War of Words Breaks Out over Super Sewer

MP calls for enquiry into council campaign

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A war of words has broken out between MP Andy Slaughter and Hammersmith and Fulham Council over Thames Water's Thames Tunnel project - better known as the Super Sewer.

The Labour MP for Hammersmith is calling for an enquiry into the council's campaign of opposition to the huge £3.6 billion project.

The tunnel will take seven years to build, with the starting date planned for 2013, and will involve construction sites in boroughs along the river, including our own.

Last week Thames Water revealed its preferred site, chosen from a shortlist will be on currently vacant land next to the existing Hammersmith Pumping Station in Chancellors Road, W6.

In the past, the council had warned that the tunnel might mean the digging of "super-craters" in some of the borough's best-loved parks, including Ravenscourt Park and Furnival Gardens, and urged local people to sign a petition against the project.

When the announcement was made, the council claimed their petitition had forced Thames Water to change the location of the site, though these parks were not on the final shortlist and at a debate in City Hall last week, Thames Water's Richard Aylward said they weren't aware of this petition.

On his website, Mr Slaughter says: " There must be a inquiry into the misleading campaign Hammersmith & Fulham Council have run for the past three years, claiming on the one hand that the tunnel is unnecessary and on the other that three local parks would be dug up as part of the works.

" They knowingly used large sums of public money to assert facts they knew had no basis in truth. Indeed the only threat to Furnival Gardens, comes from the council’s own plans to land a footbridge in the middle of it as part of their £35 million refurbishment of their own town hall offices."

However, Council Leader Stephen Greenhalgh has hit back in a column published on the council website. He says: " Many people are starting to question whether the benefits of the super sewer are in proportion to the large costs. The public health benefits will be relatively minimal. There is no risk to drinking water from sewage overflow into the Thames. The risks are from digesting river water with a survey of rowers finding 18 people suffering a short illness, that may have been caused by sewage in the Thames, over a 15 month period.

" Spending nearly £4 billion to prevent a handful of people contracting a minor illness would be a questionable use of public money at anytime but during the tightest public spending round in a generation it is extravagant."

Mr Greenhalgh also hits out at Thames Water's selected site, saying: " Hammersmith Embankment was originally earmarked for new houses and offices on a prime riverside site and two-years ago the council spent £2 million revitalising Frank Banfield Park across the road – which it is now one of the borough’s elite Green Flag parks. Hammersmith Embankment is now likely to become a noisy building site for eight years potentially adding to traffic problems on local roads especially Fulham Palace Road."

He goes on:  " In 2006 the Government-appointed engineering consultants, Jacobs Babtie, recommended a shorter tunnel that could be built for around £900 million and be far less disruptive. The Babtie option is more cost effective with a shorter delivery time and without the need for so many construction sites.

" A range of other alternatives were also discarded too quickly without thorough investigation of their overall benefits in terms of cost, delivery time, disruption, as well as the social and environmental impacts. Other options include rainfall and storm water harvesting; selective separation of rain and foul water and covered treatment works to deal with storm water locally without the need for a long distance transfer.

" Hammersmith & Fulham Council’s preferred option is a hybrid scheme which would combine the diversion of run-off rain water, a shorter tunnel and clean up operations after storm flows have entered the river.

"Thames Water’s current proposal is not flexible. The limited benefits are not proportionate to the large and escalating costs, especially during an age of austerity. There are alternatives that can make the Thames even cleaner with less disruption to Londoners and without the huge environmental, social and economic costs."

The two men however do have some common concerns, including the possible extra cost to the consumer, predicted to be around £60 a year per household. Mr Slaughter says: " I think we need a rigorous independent analysis before we start paying to boost their assets."

And he says: " Of course there are many issues to be resolved during the consultation period and before work starts in 2013. There will be some spoil removed from the Hammersmith side as a smaller tunnel is being dug to the Acton pumping station to enable the sewage tanks on the border with Acton to be decommissioned – a relief to residents of Emlyn Gardens and Factory Quarter.

" But we need to ensure the river is used to remove waste rather than Chancellor’s and Fulham Palace Road."

You can take part in Thames Water's public consultation by registering on the consultation website. There will also be a series of consultation exhibitions, including one in Hammersmith agt Linden House in Upper Mall on on Monday October 11 and Tuesday October 12 from 10.30am till 8pm on both days.

The exhibition will allow local residents to review the plans and have their say. Specialists from the project team will be on hand to answer their questions.

September 13, 2010