that customers will face an additional charge of £60-£65 per year, but no-one knows how long these charges will last. It is also not clear how the most vulnerable customers will be protected if they cannot afford to pay their water bills.

The response says it is disappointing that customers are being asked to comment on the proposal without clearer information on how much it will eventually cost them. It calls for Thames Water and Ofwat to publish these details as soon as possible.

Planning
The Committee believes there is a role for London’s political leaders in the planning decision but it may be problematic for multiple boroughs to undertake separate planning processes. Therefore the Government should consider how the Mayor could co-ordinate the planning process for the tunnel proposal.

Committee Members also say the continuing uncertainty over the planning process should be ended as soon as possible after the consultation period.

Employment benefits
The response says there should be a clear strategy for maximising the employment of Londoners in the construction of the Tunnel. Ambitious targets should be set, which Thames Water’s contractors should have to fulfil.




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