UK: Thames Tunnel - What's In The Pipeline

Last Updated: 19 March 2012
Article by Angus Walker

Today's entry is a timely update of various matters relating to the proposed Thames Tunnel.

There have been a few recent developments relating to the proposed Thames Tunnel 'super sewer'. This is the proposed tunnel that will run beneath the River Thames from Hammersmith to Beckton in London and intercept the sewage overflows that tend to happen after heavy rain before they go into the Thames.


A second round of consultation on the project ended on 10 February. Thames Water have said that they will consider the responses and publish a report in the second half of May about how they have taken them into account and any changes they have made as a result.

The next stage will be the formal pre-application consultation under the Planning Act (assuming it is a Planning Act project by then - see below), and finally an application to the Planning Inspectorate in the autumn.

Debate on Waste Water National Policy Statement

The draft Waste Water National Policy Statement (NPS) is the document that sets out the need for waste water infrastructure and the impacts that should be assessed and mitigated against when preparing and examining applications. The NPS explicitly mentions the Thames Tunnel as one of only two expected projects (the other being a sewage treatment works at Edmonton in north London), and a revised draft was published on 9 February.

A debate on the NPS is to take place in the House of Commons next Monday 19 March. There is plenty of time for it because apparently most government bills are currently stuck in the Lords and MPs are twiddling their thumbs. It is likely that a lot of the debate will be taken up talking about the Thames Tunnel, as it has generated a lot of interest amongst London's riparian (riverbank-dwelling) communities.

Assuming the NPS does not receive a negative vote in the Commons, it is expected to be designated (adopted as finalised) by the end of the month.

Taxpayer funding

The government is promoting a short bill that includes the ability for it to contribute to the funding of major water and sewerage projects. If enacted, the Water Industry (Financial Assistance) Bill may well mean that some of the costs of the tunnel will be met by general taxpayers rather than just Thames Water customers. The Bill starts its committee stage in the Commons today.

Section 14 Order

There is no sign of the order that was supposed to be coming in February that will amend the Planning Act to include sewerage transfer projects (and hence the Thames Tunnel) within the regime, because it isn't actually a nationally significant infrastructure project (NSIP) at the moment. A draft order was consulted on last year and can be found here.

From 1 April anyone will be able to ask the government to declare that a project is of national significance and should come under the regime. If the order still hasn't come by then I would recommend that Thames Water makes the application. In fact I might do so myself to test the system.

Not being an official Planning Act project makes matters more difficult than usual for Thames Water. They couldn't ask the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) for a scoping opinion, for example, but the IPC gave advice equivalent to one under its general powers to give advice in the Planning Act.

Thames Water can't use the ability to survey land in advance of making an application either, also being extended on 1 April. It is using its powers under the Water Industry Act 1991 to do this instead, which apply to works being carried out under that Act. The sooner the project is an NSIP the better.

Defra swoops to safeguard land

The government have moved to prevent two London councils from granting planning permission at two proposed Thames Tunnel sites - Carnwath Road in Hammersmith & Fulham, the site currently proposed for the launch of one of the main tunnel drives, and Kirtling Street in Wandsworth. They have done this by means of a 'planning direction' that means that any prospective grant of planning permission at the site should be referred to the government first.

The direction can be found here. H&F weren't very happy about it, according to this news story. The government normally consult on such things but must have felt that a pre-emptive strike was necessary.

Further information

If you want to know more about this project, check the comprehensive Thames Water website about it. If you want to know how to safeguard your interests, please get in touch, since we are able to advise those affected by this major project.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Angus Walker
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