Thames Water redesigns plan to pump treated sewage into river as South London park spared 'poo shafts'

Thames Water van
-Credit: (Image: Geoffrey Swaine/REX/Shutterstock)

Thames Water has made major changes to controversial plans to pump treated sewage into the River Thames in South West London, but environmental campaigners are urging the company to scrap the scheme altogether. The company has redesigned the proposed pipeline for the water recycling scheme, including scrapping shafts that would have been built at a popular park and a protected nature reserve.

Four of the proposed shafts which would have been installed to build the pipeline have been removed from the project - at Moormead Park, Ham Lands, Riverside Drive in Richmond, and Ivybridge Retail Park car park in Isleworth. Thames Water is finalising the changes, which it said would reduce disruption to residents.

But the company is still pressing ahead with the overall scheme, which would see up to 75million litres of water a day taken from the Thames above Teddington Weir, in times of drought, and transferred via an existing underground tunnel to the Lee Valley reservoirs. This water would be replaced with treated sewage from Mogden Sewage Treatment Works via a new tunnel.

READ MORE: Empty offices on River Thames in Kingston to be demolished so new homes can be built

Ham Lands, a popular 72-hectare nature reserve in the Richmond and Kingston boroughs
Proposals to build a shaft at Ham Lands, a popular 72-hectare nature reserve, have been removed from the project -Credit:Charlotte Lillywhite

Thames Water said the scheme is needed to meet future demand for water and provide drought resilience for Londoners. It predicts it will need an extra billion litres of water a day by 2075 to account for climate change and growing population demand.

The major changes to the scheme include switching the proposed construction method of the pipeline from pipejacking to tunnel boring, along with increasing the planned internal diameter of the pipeline and building it as a tunnel. Thames Water said this means it can reduce the number of shafts and construction areas proposed for the project, while also allowing it to take a more direct route to the Thames to slash the length of the tunnel.

The proposals still involve building a single intermediate shaft, with the current preferred location being off Ham Street, and two options are being investigated for the existing tunnel.

Thames Water said it is making changes to the scheme after reviewing feedback from residents, with more than 2,000 responses given during a consultation in autumn. But campaign group Save Our Lands and River said in a statement on its website that the changes are a 'distraction' allowing the company to show it has taken on board residents' concerns. A petition from the group, launched in January last year, has gained more than 30,900 signatures so far.

The group said it 'remains firm in its resolve to get this scheme cancelled because our objection concerns more than just the tunnel and shaft locations'. It claimed the plans are 'ecologically dangerous' to the Thames and its surroundings and of 'serious concern' to people who use the river, particularly over the impact on wildlife and water quality.

Richmond Council has also stated its continued opposition to the scheme, arguing it would still disrupt residents, along with Twickenham MP Munira Wilson and Richmond Park MP Sarah Olney.

Lib Dem council leader Gareth Roberts said: "Following the outcry from local residents, councillors and MPs, Thames Water have been forced to change their controversial plans, but as a council we remain hugely concerned about the impact both on the river itself and in Ham.

"Thames Water need to do far more to convince residents that this scheme represents the best solution to predicted future water shortages. Until they do that, we will continue to oppose any scheme that we believe could harm the river and our land."

Thames Water will publish the detailed design changes later this summer. It plans to hold community information events in autumn.

A Thames Water spokesperson said: "Customer and community feedback is at the heart of our plans and is a key part of the process for nationally significant projects, which is why we've listened to concerns raised during our autumn consultation. As a result, we have changed our construction method to tunnel boring. Switching to this method will decrease the number of shafts and construction areas, reducing the surface level impact for local communities.

"Tunnel boring is also tried and tested and has been used on lots of other major infrastructure projects, including Thames Tideway. This means we can take a more direct route to the River Thames and make the tunnel shorter. While this will mean a bigger tunnel size, it does not increase the amount of recycled water, which remains at 75 megalitres per day (Ml/d), as set out in the draft water resources management plan."

Regarding the environment, the spokesperson added: "We understand how precious the River Thames and its surroundings are. We want to reassure the community that we are committed to ensuring that the Teddington direct river abstraction project does not cause a deterioration in the quality of the water in the river.

"We've been doing some early work to help build a detailed understanding of the river environment and surrounding areas. This will help us to assess the potential impacts of the project so we can avoid or mitigate them."

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