Boris Johnson has joined a chorus of disapproval at the use of King’s Stairs Gardens in Rotherhithe for the main shaft site for a ‘super sewer’ under the Thames.
The proposed ‘super sewer’ will be 24-mile-long and is estimated to cost £3.6bn, it would rival the length and width of the Channel Tunnel. The government supports the scheme because it stands to receive hundred of millions of pounds in EU fines if the Thames continues to be polluted. Residents oppose it because it would interfere with amenities in the area.
Under Thames Water’s current proposals, the park and children’s playground at King’s Stairs Gardens in Rotherhithe would be one of the project’s main construction sites for seven years while a 100ft wide shaft is dug to connect tunnels from other parts of the city.
The Alfred Salter Playground in Druid Street, Bermondsey would also be closed for two years, while a connecting tunnel was built. Simon Hughes, MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, recently visited residents at King’s Stairs Gardens to lend his support to the campaign against the use of the garden as a construction site.
In a letter to Phil Stride, head of the sewer project at Thames Water, the Mayor supported the view held by residents that alternatives to King’s Stairs Gardens had not been properly investigated. Responding to the company’s own pre-application consultation, the Mayor suggested that Thames Water “should undertake a further exercise to examine the alternative site of Chambers Wharf”, a ‘brownfield’ site nearby.
Southwark Council has granted planning permission to the St. Martin’s property group for 593 apartments on the Chambers Wharf site and while building is not yet underway, the cost to Thames Water of acquiring the site would be significant.
Thames Water’s own early site suitability reports had also said King’s Stairs Gardens wasn’t appropriate: “The presence and operation of machinery, material stores and buildings on site is likely to severely impact the character of the park and river frontage [and] this site [is] therefore, not suitable.” However, no alternative site was identified by Thames Water during their consultation process.
“Everyone accepts the need to minimise sewage overflows into the river,” says Donna Spedding, who chairs the Save King’s Stairs Gardens Action Group. “But Thames Water’s consultation process has been flawed from start to finish.”
The Mayor is the latest in a series of high-profile figures, including Sir Patrick Stewart and the botanist David Bellamy, to lend their weight to the campaign against the super-sewer works at the park. Criticism has come from politicians of all colours, with London Assembly member Val Shawcross also writing to Thames Water earlier this month. Liberal Democrat, Conservative and Green London Assembly leaders have also expressed their concerns.
Bellamy appeared on The Politics Show last week to make the case against using the park, a clip of which can be seen here. In the same report, Thames Water said: “No final decisions have been taken yet on the tunnel route or work sites [and we] will wherever possible use ‘brownfield’ sites, using ‘greenfield’ only as an absolute last resort.”
However, this is not the first time that the Thames Water consultation process on the ‘super sewer’ has been called into question, after residents in Richmond branded it “inept in the extreme”. On this occasion, Thames Water had proposed using the playing fields at Barn Elms.
Though much of the debate has centre around the location of the sewer and the work required to build it others, such as Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh, have questioned the need for a sewer at all, given the minimal risk at present to the quality of drinking water. They also point to alternatives such as rainfall and storm water harvesting, and smaller covered treatment works local to areas prone to flooding by storm water, rather than a tunnel on the scale proposed.
See the Save King’s Stairs Gardens website here.