Campaigners fighting to save King Edward Memorial Park from being used as a construction site for Thames Water’s new ‘Super Sewer’ project are celebrating after Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, gave his backing to their campaign.
In a packed SaveKemp meeting at Glamis Community Hall, just off Cable street in Shadwell, John Biggs, Assembly Member for East London and the City dramatically announced that Boris had reversed his previous backing for the proposed sewage works at the park in Wapping – one of the few green spaces left in the East End – and was writing to Thames Water to insist that they search for an alternative site.
A draft of the letter that was delivered to Thames Water the day before the meeting on Thursday April 14th, reveals that Boris is now fully behind SaveKemp’s fight to make Thames Water look for an alternative site. Addressed to Richard Aylard, Thames Water’s Director of Communications, The letter states that both the Mayor and the Greater London Assembly have reversed their previous stance in favour of Thames Water’s proposal and asks that “proper consideration” is given “to local people’s concerns and the alternative options they suggest”. Furthermore, the letter demands that Thames Water investigate these options properly and submit a report for analysis by independent engineering experts. Finally, the letter finishes by strongly recommending that Thames Water should consider making “funds available to enable the save KEMP group/ Tower Hamlets Council to procure specialist technical advice on your assessment of the alternative options.”
After the meeting, Toni Davey, SaveKemp community organiser, said: ‘We have fought hard to get this far and I’m so happy he is finally listening to us. We feel that his support is fundamental in our campaign and we would like to thank Assembly member John Biggs for bringing both our technical reports and our petition – signed by over 5,000 local residents – to the Mayors attention. We now have the support of the Mayor, the GLA, Tower Hamlets Council and we insist that Thames Water follows the recommendations set out in the letter from Boris and the GLA.”
The Mayor’s support for SaveKemp is the latest setback for Thames Water’s estimated 3.4bn project amidst rising concerns about the cost effectiveness of the whole Thames Tunnel project. In Wandsworth, where Thames Water are planning to build another main shaft site for the ‘Super Sewer’ – similar to the one proposed for KEMP – the Council had previously released a statement questioning whether: “such an expensive project can be viable in today’s economic climate – not least because the costs will be passed on to Londoner’s through higher water bills.”
The expense of the Super Sewer have also been questioned by Hammersmith and Fulham Council – who host another main shaft site – who said: “Many local 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.”
These concerns about the potential cost versus the benefits of the project are also backed by the Consumer Council for Water who said that the costs of the Super Sewer have escalated so that the “average impact on customers’ bills could reach £90 a year by 2018”. The CCW also say that Thames Water needs to exhaustively search for cheaper and less disruptive solutions to deal with the increasing volume of sewage that London produces.
This is not the first time that Thames Water have been called to account for the excessive cost of a major infrastructure proposal. In Oxfordshire, campaigners have been battling to stop a massive £1Bn reservoir being built near the village of Farmoor. At a recent government planning appeal using the evidence of two expert water resources witnesses, local campaigners successfully argued that Thames Water had not proven the need for such a large project and that there were cheaper, quicker and less environmentally damaging alternatives. In statement after The Secretary of State had ruled against the reservoir proposal, campaign leader, Brigadier Nick Thompson, said that Thames Water had not researched the alternatives to the proposed ‘super reservoir’ properly: “because, it must be assumed, Thames Water’s owners regarded their customers’ interests as secondary to those of their shareholders.”
By Mike Doherty