The row over the proposed Thames Tunnel mega-sewer intensified this week as central and local government bodies, the Environment Agency and 15 charities and organisations took sides on the issue.
Despite Thames Water’s announcement that the project cost has risen from £3.6bn to £4.1bn, environment secretary Richard Benyon has reaffirmed the government’s support for Thames Water’s plans. “We continue to believe that a tunnel represents the preferred solution for dealing with the untreated sewage that is polluting the River Thames,” he said.
The Environment Agency stated its own support for the project soon afterwards. “Doing nothing is not an option,” said Environment Agency chairman Lord Chris Smith. “We consider the Thames Tunnel the best solution available to limit pollution from sewage in the Thames.”
A group of 15 organisations relating to the environment, wildlife, rivers and boating, including water charity Thames 21, also formed the Thames Tunnel Now Coalition and stated their preference for the project. “People are driven away by disgusting and abhorrent levels of sewage [in the Thames],” said Thames21 chief executive Debbie Leach. “Research has shown clearly that the Thames Tunnel is the best solution, and we need it delivered without delay.”
Opponents of the project were equally vocal this week. Lord Selborne’s independent commission published its report on Monday, criticising the project for being unnecessary and rushed. Five London local authorities — Hammersmith and Fulham, Tower Hamlets, Kensington and Chelsea, Southwark and Richmond — stated their support for the report and their objection to the Thames Tunnel being presented as the only option to reduce river pollution from combined sewer overflows (CSOs). Hammersmith and Fulham Council leader Stephen Greenhalgh — who commissioned Selborne’s investigation — also wrote to the Financial Times newspaper this week, urging Benyon to “put a stop to this monstrous white elephant”.