Friday, April 13, 2012

Thames Sewer Tunnel: Raynsford wades in

On Tuesday, I posted that Boris Johnson had written to Richard Aylard, Thames Water's External Affairs and Sustainability Director, calling for a re-examination of the proposed siting of works at Deptford Church Street, and four other aspects of the Thames Tunnel project.

What Boris said was:

"This site is adjacent to a school and on one of the few open spaces in this deprived area of London. The site will also impact on a busy section of the road network which is also an important bus route. I think there is more scope for alternative sites in this area, including the options examined in the first phase of consultation and again I urge you to search for a site that has lower impact."

It is notable that although Boris says that the previously preferred option of Borthwick Wharf should be looked at again, it is only in the context of suggesting that Thames should look again at alternative sites. By contrast Nick Raynsford has no qualms whatsoever about pronouncing that Deptford Church Street would be a far less disruptive site. Raynsford goes on to claim that 'thousands of residents' would be adversly affected if the Borthwick Wharf site was used and talks about 'heavy lorry movements along narrow roads'. There is a clue in the word 'wharf'. If the works were sited at Borthwick Wharf, or elsewhere on the river, then spoil can be taken out by river not by road as will happen if Deptford Church Street is used.


"Nick Raynsford slams Boris Johnson's meddling in the Thames Tunnel Scheme
Nick Raynsford, Labour MP for Greenwich and Woolwich, has today slammed London Mayor Boris Johnson’s attempts to intervene in the Thames Tunnel scheme and put thousands of local residents at risk of years of disruptive building works, danger and noise.

Nick was responding to news that Boris Johnson has written to Thames Water to call on them to look again at the Borthwick Wharf site as part of the Thames Tunnel sewer overflow scheme. This is despite Thames Water having already decided the site was unsuitable. Together with local Labour Councillors, Nick Raynsford last year organised a public meeting with Thames Water representatives. The meeting was very well attended by local residents, all of whom expressed serious concerns about the scheme, in particular safety risks from heavy lorry movements along narrow roads in a predominantly residential area. They also highlighted the disruption to the Ahoy Centre, a charity offering sailing and river-related activities to disadvantaged and disabled youngsters, as well as the encroachment into the River Thames.

In response, Thames Water dismissed using Borthwick Wharf and confirmed an alternative site for its scheme, which would be far less disruptive. Now Boris wants Thames Water to reconsider its decision, despite public opposition and concerns about safety.

Nick has written to all local residents warning them of the new threat to their area, and has written to Boris Johnson and Thames Water to protest in the strongest terms about the Mayor’s irresponsible intervention.

Nick said, “The fact that the Mayor has intervened to try to reverse this process is shocking in itself. But to have acted in this way without any attempt to consult the thousands of local residents who will be adversely affected, or their local representatives, is frankly inexcusable. I have urged Thames Water to not abandon the alternative site, and have called on Boris Johnson to immediately withdraw his ill-advised comments and to come to Borthwick Wharf to apologise to the local community”.

UPDATE: Saturday 14 Apr 2012

In response to the comment by 'cleanthames' below:

To save others the misery of navigating your, quite frankly dire, website I can summarize your short term solution as a "bubbler system fixed on the riverbed which mitigates oxygen sags supported by real time water quality monitoring so mobile bubbler boats can be deployed" and your mid-term solution as Sustainable Urban Drainage.

If you think that Oxygen Sags are the problem that the Thames Tunnel is designed to deal with then you completely misunderstand the project and the reasons for it. The problem is that the Thames fills with sewage when it rains heavily, oxygenating the sewage, as you propose, may save a few fish from dying, but does nothing to reduce the health risk to rowers and others who live and work on the river. We need to stop sewage going into the river.

We already have a system of automatic monitoring stations that alert the Environment Agency when there is a decline in dissolved oxygen levels and, if required, prompts the deployment of Thames Water’s oxygenation vessels, the “Thames Bubbler” and the “Thames Vitality”, to add oxygen to the water. The oxygenation vessels have been operating for many years. See the following links:

Dissolved oxygen levels in the Tideway

In 2002 the Mayor of London proposed tough requirements for Sustainable Urban Drainage in the draft London Plan. At the Examination in Public that was held in 2003 the Mayor's planning policy staff ran into problems because nobody actively opposed SUDs and the planning inspectors did not know enough about the subject to play devil's advocate. The eventual policy was aspirational, but lacked real teeth:

London Plan Policy 4C.8 Sustainable drainage
The Mayor will, and boroughs should, seek to ensure that surface water run-off
is managed as close to its source as possible. The use of sustainable urban
drainage systems should be promoted for development unless there are practical
reasons for not doing so. Such reasons may include the local ground conditions
or density of development. In such cases, the developer should seek to manage
as much run-off as possible on site and explore sustainable methods of
managing the remainder as close as possible to the site.

(At least I succeeded in articulating the arguments at the Examination in Public as to why, what became Chapter 4C 'Blue Ribbon Network' should be an integral part of the Plan, rather than a separate document.)

