Sadiq Khan wants people to swim in Thames but 'doesn't have the power' to clean it

Sadiq Khan has said that he would like to see Londoners able to paddle and kayak in the River Thames, but admits that he does not have the power to clean the city's waterways himself. The Mayor of London promised during the mayoral election campaign that he would work to make London’s waterways 'swimmable' by 2034.

He has pledged £30 million to 'bring back nature, greening, adapt London to climate change over next three years and empower all Londoners to green their city'. The mayor’s team says that new analysis suggests that, year on year, London’s sewage discharge 'almost quadrupled' in 2023/2024.

But Mr Khan told MyLondon during a visit to the West Reservoir Centre in Hackney on Wednesday (May 29) that he cannot do it using City Hall powers alone. When asked if he would be taking a dip in the Thames once it is made cleaner, the mayor said: "I'll come back to you on that."

READ MORE: Sadiq Khan says 'trailblazing' Diane Abbott could join House of Lords

Long Reach sewage treatment works, operated by Thames Water Ltd, on the banks of the River Thames in London
Long Reach sewage treatment works, operated by Thames Water, on the banks of the River Thames in London -Credit:Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

He also said: "There are many things that I've not got direct powers over, or resources, but I can have an influence." He then mentioned England's Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whittey's warning last week urging people not to paddle or swim in the country's rivers due to health hazards presented by harmful bacteria.

Mr Khan added that he aims to 'bring together' campaigners, Ofwat, Thames Water and the Government in order to make a positive difference. Specifically, he mentioned that he grew up next to the River Wandle, in which he used to 'have fun' as a child.

Now, though, it is 'not safe' to swim in. The mayor said that he would like to see people paddle, swimming, kayaking and sailing in that waterway, as well as in the Royal Docks and Canary Wharf.

During Mayor's Question Time last week, Mr Khan said that he is 'nervous' about nationalising Thames Water, as he does not think the private company should be given taxpayer 'monies and receipts they don't deserve'.

New tunnel will 'capture 95 per cent of untreated sewage entering the tidal section of Thames'

Thames Water pumped 14.2 billion litres of sewage into the River Thames in Central London last year, according to data obtained by the Financial Times. The water firm told the newspaper that retrofitting its entire network with volume monitors would be 'prohibitively expensive'.

Abandoned railway bridge over the Thames at Kennington, with early paddle boarders underneath
Mr Khan wants to see Londoners enjoy themselves on the Thames, which they have been warned to steer clear of -Credit:Planet One Images/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

It added that it had published plans to upgrade 250 sewage treatment works and sewers including a £100 million upgrade of the Mogden sewage treatment works and a £145 million upgrade of the Beckton sewage works.

A spokesperson for Thames Water told the FT: “We regard all discharges as unacceptable and taking action to improve the health of rivers is a key focus for us". They added that the Tideway Tunnel would capture 95 per cent of the volume of untreated sewage entering the tidal section of the river in a typical year once it is operational.

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