On 6th February 2012 we held our final public meeting before the end of the Phase 2 consultation at Wade Hall in the Dickens Estate which borders the threatened Chambers Wharf site. The meeting was attended by over 130 members of the public.
Our main speakers were the Rt. Hon. Simon Hughes MP and Cllr Peter John, Leader of Southwark Council.
Simon Hughes MP "We ought to persuade all those who have a responsibility to find another site and not Chambers Wharf"
Simon Hughes stated that he has a duty not only for his constituents but also for the people in London as whole and that he has been listening to views from all sides including groups that were strongly in favour of the tunnel.
Simon said he had been persuaded by meetings with ‘Save Your Riverside’ and other affected constituents that there is now a much stronger argument than previously to say to Government “hang on a minute, there is now so much evidence questioning whether the long tunnel is the right answer, there must be a review”. Simon recognised that Chambers Wharf would be one of the most heavily impacted sites currently proposed by Thames Water. Accordingly he said he would seek political support from London colleagues, and from Defra ministers, for setting up an independent group of high-powered experts to re-examine the case for the Thames Tunnel.
Simon said “I hope you can hear very clearly that I’ve gone from a position a year ago that I think the evidence is clear that on balance it ought to go ahead to have been persuaded by the evidence that I have been presented with that this is not an obvious a cut and dried case anymore.” Simon also highlighted that Professor Binnie (who chaired the original official study recommending the long tunnel) “has changed his mind” and had raised questions about the viability of the whole project.
Finally, Simon went on to say “There are thousands of residents that are affected locally. That must raise the question about if Chambers Wharf is the right site and my conclusion is that we ought to persuade all those who have a responsibility to find another site and not Chambers Wharf”. He said he would respond to the Thames Water consultation on along these lines.
Cllr Peter John “It's been blindingly obvious that Chambers Wharf is an unacceptable site from the moment TW selected it as their preferred site.”
Cllr Peter John welcomed the move by Simon as did the members of the public by saying “I would have welcomed having our MP on our side from day one and not from day ninety-one. But better late than never.”
Peter informed the now captivated audience that ‘Save Your Riverside’ had recently brought a deputation to Southwark Council and that the motion he had proposed to “Save Chambers Wharf” was unanimously supported by all councillors across all the political parties in the chamber saying “I think it’s very important for you to know that there is absolutely no equivocation in the argument resisting Thames Water’s proposed use Chambers Wharf. So we really are on your side.”
Peter then reported on a recent meeting he had with Thames Water at Riverside Primary School (which is the 10th best Primary School in the whole of the UK according to the Sunday Times) and told the audience that at this meeting he had challenged Phil Stride, of Thames Water, asking if it were possible to use a hybrid tunnel boring machine to tunnel from Abbey Mills to Battersea without the need for a site in Chambers Wharf. The answer was that Phil Stride had begrudgingly admitted that this was possible but stated that it was “not their preferred engineering solution”.
Perhaps most insulting was the fact that Thames Water had offered to install secondary glazing at the school to mitigate against the noise should the works go ahead. Clearly Thames Water does not realise or care that the school (which is an English Heritage listed building) and local residents need to open their windows in the hot summer months and that the noise and pollution from the lorries going past the classrooms every five minutes may have an adverse effect on the health and academic performance of the pupils as well as local residents who live near Chambers Wharf.
Sir Patrick Stewart questions the finances of the Thames Tunnel
There were several questions from the public. Sir Patrick Stewart questioned the financing of this £4.1bn project as did others and several members of the public accused Thames Water of making decisions that were not being made in alignment with the public interest. Thames Water is accountable only to their shareholders and not the public. Its controlling stake is held by an Australian investment bank, with recent additional involvement of sovereign wealth funds of China and Abu Dhabi who may not have the British consumer’s best interest at heart. There were further suggestions that Thames Water and its financial backers may be motivated and have incentives to make the project more expensive than it needs to be in order to maximise their profits at our expense.
Another member of the public questioned the “preferred engineering solution” asking if this was driven by financial considerations rather than social and environmental considerations. Apparently a Thames Water insider had revealed that our water bills would increase not by £85 a year but by £200 a year to pay for the scheme. Simon Hughes agreed that the financial and accountability issues concerning a private company acting as a monopoly public utility but driven by commercial and shareholder interest should form part of the review he advocates.
It was also suggested that St. Michael’s R.C. Secondary school which also overlooks the site is in secret negotiations with Berkeley Group (who purchased Chambers Wharf jointly with Thames Water) to expand the school creating a sixth form college on the south side of Chambers Street which would mean the affordable housing planned for this area would be in jeopardy or would the affordable housing merely be moved next to the ventilation shafts that Thames Water cannot guarantee won’t emit a malodorous stench? Peter John said he would look into this matter.
Earlier in the day Nick Tennant from Thames Water informed us that the Phase 2 consultation deadline will not be extended beyond February 10th and that even though the Phase 1 consultation had an extension of two weeks and that Mayor Boris Johnson had asked Defra to tell Thames Water to extend the deadline this phase would not be extended because it would be “too expensive”. Clearly the community around Chambers Wharf are not being treated fairly by Thames Water who doesn’t care about our community and only care about their potential £100m a year profit that they can make from the tunnel should it go ahead.
At the end of the evening both Simon Hughes and Peter John had pledged their support for the community around Chambers Wharf.