Government rubberstamps the Great Drain Robbery, choosing to pour concrete instead of planting seeds

25% hike to water bills of nearly a quarter of the UK’s population[1] to pay for a non-solution, benefitting foreign-owned Thames Water and the international financing elite[2], backed by a UK taxpayer blank cheque[3].

Why should taxpayers in Scotland back a London sewer?

We are genuinely shocked that the Government has decided to rubberstamp Thames Water’s application to build the Thames Tideway Tunnel (TTT), when so much independent academic and expert evidence is stacked against it.  In a rather unusual and sinister move, the Governement sided with TW summarily dismissing the opinion of the Planning Inspectorate on an important number of points[4], casting serious doubts on the validity of the decision and the purpose of conducting a rigorous examination in the first place.

The TTT perpetuates the flawed and obsolete practice of mixing rainwater and sewage in one big(ger) pipe, the very cause of today’s overflow issues.  In a water stressed world (remember the 2012 drought?) it should be an insult to think that the best proud British engineering can achieve is to allow precious rainwater to get polluted by London’s sewage for decades longer than necessary.  It’s as if we’ve learned nothing in the 150 years since London’s Victorian sewers were built.

After the fiasco of the Mogden Sewage Treatment Works upgrade, which spilled sewage into the Thames no less than54 times in the first year following its £140m upgrade (completed in March 2013), when it was designed by Thames Water to spill once every 2-3 years, it is really surprising that no-one at Defra is questioning (1) the competence of Thames Water and (2) the validity of continuing to indiscriminately mix precious rainwater and sewage in the same infrastructure.

The Thames Blue-Green Initiative, incorporating a large set of independent academics and world-renowned experts[5] has been urging the Government to opt for the progressive Blue-Green Infrastructure (BGI) solution and associated low complexity/low cost grey complements.  This is adopted nowadays by nearly all of the world’s cities facing a similar problem, from New York City to Copenhagen.  Beyond the river pollution caused by intense rainwater entering the sewers, BGI would also help mitigate the following critical 21st century environmental issues:

  • Flood risks
  • Water scarcity
  • Air pollution
  • Loss of biodiversity
  • Climate change
  • Noise pollution
  • The heat island effect

To take just one example: air pollution is linked to one in every 12 deaths in London[6], which has already been found in breach of applicable laws[7], with more costly consequences to come. With BGI the same pound can successfully address sewer overflows and make a material difference to London’s air quality.

Besides, money invested in BGI would remain in the local economy, creating a long lasting legacy of sustainable green jobs and a better environment for all Londoners.  For example, laying porous asphalt would be a great opportunity to enable a network of segregated bike lanes, further improving the City’s carbon footprint for the long run.

A recent life cycle analysis conducted in New York has also shown that the ‘big-pipe’ way of managing combined sewer overflows has a net damaging overall effect on environmental systems due to resource use, energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions[8].

With 10 million square meters suitable for green roofs retrofitting inside a 6km radius around Trafalgar Square, the main lack of space for retrofitting Blue-Green Infrastructure in London is in the head of the people who should be doing it.

The fight for a better environment for London and its river isn’t over.  We have found a large number of cases where Thames Water’s well-funded propaganda machine has materially misled the public and its elected representatives.  This resulted in an exaggerations of 115% making it into the National Policy Statement on Wastewater, on which the TTT is founded.  We are about to submit an official complaint about this to the Advertising Standards Authority.

Quotes from Thames Blue-Green Initiative experts

  • Professor Richard Ashley[9]-– who just today accepted the prestigious career achievement from the Joint Committee on Urban Drainage (JCUD) of the International Water Association (IWA) –- said: “The missed opportunity is colossal especially for the amenity and biodiversity that could be created all over London by spending and doing it differently”[10].
  • Professor Colin Green[11] said: “We have to make every £ do the work of 2-3 by looking for approaches which deal with several problems at once.  We have to look for synergistic options.  The TTT fails this test, among others.”[12]
  • Professor Chris Binnie[13], the “father of the super-sewer”, who has withdrawn his support from the project, said: “DEFRA guidance is that the most cost effective combination of measures should be studied. This has not been done and the Minister has said he will not request it.”[14].

For more information, please contact us.

  1. [1] 14 million of Thames Water’s customers will have to pay up to an extra £90/year for the TTT (in 2014 prices), many of whom don’t even live in London (as far afield as Cheltenham, via Oxford etc). See map here.
  2. [2] On offer: 12-13% returns, backed by UK taxpayers; see: Thames Water seeks investors for £4bn ‘supersewer’, Financial Times, 10 June 2014.
  3. [3] See para. 21 of this explanatory note to the Water Industry (Financial Assistance) Act 2012: “this support [to the TTT] cannot be monetized”
  4. [4] More on this in a later post
  5. [5] See under Quotes further down for some of the names.
  6. [6] Source The Independent, 10 April 2014. Toronto’s urban forest comprising some 10 million trees, removes over 1,400 tonnes of air pollutants annually. Encouraging cycling will also help air quality.
  7. [7] Supreme Court rules UK Government is breaking air pollution laws, ClientEarth, 1st May 2013.
  8. [8] De Sousa M R C., Montalto F A., Spatari S. (2013). Using Life Cycle Assessment to Evaluate Green and Grey Combined Sewer Overflow Control Strategies. Journal of Industrial Ecology. Volume 16, Number 6. 901-913.
  9. [9] Richard Ashley is an Emeritus professor of Urban Water at the University of Sheffield and Professor of flood resilience at UNESCO IHE Delft and an internationally acclaimed expert on Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS). He was involved in scrutinizing the TTT more than once. See here for some of his papers on the topic.
  10. [10] Prof R. Ashley: “It was good enough for the Victorians, we know it works”, Sept. 2014.
  11. [11] Colin Green is a professor of water economics at the Flood Hazard Research Centre of Middlesex University and an international authority on flood risk management.
  12. [12] Prof C. Green: “The Thames Tideway Tunnel: a disaster for the Environment”, 30th July 2014.
  13. [13] Prof Chris Binnie chaired the Thames Tideway Strategic Study, which, in 2005 recommended the TTT but has since then withdrawn his support as he believes there are more cost-effective and less disruptive solutions to the problem of rainwater flooding combined sewers and causing overflows.
  14. [14] Prof C. Binnie: “Review of Tideway spills and environmental impact”, 3rd August 2014