Councils team up to fight Thames Water

Published: 25 November 2010

Wandsworth and Richmond Councils are joining forces to fight Thames Water's plan to base a seven-year tunnelling operation on Barn Elms playing fields.

The water company want to create a vast work site at Barn Elms to construct a section of the Thames Tunnel - a new 'super sewer' running from west to east London.

Councillors say the project would be severely disruptive to local residents, promote traffic problems and result in an unacceptable loss of playing fields and parkland.

There are also serious concerns over impacts on the riverside towpath between Putney and Barnes which has an unspoilt, rural character and is extremely well used by local families and walkers from all over London.

The project could also affect rowers and other river users including major events such as the Head of the River Race, the Great River Race and the University Boat Race.

Because the scheme is classified as a national infrastructure project it does not need local authority planning consent and Thames Water can acquire its preferred sites using compulsory purchase powers.

Both councils support investment in the capital's sewage system but fear the enormous costs and disruption involved in this scheme could outweigh the potential benefits.

Councillors say the work should take place on a brown field site which would have a much smaller impact on riverside communities.

While the principle behind the scheme is laudable, doubts have also been raised that such an expensive project can be viable in today's economic climate - not least because the costs will be passed on to Londoner's through higher water bills.

The environmental case has also been called into question and the scheme's sustainability assessment must face searching examination before the project is taken further.

Barn Elms playing fields are located just over the borough boundary in Richmond but are owned and managed by Wandsworth Council.

Wandsworth Council's strategic planning spokesman Cllr Ravi Govindia said:

"Thames Water's proposal would have a disastrous impact on a unique and well loved environment.  This type of work should take place on a brown field site, not local playing fields and parks.

"Working with our colleagues in Richmond we will use every opportunity to fight this plan and protect the interests of our residents."

Richmond Council's cabinet member for environment Cllr Virginia Morris:

"We recognise the potential benefits of the Thames Tunnel project; no-one wants to see rivers of sewage flowing through the capital. However, Thames Water has thus far totally failed to make the case for the Barn Elms site or the disruption it would cause.

"Thames Water's consultation has been inept in the extreme and they need to engage fully with the local community to gain support if they are going to begin to make the case for Barn Elms. We are also calling on them not to draw down the shutters on public consultation on 20th December. Many people in the Barnes area are still unaware of the enormity of what is proposed."

Wandsworth Council's concerns are set out in a formal response to the first round consultation on the Thames Tunnel scheme which closes on Monday 20 December. Residents can submit their comments at

Richmond Council will consider the proposals at its Cabinet meeting on 6 December before making its formal response

A second round of consultations will take place in 2011 and Thames Water expects to submit a full planning application in mid 2012, with the seven-year construction programme commencing in 2013.