Have Your Say On Thames Tunnel Super Sewer Plans

By Lindsey Last edited 78 months ago
Have Your Say On Thames Tunnel Super Sewer Plans

A fourteen week public consultation on plans for a Thames 'super sewer' opens today.

The proposed Thames Tunnel will divert 39 million tonnes of untreated sewage a year from the river to an underground storage system. Our current Victorian sewer system is too small to cope with the waste of modern London and way too much 'foul water' - that's poo and wee and everything else - overflows into the Thames as soon as the system gets overloaded (ie when it rains).

This video shows how the Thames Tunnel stores the sewage until it can be treated at Beckton:

There's no argument against the need to do something about the sewage problem. The river must be cleaned up to comply with European environmental standards and so that people can enjoy activities on it and in it without getting sick (remember how David Walliams' charity swim was nearly scuppered?) or having to tolerate its noxious whiff as the wind changes.

Environmental groups including RSPB, WWF-UK, Thames21, Angling Trust and London Wildlife Trust have pulled together to create the Thames Tunnel Now campaigning group, urging people to support the scheme and allow it to proceed without further delay.

But an independent Thames Tunnel Commission report, supported by five London councils, urges a second look at alternative, cheaper plans, such as a shorter tunnel and complimentary sustainable drainage systems (Suds). Certainly, higher water bills to enable Thames Water pay for the project won't be popular.

Local objections to proposed construction and tunnelling sites are also key. Residents of Barn Elms in Barnes have been campaigning against the loss of riverside greenfield sites to allow for the main drive shaft of the tunnel work, potentially for seven years. They are pleased to note that the revised plans now propose an alternative brownfield site on the other side of the river at Carnwath Road, Wandsworth for the main shaft, with a smaller site at Barn Elms. A local campaign in Rotherhithe has also led Thames Water to change their plans for King's Stairs Gardens but it looks like Wapping's King Edward Memorial Park is still marked for major works and none of these parks will be safe without the public voicing their concerns in the consultation.

It's big, complicated and expensive but something needs to be done. Have your say.

Submit your views to the consultation.

Last Updated 04 November 2011


'But an independent Thames Tunnel Commission report ....'Who was on the Commision, how were they selected, what was their brief etc ? None of this is clear.
  So not exactly independent - but paid for by 5 Councils with an axe to grind


whos going to pay for this . not us living outside of london i hope


All of Thames Water's customers will pay for this, not just those in London. There will be an average increase of around £80 per year in water bills to pay for the tunnel, and this increase is not just for the duration of the project - it will be in perpetuity. The real winners here are Thames Water's shareholders, such as the Australian Macquarie Bank. Not only do they get an asset base of £4.1bn (the projected project cost). They also benefit from a revenue stream of close to £16bn, which is what will be paid over the years by Thames Water customers.

Philip Miller

Everyone who has any contact with Thames Water will pay for this, you don't just need to get your water from them, even if they handle your sewage you will have to pay the £80 (forever). Greg Hands MP thinks there will be 29,000 lorry movements on the Kings Road and over Wandworth Bridge. In Southwark there will be up to 90 lorry movements a day right past up to 4 schools (5/minute in the working day), one of the schools is  one of London's top primary schools. These lorries will make this journey for 7 years - 2 generations of school children will know no different. And all of this to move 95% rainwater.

Mac Wary

The Londonist article above is taken entirely from Thames Water publicity and perpetuates myths and untruths that completely mislead the public. Shame!

Mac Wary

Half the problem is that this whole issue of the Thames Tunnel is so incredibly boring. Thames Water have taken advantage
of this, and come up with a load of scary, misleading facts about the
cleanliness of the Thames, which has actually recently won the international
Theiss River prize, for achievements in river management and restoration.
Thames Water keeps very quiet about this.

From 2000 -2005 The Thames Tideway
Strategic Study, (TTSS) put together by a bunch of worthies chaired by
Professor Chris Binnie, investigated the problem of sewage in the River Thames
in an intense document of great length (most of which was extremely
long-winded and boring, which is why hardly anybody read it). It concluded that
the Thames Tunnel was necessary. At this time the estimated cost was only
£1.7bn at 2004 prices and even then this seemed a lot of money.

