Thames Tunnel Coalition criticises Selborne report

November 24, 2011

Environmental, wildlife and amenity groups reacted with dismay to Lord Selborne’s Thames Tunnel Commission report suggesting alternatives to the planned Thames Tunnel. Thames21 Chief Executive Debbie Leach said: “This report’s suggestions will not solve the problem. Should its views be accepted, the River Thames will be devastated by worsening sewage pollution.”

The Thames Tunnel Now group (TTN) said that there was no logic to the Selborne Commission’s suggestion to build a much shorter Tunnel, which does nothing to address 19 of the 34 sewage overflows in London – and is also expected to discharge into the already over-stretched, existing system.

TTN also rejected strongly Lord Selborne’s suggestion that the public should tolerate levels of sewage in the Thames which fail to meet acceptable limits established by the Environment Agency and by experts throughout the world. TTN has issued a stark warning on the dangers to wildlife from lack of oxygen in the water caused by the sewage. Levels of oxygen needed to protect river wildlife were established by the EA following peer reviewed studies of Thames fish including: smelt, sand smelt, salmon, dace, flounder, common goby and bass.

TTN member Putney Bridge Canoe Club pointed out that adoption of lesser solutions such as those suggested by the Selborne Report would mean continuing risk from sewage pollution to the health and well-being of both recreational and commercial users of the river.

The Selborne Commission has proposed that because of the current economic situation the UK should have lower standards of cleanliness. TTN points out that the Thames Tunnel will provide an effective and sustainable solution to sewage pollution for at least one hundred and fifty years. A spokesman said: “Future generations will inherit the decisions we make today. This is a long term strategic decision that is already overdue. To build a shorter tunnel that doesn’t solve the problem simply because of the recession is illogical.” Data from DEFRA indicates that the economic benefits alone of a cleaner Thames will exceed the costs involved. Chancellor George Osborne has also come to the view that infrastructure projects will help boost the economy.

Local resident Monica Tremain said: “The sewage in the Thames is disgusting. It is like something from a history book about Medieval times. Are we really living like this? When is something effective going to be done?”

However, TTN welcomed the Selborne Report’s emphasis on the value of Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems and green infrastructure. London Wildlife Trust Chief Executive Carlo Laurenzi said: “By implementing such measures widely in new developments and also whenever there is practical opportunity for retrofitting, multiple benefits will be experienced and the Thames Tunnel future-proofed yet further. However, the full tunnel solution is still needed. Half a tunnel, as suggested by Selborne, will just not do the job.”

‘The Thames Tunnel is an important project for the long term health of the River Thames. At the moment untreated sewage overflows into the Thames regularly, as the Victorian sewerage system cannot cope with needs of a modern capital city. A less polluted river would create greatly improved conditions for a wide range of wildlife supported by the River Thames including the iconic and dwindling European eel, smelt, flounder, brown trout, dace, thin-lipped grey mullet, sea lamprey, Dover sole, grey heron, and even seal. Thames Water’s phase two consultation on the proposed Thames Tunnel begins very shortly. Proposals to shelve the scheme are short-sighted and illogical. London Wildlife Trust supports the need for the Tunnel not just on ecological grounds but also for the direct benefit it will have for a broad range of Londoners for generations to come,’ adds Carlo.

DEFRA has recently conducted a re-evaluation of the case for the Thames Tunnel, including the economic case for the project, and has re-affirmed its support. The relevant pages on the DEFRA website can be found via this link: