Experts’ opinion

Some relevant papers and reports from pro-eminent independent experts and academics pertaining to the Thames Tideway Tunnel are presented below.

Professor Chris Binnie

The alternatives of SuDS, infiltration, real time control, detention tanks, sewer separation, and other associated measures, along with corrected model data, should be studied to check if a combination of such measures could meet the required spill frequency. This should be done independently and positively.
Prof Chris Binnie.

Prof Chris Binnie was the independent Chairman of the Thames Tideway Strategic Study, in operation between 2000 and 2005, which concluded in late 2005 that the Thames Tunnel was the most effective means of dealing with the issue of rainwater flooding combined sewers, causing them to overflow. Although now retired, Prof Binnie has kept an active interest in the topic.  He has been intrigued by the substantial increases (nearly three fold) seen by the estimated cost of the Tideway scheme since the project left his chairmanship.  He’s also followed and studied a number of alternative technologies to solve the issue, which have been proving themselves elsewhere in the intervening eight years. In the light of these findings, Prof Binnie has withdrawn his support from Thames Water’s pet scheme and has turned into a fierce critic of the project.

Analysis of metrics withheld by the Environment Agency reveals TTT not needed

Following a Freedom of Information Request to reveal metrics withheld by the Environment Agency, Prof. Binnie’s latest analysis (12 December 2014) concludes that following the long overdue Sewage Treatment Work upgrades implemented over the past few years, the Thames complies with EU and UK legislation as is.  Commissioning of the Lee Tunnel in 2015 or early 2016 will improve things further by capturing over 50% of the residual spills and channel them to Beckton STW.

Hence, the tremendous waste of money represented by the TTT is proven unnecessary.

Prof. Binnie recommends some cheap and low-complexity short term measures to further improve quality of the water in the Thames but stresses these are not strictly required by legislation.

Our view (not necessarily Prof. Binnie’s) is that Blue-Green Infrastructure (BGI) is the proper solution to improve water quality for the long term; something even TW acknowledge. BGI (of which Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) is a major component) can be implemented at a fraction of the cost of the tunnel, as low complexity complements to Prof Binnie’s short term measures and will deliver very significant gains, such as flood, drought, climate change and urban air pollution mitigation, as well as the green jobs our economy badly needs.

The time to stop this waste of money is now!
Lord Berkeley to water Minister, 11 Dec 2014.

See also:

The Mogden debacle

Prof Binnie’s recent analysis (August 2014) shows that the recently upgraded[1] Mogden sewage treatment works spilled raw sewage into the Thames for 54 days over its first year of operation, when Thames Water’s model predicted one spill might occur… once every 2.5 years! The manifest failure of Thames Water’s engineering in this instance should raise at least a few questions:

  1. Given TW’s incompetence here, what confidence can the (paying) public and politicians have any confidence that the much costlier TTT – part of the same engineering programme as that botched upgrade – will perform any better?
  2. Given the spills have been mostly caused by the usual suspect, ie: extreme rainwater events, doesn’t this aptly demonstrate that the outdated approach of allowing precious rainwater and sewage to mix in the same big(ger) pipe can no longer be sustained?
  3. Why are all the keen supporters of the TTT, who are supposedly most concerned about the state of the river, such as the Environment Agency and ‘Thames Tunnel Now’, turning a blind eye to this rather pitiful situation?

Despite these issues, the Environment Agency and Defra deem that Mogden meets the requirements of the EU Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (UWWTD), which is also the driver for the TTT.  This implies acknowledgement that 54 days of spills into the Tideway p.a are acceptable.

Prof Binnie’s papers

Professor Richard Ashley

Richard Ashley is an Emeritus professor of Urban Water at the University of Sheffield and Professor of flood resilience at UNESCO IHE Delft and one of the UK’s premier experts on SuDS (Sustainable Drainage Systems).

In 2009, he was asked by Thames Water to conduct a study on the potential of leveraging SuDS in order to mitigate CSO spills.  This work became known as Appendix E “Potential Source Control and SUDS Applications” of TW’s 2010 “Needs Report for the Thames Tunnel”.  Alas, it was a very constrained study with exceedingly narrow objectives.  Its budget was dwarfed (at a ratio of about 500:1) by the £100m Thames Water spent researching their preferred tunnel option during that period.  Crucially, all the modelling for the study was done by TW’s consultants and serious flaws were later discovered in that data as well as TW’s interpretation of the results.  Nonetheless TW are infamously using “Appendix E” to dismiss wholesale any possible alternative to their tunnel based on SuDS.

Prof Ashley’s papers:

Professor Colin Green

Colin Green is a professor of water economics at the Flood Hazard Research Centre of Middlesex University, UK. He is an international authority on flood risk management and his research interests also include governance in relation to Integrated Water Resources Management and sustainable urban water management.[2]

Prof Colin Green’s papers:

Sir Ian Byatt

Sir Ian Byatt was the first Director General of the UK’s water regulator, Ofwat (1989-2000), who oversaw privatization of the UK water industry. It’s hard to imagine someone better placed to gauge the state of play in that industry… In his paper, he raises a number of serious red flags on Thames Water and the Thames Tideway Tunnel. He also presents an original assessment that alleged sewer capacity issue can only be due to Thames Water’s inadequate maintenance of London’s sewerage system. There is definitely some evidence of this [3]. Sir Ian Byatt notes that no capacity issue existed when he left Ofwat in 2000.

Sir Ian Byatt’s papers:

T. Martin Blaiklock

Martin Blaiklock is an internationally renowned consulting expert on Infrastructure & Energy Project Finance. He was one of the early whistleblowers on the issues surrounding Thames Water’s worsening debt to equity ratio as well as its practices of paying excessive dividends to its foreign owners, often exceeding even tidy profits.

Martin Blaiklock’s papers:

  • Response to Ofwat Consultation on Modification of TW’s license re TTT — 17-Nov-2014.  Once again, Martin shines a light through Thames Water’s nuclear sciency financial engineering designed to bamboozle everyone including the regulator and reveals the amount of UK corporation tax they’ve been paying (zero) vs dividends paid over the last few years (£bn); interesting analysis re TW’s debt/equity ratio and the fact that they’re on the brink of insolvency (due to excessive dividends paid).
  • The Thames Tideway Tunnel [“TTT”], an Exercise in “Enron-Economics” — by T. Martin Blaiklock, 7-Jul-2014. Highlights how the financial engineering around the “Independent Provider” arrangement that’s designed to transfer risks from Thames Water to rate and tax payers (1) may well not be kept off balance-sheet by the Govt, inflating national debt (2) may contravene EU competition law.
  • The Thames Tideway Tunnel; an Engineer’s “Pipe-Dream” – The Case for an Alternative — by T. Martin Blaiklock, 5-Aug-2013. This report takes us through the financial issues faced by Thames Water as a consequence of their profligate dividends policy and argues that alternatives such as SuDS should be given a serious look, not least because they are quicker to implement, present a significantly lower risk profile and would be much preferable for the economy (ie: create more jobs).

Professor Čedo Maksimović

Prof Maksimović is the Head of the Urban Water Research Group, EWRE Section, a professorial Research Fellow at Imperial College London, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

  1. [1] Cost to Thames Water’s customers: £140m
  2. [2] Bio from an interview featured in: Water in the Green Economy in Practice, towards RIO+20
  3. [3] See also Myth no. 7 in the Mythbuster.