London

Panel to review River Thames 'super-sewer' plan

A panel of experts is to review plans to build a £3.6bn "super-sewer" across London.

Thames Water wants to build the sewer from west to east London to stop millions of tonnes of sewage leaking into the River Thames every year.

The Thames Tunnel Commission, sponsored by Hammersmith and Fulham Council, will examine whether the 20-mile (32km) tunnel is the best solution.

A second phase of consultation on the plan is due to start in the autumn.

A 14-week consultation on the proposal ended in January.

On Monday, Environment Minister Richard Benyon met Thames Water bosses and representatives from the 14 London councils that would be affected by the sewer.

Opponents to the scheme have raised concerns over the impact of construction works on parks and house prices as well as the cost to Londoners.

But Thames Water maintains the tunnel is vital to cut pollution which kills fish, damages wildlife and poses a health hazard.

Hybrid scheme

Lord Selborne, who will lead the team scrutinising the plans, said: "I welcome the opportunity to pose the questions that millions of water bill payers are starting to ask.

"The key question is whether this multi-billion pound project is the best solution to making the Thames cleaner or whether there are sensible alternatives that are cheaper, greener and less disruptive."

Hammersmith and Fulham Council leader, Stephen Greenhalgh, said: "Doing nothing is not an option, but we need to consider the possibility that there are better alternatives.

"It remains my view that an alternative hybrid scheme, involving a shorter tunnel, diversion of run-off rainwater and sustainable drainage as well as improved river water treatment should be revisited as a matter of urgency."

Thames Water said alternative options would cost more, be more disruptive and not achieve the required environmental standards.

A spokesman said: "We agree that the unacceptable level of sewage discharges to the river must be resolved at minimum cost.

"So we welcome the appointment of this commission and we look forward to providing whatever information and assistance Lord Selborne and his colleagues may require."

The firm said an updated estimate of the cost of the scheme would be given when the second phase of the public consultation begins in the autumn.

If approved, construction on the tunnel would begin in 2013 and be completed by 2020.

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