London super sewer ‘will open’ despite Thames Water woes

A garden has been created in the Thames sewage tunnel (Lucy North/PA)
A garden has been created in the Thames sewage tunnel (Lucy North/PA) A garden has been created in the Thames sewage tunnel (Lucy North/PA)

It is “inconceivable” that Thames Water’s financial woes will derail London’s new super sewer, according to the boss of the company behind the project.

Speaking from inside the 7m-wide concrete tunnel through which London’s sewage will eventually flow, Tideway CEO Andy Mitchell said he has “no doubt” the project will fulfil its objective of cleaning up the River Thames and that the city’s water supplies will continue uninterrupted.

He said: “The thing that we can be clear on is that you know that the taps will keep running, the toilets will keep flushing and this river will get cleaned up. There’s no doubt in my mind that that will continue.

“This is a particular time, but this tunnel is about cleaning up the river. No one’s ever going to say that’s not the right thing to do.

“And it’s about the impact on the health of the river for a long time to come. I think that’s the thing that we’ve got to focus on, regardless of what’s going to happen.”

Asked whether the tunnel project will go ahead even if Thames Water collapses, he said: “I’m sure it will. It’s inconceivable that anything else would happen, that wouldn’t make sense.”

Thames Tideway Tunnel
Thames Tideway Tunnel A ‘Loo Gardens’ has been created in the tunnel to celebrate the expected recovery of the Thames’ natural systems (Lucy North/PA)

Tideway is distinct from but funded by Thames Water, with its 15 million customers paying through their bills for the nearly-complete giant sewage pipe running underground along the bank of the river.

It has taken 20,000 people eight years to build, costing £4.5 billion, and is one of the largest engineering projects the capital has seen in recent years, stretching 25km from Acton to Beckton.

Once operational, expected to be spring or summer next year, the tunnel will cut sewage spills into the Thames by 95% by providing extra capacity and a reservoir for sewage waiting to be treated, the company said.

To celebrate its near completion, Tideway has created an artificial “Loo Gardens” inside the tunnel to represent the project’s main objective – to clean the river and allow nature to thrive.

In partnership with Time Out magazine, they are running a random ballot for 20 people with a plus one to be lowered in a boxed cage by crane down a 50m concrete shaft to see the gardens on July 10.

Thames Tideway Tunnel
Thames Tideway Tunnel The artificial garden will be open to the public for one day before the shaft is capped off forever (Lucy North/PA)

Fake trees, flowers and hanging moss adorn the walls which will all be removed before the shaft is capped off forever in a few months.

The tunnel is designed to last 120 years but Mr Mitchell said it will probably still be in use after two or three centuries.

He said: “What happens next is really up to nature. What we know we will see is a much healthier river with younger and older fish and mammals that always would have been here and we clearly can expect to see them prosper.

“Part of the excitement is that we don’t really know what that means because we’re talking about a river as healthy as it was a long time ago, possibly before detailed records of what was in the river were had.

“So this is going to be a bit of a journey in itself in terms of what does nature do now. And I think it’s going to be a huge amount of fun watching what that actually means.”