Lance Pierson: Five Myths about the Not So Super Sewer

lancepA guest post from Lance Pierson

Thames Water (TW) have a very effective propaganda machine. They want to build the so-called ‘Super-Sewer’, partly because they have put a lot of work into planning it, and partly because it will bring hefty financial profits to their owners and stake-holders.

So they have devised a set of myths which have persuaded the people who matter (i.e. the Government) to give them the go- ahead. But when you understand the truths behind the myths, you see that it is not so super at all.

Indeed it should not be allowed to proceed.

Myth 1: It’s called the Super-Sewer.

Its real name is The Thames Tideway Tunnel (TTT). TW invented the nickname ‘Super-Sewer’ and it has served them well. It makes it sound a good thing: sewers are essential to healthy and civilised life, so a Super Sewer sounds just what we need. But it is only ‘super’ in the sense of grotesquely large; as we shall see, it is certainly not ‘super’ in the sense of good or desirable. And indeed it is not primarily a sewer either.

It is intended to take the overflows from the sewers under our homes and roads, and stop them spilling into the River. But these overflows only happen when there is heavy rain. The excess fluid the TTT will carry will be only 5% sewage, 95% rainwater. I never call it the ‘Super-sewer’; I call it the Rain Drain. My friends who rightly object to its astronomic cost call it ‘The Great Drain Robbery’.

Myth 2: We need it.

TW’s propaganda says we need the TTT because London’s population (and poo!) has outgrown the Victorian sewers, which need upgrading anyway. It sounds so plausible, doesn’t it? But it’s completely untrue. The Victorian sewers are still in excellent condition, and easily large enough to do their job – except on the days when there is heavy rain, which are on average about 60 a year or once a week. We’ll come back to those rainy days later; but the reason why the Victorian sewers have not been outgrown is that they cover only inner London – an area
with a radius as far out as Hammersmith and Fulham (H&F). Outer London was built later with more modern drains that separate sewage from rainwater at source, and so have no problem.

The population growth of the last 100 years has occurred in outer London, not inner. Inner London actually has fewer people living and working in it than when the sewers were built. If you live in a Victorian house, compare how many people lived in it originally with how many now, and you will see the point.

Myth 3: It’s the only way to deal with the excess rain.

The overflowing rain is of course a serious problem; but the TTT is an inflexible way to deal with it.

TW admit themselves that on average four times a year the rain will be SO heavy that even the TTT will overflow. And meanwhile it will sit idle for 305 days a year, six days every week. If only there were a more effective solution! And – despite TW’s dismissals – there is. It is called, for short, ‘Green Infrastructure’ (GI). It is a combination of measures designed to stop the rain getting into the sewers in the first place. It includes green roofs and walls (vegetation that soaks up the rain); rain harvesting to water the trees in parks, pavements and playgrounds; sustainable drainage (already being applied to most new developments) where waste-water is recycled and re-used; porous road surfaces that allow the rain to soak through to the earth and underground rivers.

Philadelphia has pioneered the approach; it has become standard best practice in USA, and is being adopted in New York. European cities are following.

Myth 4: GI wouldn’t work in London.

Complete nonsense. London has more favourable rainfall and landscape than Philadelphia. If GI works in NY, how could it not work here? It is cheaper than the unacceptable 2011 £4.2bn price- tag on the TTT. GI provides more local employment. It is far better for the environment: it reduces the carbon footprint and climate change, which the TTT will of course increase. And GI is quicker: it is already happening and having its benign effects. The TTT will not start working till 2023 at the earliest; if all the roads being resurfaced between now and then were
made porous, rain overflows would already be finished. Even without this one dramatically effective measure, GI will remove the overflows within 25 years (perhaps as little as 10) of the TTT opening. Why build a white elephant?

Myth 5: There’s nothing we can do about it.

Public inertia suits TW perfectly. The Government in their folly failed to review this policy inherited from Labour. They have simply accepted the myths and given it the green light. Most people think nothing now can stop it. Well, think again. Already the cycling fraternity have learnt that their Super Highway, new in 2015, will be closed again in 2016; there will be other groups opposing the disruption the TTT will bring in its wake. At least two Councils (one of them H&F) are considering referring the inadequacies in the whole process to Judicial Review. If you live in H&F, write to the Leader of the Council ( urging him to do it.

If the TTT goes ahead, you will be paying for it in increases to your water bill (rising to £80p.a.) for the rest of your life. It is certainly not too late to write to the Government Departments responsible (DEFRA and DCLG) to say their decision is unacceptable; there may well be a petition starting up to this effect. There is something called a General Election next year; there could well be a change of Government, ready to reconsider this decision of its predecessor.

Don’t take my word alone for all I have said. The evidence for it is detailed in the website



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