Victory! Thames Water ditches plan for Counters Creek Relief Sewer

Thames Water has abandoned plans for a Counters Creek Relief Sewer. This is excellent news – the proposed scheme would have resulted in considerable noise and pollution of the drilling, the loss of trees. It would also have cost £300 million – which would have been passed on to customers in the form of higher bills. The potential benefits in reducing the risk of basement flooding did not justify the costs.

Back in 2015 I challenged the funding of the project and I also argued that SUDS schemes – sustainable drainage – would provide better value for money.  That is because there would be wider benefits – air quality, aesthetic for instance – in such schemes as greening council estates where concrete is replaced by trees, grass, flowers and shrubs.

There were also the anti flooding devices called FLIPs (flooding local improvement projects) which had been installed at 600 properties – these are mini pumping stations that can help prevent sewage from entering homes through pipes and lavatories. That meant that if we had another storm of the scale of the one on the July 20th 2007 (when there were 1,700 homes flooded) that is another means of mitigating the impact.

Now the following message pings into my email from the Counters Creek Project Director of Thames Water:

Update on Counters Creek Sewer Flooding Alleviation Scheme

Dear Councillor

I am writing to update you on Thames Water’s ongoing work regarding the Counters Creek Sewer Flooding Alleviation Scheme which aims to protect properties in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham.

I fully appreciate that some time has passed since our previous update. However, we have been far from idle. We have worked intensively throughout the past year undertaking a full review of our proposals using advanced investigative and network modelling methods to capture the most up-to-date flooding information. What we have done to date

In our previous communications we explained that we were planning to deliver the required level of protection through a package of measures.

These included;

  • fitting a large number of FLIP (note 1) devices to protect individual properties; 
  • installing three Sustainable Drainage Systems (SuDS) schemes as pilot projects in three streets in partnership with both local authorities;
  • building a large strategic sewer to increase capacity in our sewer network.

Over 1,300 FLIP devices have now been installed and the SuDS work is complete.

During 2017 we undertook a detailed review of the requirement for the strategic sewer and have concluded that it is not, at present, required in order to provide the necessary level of protection. I realise that this may be a surprise in view of our earlier work, which included preparing a planning application, and want to explain the reason for the change.

Our review has looked carefully at flood protection provided by the FLIP devices we have installed; at new modelling of flows in our complex local network of sewers following heavy rainfall; and at the potential impacts of further development in the catchment. In particular, we examined the sewer performance during the severe storms in June 2016, including information from additional monitors fitted to the network since the July 2007 storm. On the basis of the flooding caused by the 2007 storm we would have expected to see widespread flooding in June 2016, but this did not happen. This strongly suggests that the FLIP devices, combined with our rigorous programme of sewer cleaning to maintain availability of full capacity, have been more successful than anticipated.

In the circumstances, we intend to continue with our programme of fitting FLIP devices to vulnerable properties but will not progress the strategic sewer in the near future. We have however, worked closely with the Tideway project to ensure that there is sufficient room at their Cremorne Wharf site for the construction of a strategic sewer if this is required in the future, after their work at this location is complete.

What we are doing now

We have already carried out surveys for FLIP devices at additional properties and these will be installed from January 2018. A second phase of installations will follow from April 2018 and further installations will be added sequentially as our plans progress.

We will work closely with both local authorities as these installations take place. We will also continue to monitor the data from three SuDS pilots, developed in partnership with the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea at Mendora Road, Melina Road and Arundel Gardens. The data from these pilots is being gathered and monitored, with assistance from Imperial College, and will be used to inform our plans.

We remain committed to protecting properties which are at risk of flooding in the area and to ensuring that we have a resilient network for the future. We will continue to investigate what future resilience is required for the local sewer network, taking into account population growth, development, urban creep and climate change.”

Of course there remains criticisms. How much money has been wasted on the flawed scheme? Why are the proposals for SUDS schemes not more ambitious? Still today’s announcement is an important victory for common sense.

Thames Water plans huge spending on a disruptive scheme that would not stop flooding

owenA guest post from Owen Biggs.

