More on the Government’s summary dismissal of the Planning Inspectorate’s recommendations

As noted in our previous post, the Government decided to rubberstamp TW’s TTT application, overriding a number of findings from its own Planning Inspectorate Examining Authority, which consisted of a panel of top notch experts, at the top of their career, chosen by… the Government.

We give some examples of this treatment below:

Overall noise and health impact on communities

On the critical issue of the noise and health impact of tunnel sites, operating for up to nine years at some sites[1], of which up to three years of continuous working[2] right in the heart of densely residential communities, the Planning Inspectorate said:

“12.97 However, the Applicant’s[3] modification of the [impact assessment] method, extensive use of professional judgement and the assumption that the significant effect impact should be determined at the inside of the properties and not at the façade, results in an assessment that does not take into account the impact on the external environment of residential receptors (including gardens and balconies).
We consider that this is likely to have resulted in both an underestimate of impacts on those that have been identified as having a significant effect and an underestimate of the number of receptors experiencing a significant effect.

Overall conclusions on noise and disturbance
“12.357 Our overall assessment of the NPS[4] tests is that with regard to the three aims in NPS paragraph 4.9.9: We do not consider that the proposals meet the first aim of the NPS test to avoid significant adverse impacts on health and quality of life from noise [...]

(our emphasis)

This is a pretty serious finding on a critical point (noise and disturbance).  The Government’s answer was a simple, summary, brush off:

72. The Secretaries of State therefore consider the Applicant’s proposals have succeeded in avoiding significant adverse impacts on health or quality of life as a result of the proposed development.
[...]
74. Therefore, notwithstanding their concerns about the incompleteness of the noise and disturbance assessment noted in paragraph 59, the Secretaries of State disagree with the ExA’s[5] views and consider that the proposed development meets the first NPS aim of avoiding significant adverse impacts on health and quality of life (ER 12.357)

(our emphasis)

In other words, the Government overrode the Planning Inspectorate’s findings that TW had underplayed the impact of its works on the health of its citizens and decided that TW’s mitigation measures (which the Inspectorate, in its expert opinion, found to be deficient) would “just work” (with a few “less than significant”[6] provisions thrown in for good measure).  What’s most extraordinary is that the Government admits (at its paragraph 59), that the impacts are unknown in a number of respects.  How can any measure be asserted to mitigate an unknown impact?

Note also how the Government allows itself to downgrade the Planning Inspectorate’s expert findings to mere views

Chambers Wharf tunnel “drive” site

Chambers Wharf is one of the worst impacted site on the TTT route. Works there begun on 8th May 2014 and are set to continue until 2023[7] (assuming no delays, which are almost inevitable due to the sheer complexity of this ‘rocket science’ project).

One of the suggestions put to the Inspectorate was a reversal of the ‘drive’[8] of that tunnel’s section, which would have more than halved the exceptional disruption and severe impact on the lives of thousands of people (“a densely populated residential area” according to ExA’s report 17.147), whose dwellings tightly enclose the Chambers Wharf site.

The other end of that tunnel section (the ‘reception site’ in TW’s proposal) is located among 3.7 hectares of industrial land at Abbey Mills (AM), a site permanently owned and operated by TW.  The Inspectorate researched a comparison of impact between Chambers Wharf (CW) and AM: AM has 875 residents (and no schools) within 250m of the site (ExA 17.222) – and, we understand, none directly adjacent – whereas CW features within the same perimeter, 2,950 residents (of which several hundreds live directly adjacent to the site) and no less than three schools (ExA 17.194).

The ExA found that reversing the drive would mean that “the duration of the noisiest activities would be reduced as would the period of continuous working (from 33 months to 14 months)” (17.219).  It concluded as follows:

17.274 “We consider that Abbey Mills appears to be a feasible drive site which has the potential to offer a number of advantages as compared with Chambers Wharf”.

17.293 Our overall assessment is that Chambers Wharf as presented has serious deficiencies in terms of the NPS requirements.

(our emphasis)

What’s really peculiar is that in a previous version of their plans, TW had actually elected to drive the tunnel from AM[9].

The Planning Inspectorate concluded its extensive examination into the Chambers Wharf site with another serious assessment:

18.65 We conclude that the Applicant has not justified the use of Chambers Wharf as a drive site. This is a matter which weighs against making the DCO.[10].”

(our emphasis)

The Government’s brush off came as follows:

108. The ExA concluded that the Applicant had not justified the use of Chambers Wharf as a drive site, which weighed against making the Order (ER 18.65). The Secretaries of State disagree with the ExA and conclude, on balance, that the selection of Chambers Wharf as a drive site is justified.