So in 2005 OFWAT not surprisingly thought that a second look was necessary and
commissioned one of the biggest engineering groups in the world, Jacobs Babtie,
to scrutinise, analyse and test the arguments in the TTSS and they produced an
equally (sorry folks) long-winded and mainly boring report, which again hardly
anyone bothered to read. This report, the Jacobs Babtie Independent Review,
2006 (JBIR) basically said that the criteria set by the TTSS were too onerous
and costly and the case for the Thames Tunnel was not proven. They proposed a
smaller, shorter tunnel and reported that if there were marginal changes in the
TTSS objectives, 70% of the original targets could be met at 52% of the cost.

Unfortunately, (understandably) very few
politicians or journalists read either document, which is why they and the
public have been so easy to dupe. (I’m a bit of a sad case because I have read
them both, falling asleep several times because they really are soporific)

Why did nobody know about the JBIR for so
long? Because Thames Water did their best to bury it. Whenever it was raised at
public meetings their staff pretended they’d never heard of it. (Surely they
couldn’t be so thick as not to know about it…or could they?) On one occasion, I
read passages from it to them in a public meeting. They had no idea it existed
and had no answers to the questions).

JBIR also proposed Sustainable Urban
Drainage Systems (SUDS) to be developed in parallel to the tunnel. The trouble
about these is that they make no money for Thames Water, who completely dismisses
them every time they are raised.

This year the Selborne Commission (SELCOM)
was set up to review the position. To everyone’s surprise, and to Thames
Water’s complete embarrassment, the eminent head of the TTSS, Professor Chris
Binnie, the original proponent of the Thames Tunnel, submitted evidence that
indicated he now believes the situation is not as serious as thought by TTSS
and his view now is now pretty well aligned to the JBIR approach.

Meanwhile, Thames Water continues to
mislead the public at every level. This is because this project is about TW
making money.

One of the most misleading facts is the
reiteration that 39m tonnes of raw sewage is flushed into the Thames every year
and that the Thames tunnel will reduce this. Make no mistake, there is sewage
flushed into the Thames and this needs to be addressed, but the figure of 39m
tonnes is grossly misleading. Most of this is rainwater! More than half of it
will be dealt with by the almost completed Lee Tunnel, which comes on stream
shortly, and which is much more cost effective.

The one thing that Thames Water hates you
to know is that the Tunnel is intrinsically flawed. When you read the
publicity, you think that the Tunnel will stop sewage going into the Thames. It
won’t. It will considerably reduce the amount of sewage going into the Thames
but there will be several occasions each year when it won’t be able to meet
demand. Their response to this is that the Environment Agency says that’s ok.
So we’re going to spend £4bn and be charged £100 each per annum for a super
tunnel that actually won’t work some of the time?  Maybe you didn’t realize that? You weren’t supposed to!

The problem is rainwater. Thames Water want
to flush it down the drain, tunnel it to Beckton, and sell it back to you. You
could collect it and pump it into a tank to flush your loo. This would mean
that you would consume less water, reduce your water bill. Sounds good? Here’s
the catch, Thames Water will make less money, and so if you try to go the green
route, they will prosecute you.

Hope Boris is reading this, because he really needs to wise up.

(Edited for formatting.)

Mac Wary

Here's another bit of information that neither the government nor Thames Water want you to know about.
Usually with projects like this a Cost Benefit Analysis is carried out. So what do you think happened? Well, when they first calculated the cost at £2.6bn they did some number crunching and discovered that they couldn't justify the figures based on the benefit to Londoners. So they scratched their heads and thought "what if we included all Thames Water customers? Maybe that would work.." So they put those figures into the equation and discovered that they still ended up with a negative outcome. This left them with a conundrum, till some bright spark came up with the idea that if they included the whole population of the UK, then there was a positive outcome and they could justify the project on cost benefit grounds.

