Thames Water’s proposals for a large storm relief sewer to prevent basement flooding from the Counter’s Creek sewer has caused huge concern to local residents. They are rightly objecting, not just to the disturbance while it is being dug, but to the loss of precious green space in our crowded borough.
We do not underestimate the appalling consequences of having your home flooded by a mix of storm water and raw sewage. It takes weeks, if not months, to put right the damage, sort out the insurance and make a home habitable again. It is not acceptable that so many of our residents – 1,700 of them the last time this happened – face this risk every time there is a flash flood. Thames Water must take steps to prevent this flooding.
When we were in administration, we put pressure on Thames Water to do a clear out of Counter’s Creek – despite their insistence that the sewer was clear and not a problem. In the event they removed lorry loads of sludge and rubble from it, which has greatly improved the situation. More, though, needs to be done.
This problem, and its solution, needs to be sorted out at the local level by close cooperation between Thames Water, the Council and the residents. Central government cannot micromanage these issues. We do, though, call on the Labour party political appointees to the board of Thames Water to protect the interests of local residents and customers and ensure that they, rather than the interests of foreign shareholders, are paramount. They must listen to local residents and the Council about the location of their tunnelling points.
There are other aspects of the Thames Water proposals that we should question. Starting with asking if this is not a nineteenth century solution to a twenty first century problem and suggesting that Thames Water goes back to the drawing board, analyse the root problem of the flooding and seek to cure.
There has been a 17 percent increase in the amount of impermeable land since 1971 in the Counter’s Creek catchment area. Paving over front gardens for parking, often in neighbouring boroughs, would be a major factor in this. What is Thames Water doing to alleviate this? There are many, mostly small scale, solutions to this. Some things are happening, but not nearly enough.
For example, the Council should insist on water permeable surfaces for parking areas, Thames Water needs to increase the number of SUDS (sustainable urban drainage) schemes in existing streets, increase the separation of storm water into soak aways or rainwater butts in new developments, encourage small scale subsidies to householders for rainwater butts and soakaways, encourage green roofs on existing buildings as well as new. An experimental SUDS scheme in existing streets is going on in Askew ward. We wait for the results with interest.
These schemes would have the added benefit of adding to the greening and liveability of the borough rather than detracting from it. They would probably also cost considerably less than the £280 million that Thames Water estimates is the cost of the storm relief sewer.
Of course there is one major reason why Thames Water would naturally be drawn to the one big expensive engineering solution – a massive storm relief drain – rather than the very many small cuts at the problem. So many small initiative may well appear as costs rather than capital expenditure and so reduce rather than enhance the return to ultimate shareholders.
As to the location of the tunnelling site, realistically, if you are going to dig a massive storm relief sewer, there will be disruption wherever you place the sites. However, we are far from convinced that the ones chosen are in fact the least bad in all the circumstances. We do call on Thames Water to work closely with the Council and residents on this. But we call on them first of all to justify to us this major scheme rather than alternative ways of minimising storm water flooding.