Time to clean up London’s dirty secret

With the Olympics opening this week, there are finally blue skies over Beijing as the anti-pollution measures begin to take effect.

These are drastic – and temporary – including banning use of cars, and closing factories, as well as more sustainable solutions like planting trees. It’s likely that the smog will return as soon as the sportsmen, spectators and sponsors depart.

Cheekily, the Chinese call smog ‘London weather’, drawing on a Dickensian image of peasoupers. But before we get smug about smog, in London we have our own pollution problems to fix before 2012. Our sewerage system goes back to the 19th century. Like other bits of our Victorian infrastructure, it was cuttting edge then, but creaking now. We have more people, and more plumbing, than even before. And when we have heavy rain pouring into the sewers from street drains, the system just can’t cope. So at present the answer is simply to empty the sewers into the Thames. It’s one of those dirty habits people don’t like to talk about. Maybe if the weather included a sewage alert along with forecasts of heavy rain, there’d be more awareness of the problem.

There is a solution.A new ‘super sewer’ – official name the Thames Tideway Tunnel, will run parallel with the Thames, carrying the sewage safely to the treatment plants, even at times of heavy rain. It wouldn’t just benefit the Thames – it would help tackle that certain something in the air in Islington when the drains are full. We have the technology, and it’s hardly a luxury item for what our leaders tell us is a great (first) world city. Our MEP Sarah Ludford had to enlist EU help to put pressure on the UK government to take action.

Lib Dems have backed the super-sewer idea for years and it finally got Government backing last year.

But not until after long delays. The Labour government initially put the brakes on the idea. They judged the costs of the super sewer were too much for London’s water consumers: fair enough – but they failed to come up with an alternative. This could have been some national public investment, or a levy on Thames Water profits, or a bond backed by London business: any of these could have helped fund the scheme without hitting London’s hard-pressed households. The result of their dithering is that the tunnel was temporarily dropped from Thames Water’s business plans. And now the costs of the super sewer will have to be met at a time of recession – and competition for construction workers with the Olympics and Crossrail – which could have been avoided if the Government had acted sooner.

And now the Tories are divided. They talk a green talk, but their actions are very different. The Conservative leader of Hammersmith and Fulham – where the tunnel works would start – has described the new sewer as ‘madness’ and says he will fight it all the way.

It would make more sense for Conservatives to back the Lib Dems in demanding Labour don’t simply hit Londoners with the cost of this vital piece of national infrastructure. It’s Labour delays that have seen the likely bill rise – along with our sewage levels….



  1. This sounds like something that should pair up with these guys: http://www.club4climate.com/ (a ‘green’ dance club run by the somewhat dubious Dr. Earth). After you watch the 2012 games you head off to the green club to party.

  2. bridgetfox said

    Yes, that’s what’s become of the Surya bar that I blogged about earlier this year!


    They’ve finally found their niche…..

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