What this means is that if you live in Edinburgh, you are supposedly getting a benefit from a cleaner Thames, on the grounds that people coming to London will think more highly of the UK!

I wonder how the Scots and the Welsh feel about this?

Campaigners have been calling on DEFRA  & Richard Benyon, the Water Minister, for a new thorough and realistic cost benefit analysis based on the increased cost of £4.6bn, but he is too embarrassed to proceed with one, because he knows what the outcome will be!! The fact is the supersewer cannot be justified on cost benefit grounds.

Mark Baynes

Interesting piece and many good comments. Just to comment on one aspect of this, I find it very odd indeed to find an environmental group such as Thames 21 supporting this and having to use a Notting Hill multi millionaire to be the face of their campaign (Peter Bazalgette of Big Brother fame appropriately enough). I think if the various charities jumping on this particular bandwagon were to properly examine the current plans they would realise that their support is in direct conflict with their aims.


I'm really disappointed to see Carnwath Road called a brownfield site. It's a small wharf area currently being used for storage and as shafttheshaft says in the middle of a residential area (http://www.fulhamrats.moonfrui.... Even worse is that the site has been part of a well developed regeneration plan to open up more public space by the river (http://www.fulhamriversidewest...

To read it referenced as a win for local campaigning groups, when Fulham Residents Against the Sewer (http://www.fulhamrats.moonfrui... and Peterborough Road & Area Residents Association have been campaigning against the site for months, only adds insult to injury. Londonist, I'm sure this wasn't your intention - why not edit this article to show you are not aiding one campaign group over another?

We need a cleaner river, but there are cheaper and more effective ways to do so, ways that won't mean years and years of disruption. (http://www.lbhf.gov.uk/Images/....

Philip Miller

There will be a public meeting setting out the case against the use of the residential site at Chambers Wharf on the 23rd November at the Riverside Primary School which borders the construction site: http://www.saveyourriverside.o...


Berlin approached the same problem (combined sewerage overflow) as we have here in London using an interesting solution... low cost, low impact, and environmentally sound...


I can't add a clickable link but if you paste this into your address bar it'll take you to a short video.

The main caveat is that the Thames is tidal where as Spree in Berlin is not. Luritec have stated that their system, with the right trials, can be engineered to cope with this. 

Lindsey Berthoud

Thanks everyone for your comments so far. Our intention was to draw attention to the consultation, flagging up local campaigns that we'd heard of and resources for people to find out more. We'll certainly be better informed when we remind people about the consultation deadline in the new year. Please keep commenting!


Please, will someone grab hold of this issue,£70-80 at 2011 costs, by 2014 it will doubly,very frightened thames water customer who struggles to pay now.

SouthWest Londoner

Nothing to do with "axes to grind" but a common sense approach using modern methodology. The government were wrong to ask a drainage undertaker (Thames Water) to come up with a solution to pollution of The Thames Tideway. The problem is not sewage but rain. If we control rain water entering the Inner London combined sewers, the problem is solved. Why send rain water to Becton or Crossness for treatment? Rain water can be resolved by temporary storage, using plants (such as green roofs, rain gardens and street trees) and attenuation (slowing water down and releasing it into the sewers in a controlled manner. At the moment, rain rushes straight into the sewers from roofs, roads and paved areas. Thames have told lies and made many misrepresentations to justify the tunnel scheme. Having found the UK guilty in the European Court of Justice for doing nothing for two decades and supporting a scheme that will not resolve the pollution issue for another decade, the EU is about to step in with funds for studies to prove that the tunnel is the wrong solution on every level. It does nothing for air quality (plants help), it does nothing for flooding (green infrastructure does), it will employ only 400 Londoners (GI will employ 17,000 Londoners), the tunnel has zero amenity value (Green Infrastructure provides loads) and most importantly, Green infrastructure costs less and has far greater cost benefits that the tunnel as the studies will prove.
The UK Government have known about the Thames Water fraud for ages but done nothing about it. It will take the EU to sort this one out. So much for EU versus UK Government "competences".