As I live in West Kensington. I am due to be deluged with the noise, pollution, dust, dirt and inconvenience should Thames Water start a £169+ million pound project to build a new sewer link. An inspection shaft located yards from my front door means more than two years of having lorries driving past my front door and at periods 24 x 7 drilling works.

I find it rather ironic that this summer when we had substantial amounts of rainfall in a relatively small period; I believe the figures were a month rain in three days, there were only two or three properties flooded in  Hammersmith and Fulham.

To fit a one way valve to protect these properties from flooding costs about £3,000 per household. In contrast the apparent lack of investment in a robust maintenance programme for Thames water has given us two cases of serious flooding in the last month. The latest reported in today’s papers being in Islington and the flooding of a number of businesses and million pound mansions. On the 26th November we had a similar incident where both residential and business properties were flooded and a bus fell into a sinkhole created by the burst water main on Islington High Street.

Time and again when challenged as to the need for the multi-million pound project that Thames water is about to embark on. Despite protests and resistance from the local council and many individual households immediately and obviously impacted by the proposed works. Thames Water refer to the flooding that hit the nation in 2007 and damaged hundreds of houses.This project, we are told is to safeguard against something like that happening again. Yet a closer look at the figures suggest that they do not support this approach.

To be clear. The flooding of 2007 was in the words on the Environment Agency Report “unprecedented’. To cite this as the driver for this new sewer design is to “over engineer” to some considerable degree. Let us review in a little more detail the figures surrounding the floods of summer 2007. Over 55,000 households nationwide were flooded that summer. This was due to an unprecedented level of rainfall in May and June of that year that had never  been experienced before, at least not since records began in 1766, more than 250 years earlier!

Of the 55,000 households flooded nationally only 1,300 of those were in Greater London. Details of the exact dispersion of these flooded properties is difficult to come by but I will persevere. Let us assume then that the area covered by Counters Creek proposal accounts for as much as 20% of those properties. Highly unlikely but it gives us a figure to work with.

The Ofwat report indicates that the cost of this proposal is unlikely to be less than £169 million and many expect this cost to rise. A simple division of costs then show that to address an issue that has happened only once in all recorded history by the Met Office and Environment Agency is to be levied on the customer at a minimum cost of a little under £646,154.00 per household affected. This is what I mean by cost benefit. Nor has it been determined that this additional sewer link would have the capacity to manage a a similar sustained downpour as that seen in the summer of 2007. Figures quoted are referenced from the Environment Agencies Review of the 2007 Floods.

Additional reference is made by Thames Water to an in-house survey that purports to show  1,700 properties in the borough having suffered from flooding in the last ten years though the assumptions made and conclusions reached on these figures are dubious at best. My house has been flooded twice in the last ten years. Once when the cold water header tank sprang a leak and once when a pipe burst. In neither instance would this very expensive project have averted or mitigated the damage done yet it is assumed that all 1,700 instances lend credence and support to the Counter Creek proposal.

Consider recent events in Islington and Lewisham, how would this have helped if such a scenario were to be played out in Hammersmith and Fulham? It would not!

I am currently trying to find additional information on this dataset from Thames Water as without a breakdown of causes, location, time frame etc. Little that is of worth can be drawn from these figures.

I earnestly hope that what I have been able to demonstrate here is that at present little hard evidence has been made available to support the Counters Creek proposal and it’s continuation unless facts based evidence is provided would be seen as no more than a raison d’etat.

Recent events suggest that Thames Water would be best advised to invest this money into reinforcing or reinvigorating a maintenance program that appears inadequate to the task of maintaining its current infrastructure in good and effective working order.

Counters Creek scheme would be extortionately expensive and cause misery for residents

joecarCllr Joe Carlebach has written as follows to Thames Water.

Following the meeting on Thursday and the consultation deadline of 5th April I write to confirm my opposition to the current Thames Water Counters Creek plan. In particular my objection relates to the significant and adverse impact this scheme will have on the homes and businesses in the community I represent and have lived in for the last 25 years.

My objection relates to all three proposed sites in this immediate area namely Talgarth Road, the Brook Green Tesco car park and the Maclise Road site.