In 2005 the London Assembly's Environment Committee produced a report:
Crazy Paving: The environmental importance of London’s front gardens

Crazy Paving highlighted "the contribution to the capital’s drainage problems that is made by run-off from paved over front gardens,"

In 2008 the government amended the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995 (GPDO) to the effect that planning permission would be required to provide a hard surface within the curtilage of a dwelling house. Sadly there is considerable variation between local planning authorities in London, and elsewhere in the Thames catchment as to the extent to which enforcement action is taken when unauthorised paving over of a garden with non-permeable surfaces takes place.

Your assertion that "If the 14m households due to be taxed £80 p.a. for the Tunnel were asked to spend it on SuDS instead, they would see direct benefits and deliver a safer future for everyone." is truly fantastic nonsense. All over the Thames catchment area people continue to tarmac over their front gardens. Furthermore, many boroughs continue to see drainage as somebody else's problem and continue to permit major developments with hard surfaces that contribute to run-off. Perhaps one of the worst examples is General Gordon Square in Woolwich where Greenwich Council granted permission to Greenwich Council to redo the square with hard impermeable surfacing.

Sustainable Urban Drainage is a very long-term solution that requires the education of town planners and councillors before it has any impact on the problem of run-off.

As for 'capex bias', I can only presume that you are under the extraordinary misapprehension that you are somehow being clever in using such an arcane term. The issue of capital expenditure bias by water and water and sewerage companies, particularly in seeking to build new resevoirs rather than deal with leaks in the distribution system, is hardly new and has been considered by Ofwat and others over many years.


  1. That Nick Raynsford is the epitome of a NIMBY.  And don't get me wrong, a true NIMBY isn't someone who is merely defending his community of the plight of those crazy super-sewer works, a true NIMBY is someone who says "it's a fantastic scheme - so long as it ruins someone else's BY" (as Raynsford did at a house of common briefing organised by Simon Hughes on 6th March).  

    The issue with the super-sewer isn't so much whose life it will ruin with 24/7 works for multiple years or whose neighbourhood's ecology it will destroy for over a decade.  The issue is that it's solving the wrong problem, following the wrong agenda (google 'capex bias') and, consequently, none of that disruption is needed.  There is a more sustainable, much less disruptive, quicker to implement and far more affordable way to clean the Thames, safeguarding those £4bn to tackle the real long term issues brought about by climate change. More info at:

    Mr Raysford, it's high time to show some true political courage and care for the real, long term, issues!

    1. Blogger is in a bad mood today, so I have responded to your comment above.

  2. Oh dear, ctna: sad, first, that like so many you hide your identity, even on your WordPress site - it doesn't inspire confidence! Second that you are simply reiterating the NIMBY nonsense of Hammersmith and Fulham. May I suggest that you read Urban Drainage by David Butler and John W Davies? Not the easiest read but does provide the basic technological understanding of drainage that, I suggest, should be acquired before simply cutting and pasting inaccurate, unscientific nonsense.

    As Bill Ellson has observed, the primary problem is that the discharges pollute the Thames with fecal matter that can include pathogenic bacteria and viruses. The Metropolitan Commission of Sewers order resulted not just from the 'stink' nor even fish death but from an outbreak of cholera that killed over 14,000 Londoners. Mr Ellson refers to rowers and to those who live and work on the river; to that total I would add the very many tourists and commuters who travel the Thames every day. Adding oxygen will not remove this appalling health risk.

    Towards the end of last year, I was invited to take part in two exercises that considered alternative solutions to Thames pollution by sewage. The second was at Thames Water's London Headquarters: no doubt you may consider this to be a flawed effort but it engaged many experienced people, independent of Thames. In groups we examined one small area of West London and developed SUDS orientated projects taking into account the geography, local community and the disruption of building in separated systems and incorporating local drainage. One of the major problems we considered is the change in the intensity of rainfall and the way in which this overcomes normal surface drainage.

    We were not lead to any Thames approved solutions but we did gain insight into the very serious problems that would face a SUDS only solution.

    The first exercise was held at UCL and had nothing to do with Thames or any other water company - simply the University examining solutions to London's growing water and sewerage provision problems. Same results, though; we need to deal with rainwater, more effectively. Not just in terms of pollution caused by runoff but in terms of water shortage. Some Local Authorities are working towards increasing the number of green roofs in their area, rather fewer are looking at green walls. I have recently visited the Museum of London to view what is one of the most comprehensive capture and harvesting systems and discussed with the John Lewis Partnership, their green roof developments. Unfortunately there are rather more LAs who do not ask responsibly or with understanding. The DEFRA consultation on SUDS, that ended in March, may result in providing teeth to enforce better drainage practice but, even if LA's begin to apply tougher standards, that will do nothing to alleviate all that has already taken place. That is not just front gardens, they are only a small part of the problem. We will need to replace all hard surfacing, including streets and pavements, as well as buildings, and that is an extremely costly and time consuming process - certainly not a medium term fix but a very, very long term one.

    In the meantime, many water companies, including Thames, are encouraging SUDS and rainwater harvesting. I suggest, again, some background, scientific reading and a little general research - instead of cut and paste. Repeating a lie does not make it any more true.