Launch of Thames Tunnel Now!

Today, 15 major environmental charities and amenity groups representing over 5 million people have come together in a unique coalition in support of proposals to construct the Thames Tunnel to end the scandal of 39 million tonnes of untreated sewage which enters the capital’s river every year. Please see below the joint statement agreed by the Thames Tunnel Now partners, including RSPB, WWF, Thames21, Angling Trust and London Wildlife Trust.

Support the Thames Tunnel Now!
A coalition of national and local organisations has called for MPs and local councils to support the construction of a new tunnel under the Thames which will stop tens of millions of tonnes of sewage overflowing into London’s river each year. The tunnel proposal, which is the result of more than ten years of exhaustive research and development by Thames Water and the Environment Agency, is the only viable solution to dealing with “London’s dirty secret”: when as little as 2mm of rain falls in the capital, the sewers overflow into the river.

David Walliams fell ill recently while swimming the length of the river as a result of swallowing river water. Thousands of people use the river for rowing, angling, sailing and canoeing. Many walkers and cyclists use the towpath, and adults and children go on to the foreshore where sewage is deposited. Many thousands more would be encouraged to make use of London’s greatest natural asset if it were not routinely polluted with sewage from London’s population which has grown from 2.5 million in 1865 when the sewers were built to 8 million today.

Sewage overflows in the summer are particularly damaging to wildlife in the river, which supports a wide range of freshwater and marine fish. The Thames has been described as a wildlife superhighway through the capital and is an important nursery area for millions bass and flounder – very important commercial and recreational angling fish species. Every time there is a major overflow of sewage, tens of thousands of these fish die, damaging the fragile eco-system.

It is a large scale problem which requires a large scale solution for the capital for at least the next 120 years. It will cost £3.6 billion, and will be paid for by Thames Water customers; each household will pay £60-65 extra a year, with bills starting to rise in 2013. Thames Water bills are currently among the lowest in the country and the new higher rates will still be lower than many other water companies’ in the UK. Construction of the tunnel will create 4,000 direct jobs and many more associated jobs as well as a clean and healthy tidal river which could support many thousands more employment opportunities in recreation, leisure and tourism industries of the future.

A spokesperson for the coalition said:

“It is completely unacceptable for people to be faced with raw sewage in one of the most sophisticated cities in the world, and for tens of thousands of fish to die from suffocation every time it rains heavily in the summer. Opponents of the scheme should ask themselves if they would like their child to go sailing or fishing among human faeces, sanitary towels and condoms, or if they would like a healthy river full of wildlife for millions of people to enjoy for generations to come. We call on the Thames Tunnel Now Coalition’s collective membership to encourage their MPs and London local authorities to support this pioneering project – which is the only real option for a clean Thames – today.”

The scheme faces opposition from a small but vocal group of local authorities who have raised concerns about the construction sites and other essential temporary infrastructure. As a result, they are likely to oppose the whole basis for the scheme during the second phase of a major public consultation process which will be launched on Friday 4th November, and threaten to create costly delays to the implementation of the scheme. Delay means continuing the harm heaped onto the capital’s environment.