For the avoidance of doubt I understand and agree that a plan needs to be put in place to defend the homes and businesses impacted by the flooding seen in 2008. It is beholden on all of us to do everything we can to protect our fellow citizens from the misery of flooding be they in London, Cumbria or any part of the United Kingdom.

My issue with this scheme is it is extortionately expensive and the impact of its implementation will negatively impact huge numbers of ordinary residents and their homes. An impact out of all proportion to the residents and homes the scheme is designed to benefit.

There is still far too much vagueness about the case (and plan detail) for this project which is a significant concern given your desire to submit a planning application in June of this year as stated at the meeting in Olympia last Thursday.

As matters stand from the evidence available to me (and the immediate community) I give due notice that I intend to speak against the granting of planning permission for this project when it comes to the Hammersmith & Fulham planning committee later this year.

As I have made clear at the numerous ‘consultation’ meetings I have now attended I do this in sorrow not in anger. The disruption, pollution, financial loss and misery this project will generate in our community over a number of years will, in my view, do significant damage to the quality of life of residents and local businesses as well as to our much valued community cohesion. It represents an unacceptably high price for ordinary people to pay.

In conclusion in relation to the current Counters Creek scheme proposals I ask that you to go back to the drawing board. I ask that you use the significant corporate resources available to you as a monopoly supplier to seek a less expensive and significantly less intrusive solution to this particular aspect of flood prevention.

Counting the cost of the Counters Creek plans

thameswaterIn July I wrote about the Thames Water proposal to spend £300 million on a Counters Creek Relief Sewer. This is a response to the downpour in 2007 which caused 1,700 basements in Hammersmith and Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea to flood.

Subsequently I have had a meeting with Professor David Balmforth who sits on the Independent Advisory Group which has been set up in relation to the proposed Counters Creek sewer flooding alleviation scheme.

Following that meeting I sent two questions to Thames Water. Here are the questions and the response from Hilary Murgatroyd, the Counters Creek Communications and Stakeholder Manager for Thames Water

“1. Please advise  what the current estimate is of the number of basements that would be flooded in the Counters Creek area if this was to be an exceptional downpour. (David suggests that the modelling may be for a “once in 30 year event” rather than the equivalent of 2007.) I presume there would be fewer basements flooded than in 2007 due to FLIPS. But what is the estimate?
 
There are approximately 40,000 properties across the London Borough of Hammersmith & Fulham and Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea that have basements and so are at risk of flooding to varying degrees.  We have records of over 1,700 properties that have reported sewer flooding to us and where modelling shows they are at of flooding from an event with a 1 in 30 year return period. However, we think at an additional 6,500 properties are at risk of flooding from a 1 in 30 year event, so the total estimate is in the order of 8,200 properties. Customers are often reluctant to report sewer flooding to us due to concerns about property blight and obtaining home insurance.
 
If we had a major storm today (such as the one in 2007), we would expect to see around 800 fewer properties flooding because of anti-flood devices (FLIPs) that we have installed over the last 5 years.
 
2. I appreciate there may not be a model for flood alleviation with spending on £300 million on SUDS rather than the relief sewer. But David thought some indication might be available from modelling of different levels of SUDS spending. For example what the difference would be in reducing the risk of flooding if there was £20 million spent of SUDS rather than £10 million, etc. This might give a very rough idea on what impact SUDS would have.
 
We have looked at the potential for SuDS as a solution across the entire catchment (and are currently working with the GLA on a London wide exercise). We also broke the catchment up into 5 hydraulic regions and tested SuDS as an option for each region as an overall strategic solution was developed.
 
The topography of the Counters Creek catchment and interconnectivity of the sewerage network is such that any space created in the sewers through managing surface water through SuDS installed locally is quickly taken up by stormwater coming into the area from elsewhere. We were unable to lower the levels in the sewerage network sufficiently enough using local SuDS to protect the numerous deep basements. Showing a trade-off between the cost of SuDS and sewer improvements at a programme level to achieve a 1 in 30 year level of protection is therefore very difficult.
 
