London’s sewage tunnel given go-ahead

The Government has given the go-ahead for a 30-km tunnel to divert water from overflowing sewers that currently enters the Thames to a wastewater treatment plant.

The £2bn tunnel, running between Hammersmith in the west and Beckton in the east, will prevent 52 cubic metres of untreated sewage mixed with rainwater from entering the Thames each year. Still in the early development stage, it is expected to be completed in 2019-20.

Environment minister Ian Pearson said the tunnel will transform a sewerage system that, like London’s leaky pipes, dates back to Victorian times.

“I think most Londoners would be shocked to hear that, because of an historic but increasingly outdated sewer network, a huge amount of untreated sewage and rainwater is spilling into the Thames at least once week.

“This tunnel is the right solution for London and for the environment. It will give us a 21st century River Thames that we can all be proud of.

“This will inevitably mean some extra costs for customers, but it will deliver tangible benefits for London in the long-term,” he said.

The design and construction of the tunnel, expected to cost at least £2bn, will add around £37 to the average Thames Water customer’s bill by 2017.

The Environment Agency welcomed the plans, saying the chosen option “offers the best value for money and the environment” and is the “only option that fully meets the requirements of the European Urban Waste Water Directive.”

The EA’s chief executive Barbara Young said: “This is undoubtedly the worst sewage pollution problem in the UK. Some 32 million tonnes of sewage enter the Thames via these overflows each year. The Thames is one of London’s greatest assets – but it has experienced a history of abuse and pollution.”

The tunnel will have to be built up to 80m beneath the Thames and will be longer than many London underground lines, said Thames Water as it welcomed the plans.

Goska Romanowicz

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