The boring machine for the Super Sewer is wider than the size of three London buses

Try to imagine the construction that will last for six to seven years of a Super Sewer, that will involve 29,000 lorry journeys during the construction period, that will continue 24-hours a day, that will increase the capital value of Thames Water by 40 per cent and that will cost 14 million Thames Water customers living from Swindon to Essex and all Londoners an extra £80 each year on top of current bills for life to pay for the project.

Unless it is stopped, this is going to take place in the heart of London on the edge of the River Thames.

Also try to imagine having a chest complaint such as asthma or bronchitis and then figure out how you’ll be affected by the amount of pollution that those same lorry journeys will pump into the air as they hold up the traffic in an area that already suffers from major traffic jams.

Oh yes, and Thames Water is owned by an Australian bank, Macquarie.

A consortium led by the Australian bank, Macquarie, bought Thames Water for £8billion in 2006 and if the Super Sewer goes ahead the regulatory capital value (RCV) of Thames Water will increase by at least 40 per cent. This will allow Thames Water executives to charge customers much higher bills in future and make a large profit on their borrowings.

  • The River Thames can be made cleaner and London can fulfil its obligations to meet EU directives on water quality without building a hugely disruptive and expensive ‘Super Sewer’ proposed by Thames Water.
  • This is one of the key conclusions from Lord Selborne’s Thames Tunnel Commission (TTC) which were made public in October 31 following months of detailed analysis.

Fears over spiralling water bills and residents’ protests over the loss of open space and regeneration sites prompted five London councils to sponsor a panel of internationally renowned experts, led by Lord Selborne. The TTC examined whether there are sensible alternatives to the Super Sewer, or Thames Tunnel, as it is also known.

Thames Water has been promoting its controversial multi-billion pound concrete tunnel as the best solution to cleaning up the river – a solution which will add an estimated £6-£12 per month to water bills of 14 million of its customers.

Following a series of public hearings, which considered oral and written evidence from Thames Water as well as a wide range of statutory bodies and interested parties, the TTC recommends that:

* The primary reasons for rejecting the recommendations for a shorter EU compliant tunnel that costs less than half the current super sewer estimate, should be revisited as a matter of urgency.

* Complimentary green infrastructure solutions that minimise the amount of fresh rainwater entering the sewerage system should be considered, particularly in light of new EU legislation on environmental sustainability.

* Defra, the Environment Agency and Thames Water should give very careful consideration to the other alternatives as proposed by Chris Binnie, Chairman of the Thames Tideway Strategic Study Group from 2000 to 2006, and Professor Colin Green, who is a national expert on water economics.

* Thames Water should examine the experience of other EU member states in complying with the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive and take note of the experience of world cities like Chicago and Milwaukee.

Hard-pressed utility customers

Lord Selborne says: “Our forensic analysis shows there is a substantial body of evidence pointing to the fact that there is a smarter way to make the River Thames cleaner. A shorter tunnel, combined with green infrastructure solutions that are built up incrementally in the medium to long term, would be both compliant with EU directives and less costly and disruptive to Londoners. These alternatives require further study.”

The TTC also echoes the views of hard-pressed utility customers in questioning the escalating cost of the sewer. In June 2011, Thames Water’s Chief Executive, Martin Baggs, admitted that the tunnel’s current estimated price of £3.6billion is based on 2008 figures that ‘will inevitably increase’. The admission came despite Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman demanding that ‘not a penny extra be spent’ on the Super Sewer.

“There are serious concerns about the escalating costs of the Thames Tunnel and the impact this will have on customers,” continues Lord Selborne. “Many bill-payers will be pushed into water poverty which is not acceptable when there are viable alternatives that should be explored further.”

From L to R: Nigel Henson, Sue Oriel, Ann Rosenberg and Hammersmith & Fulham Council deputy leader Nick Botterill at the meeting in October at which residents grilled Thames Water bosses about the potential massive construction work chaos

Thames Water customers from Essex to Swindon and all Londoners can expect to pay a minimum of an extra £65 per year for life on top of current bills, doubling the cost for sewerage, to pay for the super sewer.

Speaking to reporters last week, Professor Green said Thames Water stands to make a colossal £162million a year in additional revenue from its 20-mile long super sewer due to a ‘perverse incentive’ in the way the water industry is financed.

Chris Binnie, who worked for Thames Water to create the original sewer plans, presented evidence to the TTC arguing that the whole basis for the project was out of date and needed to be revisited.

The TTC is sponsored by the London Boroughs of Hammersmith & Fulham (H&F), Richmond, Southwark and Tower Hamlets and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh, H&F Council Leader, says: “The Selborne Commission has done some sterling work in taking a cold, hard look at the facts. It is now clear from the commission’s detailed report that Thames Water has failed to make the case for the super sewer.

“Thames Water has a vested interest in pushing through this gold-plated scheme and this is why it has chosen to ignore the water industry experts who have repeatedly come forward to say there are alternatives. We now know that there is another way to improve the cleanliness of the river without the huge environmental, social and economic costs.”

It is time for Thames Water to go back to the drawing board

Cllr Greenhalgh says: “If we are not careful we will have a situation where 14 million Thames Water customers will pay a fortune on top of their current bills to fund the construction of a massive concrete tunnel which is driven by EU directives but ultimately designed to deliver profits for an Australian bank.

“Given the huge body of evidence now available against the Super Sewer it is time for Defra, backed by Ofwat and the Environment Agency, to compel Thames Water to go back to the drawing board.”

Councillor Peter John, Leader of Southwark Council, said: “As a riverside borough, we are absolutely committed to the aim of cleaning the Thames and preventing sewage leaks, but the Thames Tunnel plans appear unnecessarily disruptive and costly.

“We’re equally concerned that in the current economic climate, with the rising cost of living, the last thing that Londoners need is a scheme that will cost the equivalent of £70 for every single water bill-payer in the city.”