The role of SuDS in our view is therefore is to future proof the improvements that we plan to make in the Counters Creek catchment and offset the impact of population growth, climate change and urban creep. This is why we have started a pilot project along 3 streets in order to understand costs and benefits.
 
SuDS will need to be rolled out across the whole of London as a long-term programme. Urban regeneration of brownfield sites is undoubtedly the biggest opportunity and along with retrofitting SuDS into areas where surface water run-off is high.”

So even without this new sewer in the unfortunate event that we had downpour on the 2007 scale at some point over the next 30 years there would be an estimated 900 basements flooded rather than 1,700. Even if we assume that the relief sewer would reduce that to nil the cost is staggeringly high. It comes to £330,000 per basement that would otherwise be flooded.

What of the alternative? Of spending the £300 million on SUDS? That might not reduce reduce the flooding to nil – Thames Water say it is “very difficult” to offer a figure. It would obviously have a significant impact.

We also need to consider the wider environmental benefits of SUDS  reducing the amount of our borough covered by concrete and instead making it greener.

Finally we need to consider the environment damage if the relief sewer proceeds – the noise and pollution of the drilling, the loss of trees.

As already stated the relief sewer proposal can only proceed if the Council allows it to. The evidence is now clearer than ever that the SUDS option would provide better value for money.

The time for dithering and equivocation is over. The Council needs to puts residents first and give Thames Water a clear answer: “No.”

An update on the proposed Thames Water Counters Creek Relief Sewer

ffiskeCllr Caroline ffiske writes

In early September, residents in my ward (Avonmore & Brook Green) living near Gwendwr Park, received an email from Thames Water.  The email alerted residents to “ground work investigation” which Thames Water would be undertaking in the coming months.  No specific dates were given, and to my knowledge, none have been given yet.

According to Thames Water’s website the aim of the work is to “thoroughly examine the ground conditions over the whole of the Counters Creek catchment area”.  This extends beyond Shepherd’s Bush and Holland Park in the north, down to Lots Road, Chelsea and the Embankment in the south and follows approximately, the route of the original Counters Creek sewer.

“As well as examining the ground conditions, the investigations will also survey the location of buried utilities to confirm our understanding of the positions of utility pipes, cables and other buried infrastructure.”

Thames Water will be “drilling a number of boreholes across the catchment area in order to clarify the type of soil, clay or gravel at various depths and the levels at which these are located”.

The borehole work in each area is expected to take approximately five working days and there will be further communications with residents when work near them is imminent.

Residents near Gwendwr Park have pushed Thames Water for more detail and this has been interesting.

“Firstly we dig a small trial hole, roughly 40cm squared, to ensure that there are no other utilities immediately beneath the surface. We then begin to excavate the actual borehole which typically has a 12” diameter.  The depth of the borehole varies from 10 metres to 55 metres, depending on the area that is being investigated.  The most common depths are 10 and 15 metres. On average the total time spent on site is 5 days occasionally extending to 7 days where the borehole is particularly deep…

“The borehole that will be drilled in your area will be quite deep but the size of the hole is reasonably modest within the trial hole size of 40cms square.  The reason for these boreholes is to clarify the type of soil, clay or gravel at various depths, and the levels at which these are located.  The information that is gathered from this type of investigation allows us to develop our design proposals to match the prevailing conditions.”

In what is seemingly good news for residents near Gwendwr Park, no borehole will be drilled in Gwendwr Park itself – the site that Thames Water was originally interested in.  The current borehole will instead be sited within the grass verge alongside Talgarth Road and any vehicle movements will be from this road.

All of this work is carried out under Thames Water’s permitted development rights meaning they do not need to seek planning permission to do the work.

Council officers have reiterated to me that Thames Water is aware of the strong opposition shown to many of their originally proposed construction sites for Counters Creek.  Thames Water are therefore actively pursuing investigations into alternative sites for intercepting the sewer in the Hammersmith & Fulham area.

“Officers understand that Thames Water’s next formal round of public consultation (Phase 2 consultation) is intended to take place at the end of this year. However, if new sites are proposed to be taken forward which have not yet been subject to consultation, then it is understood that local residents will be consulted separately on those sites before the Phase 2 consultation begins.”

