This is entry number 292, published on 4 November 2011, of a blog on the Planning Act 2008 infrastructure planning and authorisation regime. Click here for a link to the whole blog.

Today's entry reports on three developments this week relating to the Thames Tunnel 'super sewer'.

The Thames Tunnel is a new sewer proposed by Thames Water that would run underneath the Thames from Hammersmith in the west to Abbey Mills in the east, to intercept the 'combined sewer outfalls' (CSOs) on the banks of the Thames so that when they overflow in heavy rain, the rainwater and sewage goes into the tunnel instead of the Thames.

The tunnel is due to become a nationally significant infrastructure project and subject to the Planning Act regime next spring, when the categories of projects covered by the regime are extended to include sewage storage and transmission.  The government has decided to amend the Planning Act generally rather than make a one-off declaration that this project should come within it.

This week, there have been three developments: on Monday, the Thames Tunnel Commission issued its report on the principle of the tunnel; yesterday, Richard Benyon MP issued a written ministerial statement with an update on the project from the government's point of viewl and today Thames Water has launched a second round of consultation on the tunnel.

Commission report

Thames Water held a first round of consultation on the tunnel between September 2010 and January 2011.  In that, it proposed 21 sites on or near the banks of the Thames where surface works would take place and some permanent infrastructure would remain.  It was the choice of several riverside green spaces for these that proved most controversial, although many questioned the need for the tunnel at all.

The London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham went as far as creating a 'Thames Tunnel Commission' with support from Richmond, Tower Hamlets, Southwark and Kensington & Chelsea, headed by Lord Selborne, to look into the principle of the project.  The commission reported on Monday that in its view a lesser solution would be sufficient.

Thames Water's response to the Selborne report can be found here  The response is essentially that the report fails to offer a credible alternative to Thames Water's own tunnel proposal.

Written statement

The written statement can be found here.  Essentially the government continues to support the project as the best solution to reduce pollution of the Thames and head off EU infraction proceedings, but the cost of the project and the time in which it will be delivered have both increased.

The cost has gone up by 14% from £3.6bn to £4.1bn, which will mean a 'peak' surcharge on Thames Water customer bills of £70-80 a year rather than £60-65 a year, which if you take the midpoints of £62.50 and £75, is a 20% increase.  The tunnel will be open for 'business' in 2022-23 rather than 2020.

Phase 2 consultation

The phase 2 consultation starts today and ends on 10 February 2012.  The consultation website  has been revamped with photo backgrounds and there are a large number of new documents, which can be found here.  The documents are delivered using the 'scribd' document sharing site, which I found annoying at first but if you click the 'PDF' logo, you get the document as a full-sized PDF instead of in a small window within the website.

In a one sentence summary, the main changes from the phase 1 consultation proposals are to the sites that the tunnel drives will be launched and removed.  The 'Stop the Shaft' campaign centring on the Barn Elms site on the south side of the river will be pleased as it will no longer be used as a launch site, but the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham on the other side will not, as Carnwath Road there will be used instead.

The changes to the drive shaft sites are:

  • Acton Storm Tanks to be used as a main drive site instead of a connection tunnel one;
  • Carnwath Road to be used instead of Barn Elms and Hammersmith Pumping Station;
  • Kirtling Street to be used instead of neighbouring Tideway Walk;
  • Chambers Wharf to be used instead of King's Stairs Gardens (the non-technical summary, paras 3.4.4 & 3.4.5 incorrectly says King Edward Memorial Park [UPDATE: no, this isn't incorrect, apparently - apologies for misunderstanding it]); and
  • Druid Street no longer used.

The changes to the 21 surface sites are as follows (where * means the site is now a main drive site; and ^ means it is a connection tunnel drive site):

  • *Acton Storm Tanks, Warple Way W3: more land
  • Hammersmith Pumping Station, Chancellors Road, W6: less land
  • Barn Elms, SW13: less land
  • *Carnwath Road, SW6: new site
  • Putney Bridge Foreshore, SW13: same
  • Bell Lane Creek, Frogmore, SW18: using ^Dormay Street, SW18 instead
  • ^King George's Park, Buckhold Road, SW18: same
  • Jews Row, SW18: dropped
  • Bridges Court Car Park, SW11: using Falconbridge Pumping Station, SW11 instead
  • Cremorne Wharf Foreshore, Lots Road, SW10: using Cremore Wharf Depot, SW10 instead
  • Chelsea Embankment Foreshore, Ranelagh Gardens, SW3: moved westward
  • Tideway Walk, Nine Elms Lane, SW8: using *Kirtling Street, SW8 and Heathwall Pumping Station, Nine Elms Lane SW8 instead
  • Albert Embankment Foreshore, SE1: same
  • Victoria Embankment Foreshore, Whitehall Place SW1: same
  • Blackfriars Bridge Foreshore, EC4: same
  • Druid Street, SE1: dropped
  • King's Stairs Gardens, Jamaica Road, SE16: using *Chambers Wharf, Chambers Street SE16 instead
  • King Edward VII Memorial Park, E1: same
  • Butcher Row, E14: using Bekesbourne Street, E14 instead
  • Earl Pumping Station, Plough Way SE16: same
  • Borthwick Park Foreshore, SE8: using Deptford Church Street, SE8 instead
  • ^Greenwich Pumping Station, Norman Road SE10: more land
  • *Abbey Mills Pumping Station, Abbey Lane E3: same

The consultation still allows views to be expressed on the principle of the tunnel and the choice of sites, although presumably these will be more difficult to dislodge given that there has already been a round of consultation.  Views are asked on:

  • the need for the project and whether a tunnel is the most appropriate solution;
  • TW's preferred tunnel route and its detailed alignment;
  • TW's preferred sites for the construction and permanent works;
  • TW's proposals for these sites during construction and operation;
  • potential effects and TW's plans to address these; and
  • findings from TW's preliminary environmental studies.

There is an online feedback form to fill in by the deadline of 10 February 2012.