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Thames Water tunnel under pressure

Hammersmith and Fulham Council this week formed an independent commission to review Thames Water’s proposals for a £3.6bn super-sewer tunnel through London.

Focus “too heavy” on localised effects

It argues that the commission is needed because discussion around the project has to date focused too heavily on localised effects of construction works.

The new commission will, it said, now examine the fundamental questions about project cost and sustainability, shareholder influence in the choice of solution, and the Thames Tunnel’s effectiveness at preventing sewage overflows into the River Thames.

Thames Tunnel

The cost of the Thames Tunnel has risen by £1.6bn since the cost was originally estimated

Foundation for Science and Technology chair Lord Selborne will act as chairman of the commission. Water expert and former ICE President Jean Venables is also on the panel with Sheffield University professor of urban water Richard Ashley and US Natural Resources Defense Council sustainable communities director Kaid Benfield.

But the commission has had a bumpy start since launching on 4 July with only four out of its five panel positions filled. On the same morning that Venables was confirmed as the fifth commission member, an existing panel member gave up his place.

Consumer Council for Water (CCW) Thames and South East Committee member Andrew Whetnall informed the council on Monday morning that he would have to stand down from the panel. A council spokesman said the decision was believed to have been influenced by the CCW national board.

“We can best represent water customers by providing independent evidence to the commission, and not being on the actual panel”

Consumer Council for Water

CCW said: “We can best represent water customers in the review by providing independent evidence on behalf of customers to the commission, and not being on the actual panel.” Whetnall will be replaced on the panel in time.

Council leader Stephen Greenhalgh said finding people willing or able to take part in the commission has been difficult due to concerns over protecting good relationships with Thames Water.

A number of civil engineers had, he said, put themselves forward for involvement in the commission but had been stopped by their employers.

“Often their parent companies feel conflicted,” said Greenhalgh, who added that he had struggled to find infrastructure finance experts that would speak on the record about the potential final costs of the project.

However, there has been no suggestion that Thames Water has exerted any pressure on companies not to participate.

“Right result at the right cost”

Thames Water said that it looked forward to working with the new commission in the spirit of genuine inquiry. “The really important thing is that we achieve the right result at the right cost for our customers,” said Thames Water external affairs and sustainability director Richard Aylard.

“If anyone has a cheaper way of achieving what we need to do in the timescales that are demanded then we are very interested to hear from them. We look forward to meeting the commission and working with them.”

Greenhalgh said he understood that Thames Water planned to consult the public on alternatives to the Thames Tunnel.

“If anyone has a cheaper way of achieving what we need to do in the timescales that are demanded then we are very interested to hear from them”

Thames Water external affairs and sustainability director Richard Aylard

But Thames Water said it would not specifically ask residents whether they preferred an alternative. Instead they will be invited to voice general feedback on the project in its second phase of consultation, which starts in September.

The commission has support from London borough councils including Southwark, Richmond and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

Greenhalgh advocates a combination of solutions including diversion of surface water, sustainable drainage and improved river water treatment.

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