Anyone wanting more regular updates on the Counter Creek proposals, or with specific questions which I may be able to pursue please email me at carolineffiske@gmail.com.

To contact Thames Water directly email consultations@thameswater.co.uk or call 0800 316 9800 (select option 2 and quote the bulletin board number 968806).

Cllr Lucy Ivimy: To prevent flooding stop concreting over the borough

ivimyCllr Lucy Ivimy writes

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.

Cllr Caroline ffiske: Save Gwendwr Park

ffiskeCllr Caroline ffiske of Avonmore and Brook Green Ward gave the following speech to the meeting of Hammersmith and Fulham Council meeting on Wednesday

Several Fridays ago Cllr Joe Carlebach and I met with residents from Avonmore & Brook Green and with representatives of Thames Water. The site of our meeting was Gwendwr Park.

For people living nearby, this small park is a precious pocket of green, lined with mature trees. Parents can kick a ball with small children, older children pop across on their own to play ball, people exercise their dogs, and neighbours meet.

The purpose of our meeting was to discuss the Thames Water Counters Creek sewer scheme. If this goes ahead in Gwendwr Park:

  • There could be 20 months of drilling.
  • The park would be unusable during this time.
  • Mature trees may need to be cut down.
  • Operating features would be left on the site.
  • The surrounding roads would manage the construction traffic at up to a peak of 32 heavy vehicle movements per day
  • There is also the possibility of odour being omitted from the permanent scheme.

All of this is made grim news for local residents.

If you go and visit Gwendwr Park you will see that the proposition is not acceptable. Local people’s lives would be made too unbearably miserable for too long. The noise and disruption would be unacceptable. The loss of the precious piece of green space would be unacceptable.

Here are the words of one resident:

“The local park is one of the few areas of green space within easy walking distance for a young child.  It is widely used throughout the year.  … the dog exercise area is used by a large number of dog owners.  I also think that the general principle should be to avoid using green space for this type of work as they are so rare in central London. “

Another local resident comments:

“I have lived at Gunterstone Road for 38 years and what is most important to me about the area … is the peace and quiet…  Gunterstone and Gwendwr road are exceptionally quiet roads, with very little traffic…. When I first received a letter from Thames Water in May about the potential construction site … my immediate reaction was how very disturbing and hard to live with the potential lorries, mud, digging, noise, traffic and parking disruption…  I feel even more sorry for the residents of Trevanion Road who literally overlook the site and cannot imagine how any of them can contemplate living through 20 months (minimum) of building disruption and noise …”

I understand that councillors from the administration and senior council officers have met with Thames Water and asked them to look again at alternative site proposals. Officers have said that Thames Water now have a new longer list of sites that they are exploring, and that they will come back to the Council with a revised shortlist of sites, for a Phase Two consultation some time in the Autumn.

What residents in Avonmore and Brook Green need is information and assurances as soon as these are available. I therefore urge the council administration to make public, as soon as it can, the new site options and timescales for consultations.

But equally importantly I urge the council to work with Thames Water to look at alternative anti-flooding measures and to make public the results of this analysis.

In the July 2007 storm there were 1,700 homes flooded in the two boroughs. There has been nothing on that scale in the last 8 years. And the good news is that if there was an equivalent downpour today around 600 of these homes would be protected as they have had anti flooding devices called FLIPs (flooding local improvement projects) installed. These mini pumping stations cost around £35,000 each. In contrast, the estimated cost of the Thames Water scheme is £300 million. If we divide that across 2000 homes that is a cost of £150,000. Is the greater use of FLIPS a better alternative?

And then what about greater use of SUDS or sustainable drainage? The current scheme in Australia Road is designed to reduce overall flow volumes to sewers by 50%. The cost of the scheme is around £800,000. A lot of money – but the Counters Creek proposal could buy more than 300 sustainable drainage schemes of this size.

I therefore urge the Council to work with Thames Water to undertake a much more detailed analysis of these alternative options, and then to make the results of that analysis publicly available. Working with residents should involve fully equipping them with the information needed to understand decisions that are being made. When we met with residents at Gwendwr Park a few weeks ago that information was woefully absent.