Thames Tideway Tunnel Update

Monday 15 April 2013

The Thames Tideway Tunnel promises to tackle the major problem of 39 million tonnes of untreated sewage being discharged into London’s major river every year, whilst bringing with it new above-ground additions to the capital’s public realm.

So said Phil Stride, the head of the Thames Water project at a special NLA briefing held at CBRE’s Henrietta House last week. Stride said the scheme, on which construction work is scheduled to start in 2015 – consent permitting – is part of solution to tackle the problem of overflows from the capital’s Victorian sewers. This is happening once a week but shouldn’t be in a ‘world class city in the 21st century’, said Stride 

Starting in west London, the proposed route for the main tunnel generally follows the River Thames to Limehouse, where it then continues north-east to Abbey Mills Pumping Station near Stratford. There it will be connected to the Lee Tunnel, which will transfer the sewage to Beckton Sewage Treatment Works. Stride said the 25km long tunnel solution was adjudged the best ahead of sustainable drainage systems by a strategic study group, and will reduce discharges from once a week to four times a year on average. But as a nationally significant infrastructure project it needs development consent, which the project backers are hoping for after submitting an application on 28 February. That application covers 24 sites, runs to 50,000 pages and weighs over a tonne, but the inspectors have just three months to assess it and make a decision. 

Stride said that every pound spent on the tunnel – it will cost customers around £70 or so extra per year on their bills from 2015 – is geared to achieving a maximum amount of value, with legacy extending not just to environmental, ecological and public health factors but also in over 9000 new jobs which will be created. In terms of benefits, Londoners and visitors will gain a cleaner river, and the UK will be complying with the European Urban Wastewater Treatment Directive, with a larger, more extensive river population and increased diversity. ‘All we’re trying to do is provide a natural extension to Bazalgette’s system’, said Stride. 

As to the assets above ground, Stride said these are principally blower houses and ventilation stacks, with six sites on which the team will be building onto the foreshore. ‘We’re absolutely driven by delivering a first class design in this project’, said Stride. Architect on the project Clare Donnelly said the foreshore areas include one proposed for Victoria embankment, and others in Chelsea and Blackfriars, and feature integrated areas in which people can sit and take in the new views. There will also, she said, be references made in the designs to the ancient rivers of London which lay below the surface. 

Bircham Dyson Bell partner Robbie Owen said that there have been seven schemes that have now gone through the new process for such large-scale projects as instigated by the Labour government under the Planning Act, with the first rejection earlier this week. More information on the Thames Tideway Tunnel documentation and the scheme’s progress can be found at http://infrastructure.planningportal.gov.uk/projects/london/thames-tideway-tunnel/  Owen said that the only problems with the Thames Tideway Tunnel could come if the impacts of the scheme are considered to outweigh its benefits. ‘The project I believe will get consent’, he said.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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