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Independent commission slams Thames Tunnel mega-sewer plans

The river Thames can be made cleaner and London can fulfil its European Union (EU) water quality obligations without building the Thames Tunnel mega-sewer, an independent commission said today.

The Thames Tunnel Commission was formed by Hammersmith and Fulham Council in July to examine whether Thames Water’s proposed £3.6bn sewage storage tunnel beneath London was the only viable option to prevent 39M.t of annual river sewage pollution from combined sewer overflows (CSOs), in line with the EU Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive.

The Commission reported its findings this morning and urged Thames Water to review the reasons for rejecting alternatives including shorter tunnel solutions proposed by former Thames Tideway Strategy Steering Group chairman Chris Binnie, and by Jacobs Babtie Engineering when it was commissioned by water regulator Ofwat to examine potential cheaper solutions in 2005. The Commission also said complimentary sustainable drainage systems (Suds) should be considered again.

“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,” said commission leader Lord Selborne. “These alternatives require further study.”

“Given the huge body of evidence now available against the super sewer it is time for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, backed by Ofwat and the Environment Agency, to compel Thames Water to go back to the drawing board,” said Hammersmith and Fulham Council leader Stephen Greenhalgh, a vocal opponent of the project.

Thames Water reaction

Thames Water sustainability director Richard Aylard said the company would not respond to the new report until it had fully digested the commission’s findings.

He estimated that it would take 10 days for the Thames Tunnel team to process the information in its entirety.

“I do take it very seriously,” he said.

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