Plan to build a "super sewer", estimated at costing £3.6bn, to collect the millions of tonnes of raw sewage that overflows into the river Thames after heavy rain must be rethought to save money, the leaders of 14 city councils will tell environment minister Richard Benyon today (Monday 4 July)
The councils commissioned independent experts to examine Thames Water's case for the 20-mile long tunnel, which could cost more than Wembley and the Olympic stadium and park together.
It's reported Benyon will be told that the scheme will cost all 14m Thames Water customers an extra £10 a month "for life" and, in the councils' opinion, will not fix the problem of drains overflowing sewage into the river. The leaders argue that there are greener and cheaper alternatives.
Thames customers amount to one in four of all ratepayers in England.
"At a time when our public services are under intense pressure, Londoners cannot afford to effectively write a blank cheque for this scheme without proper scrutiny, accountability and debate. 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 very few world cities are approaching it in this way - many realise that a tunnel-only option is not the best solution," said Hammersmith and Fulham Tory council Leader Stephen Greenhalgh.
Tory peer Lord Selborne, a former member of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and Lloyds bank director, has been appointed to chair the commission and is expected to report back within months. "The key question is whether this multi-billion pound project is the best solution to making the Thames cleaner or whether there are sensible alternatives that are cheaper, greener and less disruptive," said Selborne.
Thames Water says there are now as many as 90 incidents a year, with pollution getting worse as London experiences more frequent and intense storms and is now an environmental health hazard, killing fish and carrying dangerous pathogens.
The Councils, however, downplay the pollution caused, saying it is only 5 percent of the flow into the river and only happens four times year.
Pressure for the tunnel to be completed is intense because Britain is in violation of Europe's urban wastewater treatment directive, which could bring fines of up to £37,000 a day.
Brussels has agreed to suspend the fines because preliminary work has started on the project. It is uncertain how the EU would respond if a complete change of plan further delayed the project, or if the coalition government, on the back of the commission's report, ordered a public inquiry which could take many more months.
The company hopes to apply for planning permission later this year and begin main construction of the Thames Tunnel towards the end of 2013, with completion in 2020. However, it will need the consent of all riverside councils.