(Our emphasis).

This is followed by a number of the shallowest reasons (including re-stating that TW’s mitigation measures – which the ExA had ruled insufficient – would “sort it all out” and further leaning on their previous assessment[11] that “residual impacts on quality of life and health from noise associated with the proposed development are less than significant.”…

What disregard for people’s livelihoods made TW choose to drive their tunnel the wrong way around? And how can the Government simply overturn the Inspectorate’s expert findings?  We have little idea on the former question[12]; however, the ever thorough Inspectorate’s report sheds light on the second question:

17.273 the Applicant advised that if a revised application needed to be submitted, it would delay the process by approximately two years.

(Our emphasis)

So there we have it. Obviously, another two years’ delay on this rocket-sciency project (which has already seen numerous delays) would have materially increased the risk of it being abandoned in the light of the faster, greener, better alternative that could deliver a clean Thames (and a wide ranging set of additional amenity) in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the TTT’s costs.

Who really wrote the Government’s decision?

Let’s just say that Thames Water couldn’t have wished for a better outcome, one that simply disregards every single objection of a highly qualified panel of experts, at the top of their game, appointed by the Government itself, to give them free roam to implement things the way them wanted.

What good have done the countless hours of hearings, in-depth technical investigations, and thousands upon thousands of pounds of expense to local communities, which, obviously, don’t have Thames Water’s powers to help themselves in everyone’s pockets?

The Government is seen applying its legislation (the NPS) when it suits them, and disregarding it when it doesn’t (as in the above reproduced paragraph 17.293 of the ExA’s report). It’s rather sinister and hardly believable that this can be legal… Or is it?? Please do get in touch if you can provide any legal leads… Human rights of the thousands of citizens that are being clobbered by the Government’s whimsical decision to override the National Policy Statement and the findings of its own Planning Inspectorate come to mind…

While it’s no secret for anyone that TW are driven by the need to maximize profit for their shareholders, the Government’s disregard for the livelihood of its own citizens is regrettable to say the least, and quite possibly borderline on illegal.

The simpler, cheaper, faster Green Infrastructure solutions recommended by a wealth of independent experts, both here and abroad would have far less concentrated destructive impact on some “unlucky few”. Doesn’t the Government have a duty of care?

Further reading

References

  1. [1] In a typical example of TW disinformation, the claim is that the TTT would take 6 years to build.  However, certain work sites, such as the one in Chambers Wharf (see further down) have started experiencing the impact of TW’s works since May 2014 and this is due to continue until 2023 (assuming no delays…..)
  2. [2] Read: non-stop, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, right up against some unlucky souls’ bedrooms!
  3. [3] The Applicant = Thames Water
  4. [4] NPS = National Policy Statement (on Wastewater)
  5. [5] ExA = Planning Inspectorate Examining Authority
  6. [6] To use their wording, although they use this to qualify health impacts
  7. [7] Compare with TW’s claims that TTT works would ‘only’ last 6 years…
  8. [8] The ‘drive’ is the origin from which a tunnel is dug – disruption is much more severe at origin, due to the continuous need to extract spoils and insert concrete segments.
  9. [9] The Inspectorate wrote: “17.230 In phase 1 of the site selection process, the reason given for selecting Abbey Mills over a drive site at King’s Stairs Gardens included that ‘it was more likely that noise and air quality impacts could be adequately mitigated for a main tunnel drive shaft site at Abbey Mills Pumping Station than at King’s Stairs Gardens’ (APP7.05, volume 23, para 2.5.14). However this reasoning is not given in the comparison between Chambers Wharf and Abbey Mills.”
  10. [10] DCO = Thames Water’s Application for a Development Consent Order (essentially their planning application for the TTT under the Planning Act 2008).
  11. [11] expressed in paragraph 74 reproduced above
  12. [12] Other perhaps than conspiracy theories that this is to intentionally depress property prices by blighting the area, so they can be cheaply acquired and resold at a profit by Thames Water and associated companies.  It is interesting to note, in this context, that Thames Water used to own a joint venture in property developer St James homes (part of the Berkeley Group), which assisted TW in its purchase of the CW site.

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

Check out our new ‘Controversy’ section

To ‘celebrate’ the kick off of the scrutiny of Thames Water’s application for their darling Thames Tunnel by the Planning Inspectorate, we have responded by publishing some original research, including a “mythbuster“, two pictures that explain why Green Infrastructure is such a preferable solution to TW’s outdated tunnel, as well as experts’ opinions under our new ‘Controversy’ section.