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Thames Water hits back at ‘supersewer’ critics

4 Nov 11 Thames Water has responded to criticism in a local authority-funded report on its ‘supersewer’ plans, saying that it fails to deliver a credible alternative.

The company said that report by Lord Selborne’s Thames Tunnel Commission failed to provide a viable, economic or timely alternative to tackle the annual 39 million tonnes of untreated sewage that overflows into the River Thames from London’s Victorian sewers.

Released on 31 October 2011, the Selborne report claims the environmental criteria set by the 2007, independently-chaired Thames Tideway Strategic Study (2007), and later adopted by the Environment Agency (EA), should be revised downwards 'in today’s economic climate'.

 Sponsored by Hammersmith & Fulham Council, the report claims a package of other measures, including a shorter tunnel and the use of SuDS (sustainable urban drainage) would bring sufficient improvements.

But Thames Water project chief Phil Stride said: "Nothing in the report begins to suggest a workable alternative to the Thames Tunnel, capable of meeting the objectives for the health of the river, set by the Environment Agency, in the timescale required by the Government. There is no mention of the need to achieve a timely solution, either to resolve an entirely unsatisfactory situation as soon as possible, or comply with an EU directive that has applied to member states since 2000.

 "When London and the river need a decisive, long-term solution, the Selborne Commission is advocating a very short-sighted approach. For example, the shorter tunnel recommended in their report would leave 19 of London’s 34 most-polluting sewage overflow points entirely untouched, and lead to significant odour problems in west London."

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He added: "SuDS feature heavily in the report. We agree they have an important role to play. The trouble is that meeting the Commission’s calculation of even a 54 per cent reduction in sewer overflows through SuDS measures would require disconnecting an area equivalent to 15,000 football pitches from the sewerage system. That’s the equivalent of 40 Hyde Parks. This surely demonstrates that this would not be a simple, inexpensive or low impact option.

"The report also has nothing to say on how to tackle the sewage discharges in the more built-up areas downstream of Vauxhall Bridge, other than building a number of additional sewage treatment works in a highly urbanized area."

Along with a digest of other feedback received, Thames Water will publish a more detailed response to the Selborne report after the company's 14-week second phase of consultation for the proposed Thames Tunnel, which starts imminently.  

The Thames Tunnel is the third part of Thames Water's London Tideway Improvements, designed to tackle growing sewage levels in the River Thames.  It is proposed to run from west London, broadly following the route of the river, to Abbey Mills near Stratford in east London, where it would connect with the £635m  Lee Tunnel, already under construction, and transfer the sewer overflows  to Beckton Sewage Treatment Works.  

A £675m Thames Water programme to upgrade the five sewage works on the tidal River Thames, including £190m of improvements at Beckton, started in June 2010.

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