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.