I've blogged before about the proposal from Thames Water for a "super sewer". At the time I suggested that the proposed £2.5 billion cost was so disproportionate to the benefits that I asked if it was "the worst value for money infrastructure project ever."
This week we discovered that Thames Water now say it would cost at least £3.6 billion. Maybe £4 billion. In fact, of course, the figure is likely to keep going up. It would probably mean an extra £100 on our water bills. As Thames Water are a monopoly they can just pass the cost on to their customers of a gold plated scheme. We have the financially lethal combination of an arrogant monopoly implementing an EU Directive.
At a public meeting in Hammersmith Town Hall back in November 2008 Andrew Whetnall from the Consumer Council for Water gave a powerful renunciation of whole scheme in terms of its lack of value for money. Of course reducing pollution in the River Thames is a good thing to do. However the Thames is already much cleaner than it was and the proposed scheme will not eliminate pollution. There are alternatives for reducing pollution at a fraction of the cost.
Public health benefits have been cited for those using the river but monitoring found 18 cases of illness among rowers in 15 months. Essentially, spending £4 billion to stop a dozen rowers a year getting the runs. Given the prospect of water metering hitting poorer, Mr Whetnall also made the point that the overall effect could well prove damaging to public health.
I have blogged on our local Conservative site about some on the issues in Hammersmith over the terrible mess and disruption that would be caused to build the Super Sewer. But several boroughs will be hit - Richmond and Wandsworth worse than us. I have also written about the background to the scheme here.
The issue was debated at a London Assembly hearing on Tuesday. Richard Aylard was very complacent and unapologetic about the escalating costs. It was all a matter for Ofwat and making sure he ticks their boxes. Who cares if a few more billion are added the customers can pay. He airily dismissed alternatives that would take a couple of noughts of the cost. He grandly brushed aside oxygenating vessels to improve water quality (and so allow even more fish to flourish) combined with skimmer vehicles to clear up rubbish as "dealing with the symptoms not the cause." What he should have considered was whether it was a better deal in terms of the benefit and the cost.
Andrew Whetnall said:
Whether it is cost beneficial remains in some doubt….Probably the public health benefit is £1.5 million. We are keen for the Chief Medical Officer to look at the comparative cost beneficiality of different health interventions.
If Thames Water can't be trusted on keeping the costs under control, can they be trusted over the disruption the construction? Thames Water say in digging their craters for the tunnel they will try to do it by river rather than road "where possible" Yeah, right. As Tony Arbour says:
We have heard all this before. The Olympic Development Authority proposed to transport a quarter of a billion tons. So far they have only transported 3,000 tons. We have heard that time after time. The ODA. The people who built the Dome…It is a fig life.
Once built would the assorted drive shafts let off a pong from their vents? Their consultation says they "are carrying out detailed studies" to avoid it. But can they be trusted?
At the moment the Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman letting the scheme go ahead. She should think again. She should seek an opt out from the EU Directive or find a saner alternative for following it.