Local residents in Tower Hamlets have forced Thames Water to reconsider constructing part of a ‘Super Sewer’ on King Edward Memorial Park.After a heated meeting between local councilors, Thames Water and the community group ‘Save King Edward Memorial Park’ (SaveKEMP) on Monday night, Thames Water agreed to study the Heckford Trading Estate as an alternative to the park.
The area, which “desperately requires regeneration” according to SaveKEMP, is further away from local residents and will limit damage to the park.
“The Brownfield site option is viable both from an engineering point of view and from a cost perspective, as it requires no increase in the expenditure for the Tunnel,” said Emma Dunsire, vice chair for SaveKEMP. The group accepted that some work would still have to be carried out at the back of the park, and are prepared for this compromise.
“The community feels that a minor construction site at the back of the park is preferable to having the whole front spoilt for good and most of the amenities- including the playground, football pitch and Thames Path- removed for the duration of the works” said Dunsire.
While SaveKEMP are confident that this is: “a step in the right direction,” Thames Water are remaining reserved in judging the new site’s suitability.
Nick Tennant, Communications Manager for the Thames Tunnel project, said: “We do think that the Heckford Street option would cause greater distruption.” He pointed out that traffic at the Heckford Estate would be more problematic than around the park area, as contractors would not be able to use the river to transport construction materials.
He added: “using the foreshore was our preferred option and still is our preferred option.”
Thames Water originally proposed to use a section of the park to construct a ‘combined sewer overflow’ (CSO), which would connect to a new Thames Tunnel “super sewer”. The CSO shaft would close the Thames path, replace green space, and require a busy access route for lorries through a wildflower area. The site will be in use for at least three and a half years, and will leave permanent ventilation structures standing in the area.
Thames Water continues to stress that sewage should be the real issue at the centre of the debate. Simon Evans, Media Relations Manager for the company, said: “We appreciate people are upset, but it’s important not to lose sight of why we’re doing this.”
Tennant posted sewage output statistics on Twitter after last weekend’s heavy rainfall: “170,000 tonnes of sewage into river at Hammersmith during last heavy rain? Acceptable?” (But see comment below correcting this figure).
SaveKEMP maintain that they do not oppose cleaning up the Thames. Emma Dunsire said: “Local residents are fully aware that discharges in the river are unacceptable.” Instead, she insisted, that the group have produced “an engineering report with viable solutions. This is a testament to our constructive attitude towards the issue.”
Thames Water have been taken aback by the level of opposition faced after the initial proposals were announced. Last Friday at a packed-out meeting at St. Peter’s Primary School, heated comments flew between local residents and Phil Stride, Head of the Tunnel Project, who apologised to East Londoners that the consultation process had failed them.
Tennant said that there was no constructive dialogue for Thames Water during the meeting. Instead, it was designed for them: “to turn up and be shouted at.”
The debate is likely to continue as it moves into phase two of the consultation process. Thames Water will remain reluctant to switch sites if it means paying more: “We have to be mindful of value for money,” Tennant said.
He added that residents around the Heckford Road site deserved a consultation too: “We need to give the Heckford Street community an opportunity to have their say.”
Those residents who support SaveKEMP, including Emma Dunsire, however, stand determined to protect the Memorial Park and its amenities despite accepting there will be sacrifice either at the Memorial Park or Heckford Road: “The question is: which is the greater loss for the whole community?”