New player wades in on Tideway

7 July 2011

A commission was set up on 4 July to probe the Thames Tunnel ‘super sewer’. Commission chair Lord Selbourne has struggled to find an engineer to join the board who is “firstly not on the payroll of Thames Water, and secondly unafraid of being blacklisted for speaking against the project,” a Hammersmith and Fulham (H&F) spokesman told T&TI this month.

“There is one spot, the fifth, on the Thames Tunnel Commission that has yet to be filled. [...] It will take someone either very brave, or possibly an engineer from abroad to step forward,” she added.

The commission was set up and sponsored by four riverside boroughs: Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, Richmond, and also Southwark. Lord Selbourne expected the cost of investigating the Thames Tunnel to be GBP 20,000 (USD 32,000), which was covered equally by each borough.

The H&F spokesperson told T&T that the idea of the commission partly originated from criticism by the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) select committee of Thames Water for “not properly evaluating alternatives”. The spokesman added that first phase of public consultation was purely related to the alignment, without discussing other solutions as will be the case in phase two.

H&F council leader Stephen Greenhalgh said, “Doing nothing is not an option, but we need to consider the possibility that there are better alternatives. On a recent trip to Chicago I heard how few cities are approaching it in this way – many realise that a tunnel-only option is not the best solution.”

Both sides have given their backing to the Commission. A Thames Water spokesperson told T&T, “We agree that [the CSOs] must be resolved at minimum cost, so we welcome the appointment of this commission and [will provide] whatever information and assistance Lord Selborne and his colleagues may require.”

The H&F spokesperson added, “In two months the Commission will report back with their assessment of the problem, and give their decision on the best course. If they decide that the tunnel is the best option, we will just have to live with it.”

Also named as members of the Commission were Richard Ashley, professor of urban water at Sheffield University; Kaid Benfield of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Andrew Whetnal of the Counsumer Council for Water.

Phase two of consultation should begin in September.