Coming after the announcement of the route of the Thames Tideway Tunnel and the likely construction sites involved, the speakers were grilled by Assembly Members of the health and public services committee. Sewage being released into the Thames being a rather obvious health threat.
In the sometimes argumentative but on the whole civilised session, highlights for me were:
- Richard Aylard pointing out that since our sewers can no longer cope, raw sewage is pumped into the river once a week. Resulting in 39 tons of the brown stuff per year. That's a rate of one Olympic swimming pool full of it every 2 minutes. Eek.
- Stephen Greenhalgh attacking the scheme as “gold plated” and resulting in “gargantuan” disruption and cost.
- Thames Water revealing that, far from being influenced by our Council's campaign against the sewer, they weren't even aware of it
Cllr Greenhalgh returned the serve with, in fairness, a pretty well argued case that acknowledged the fact he wasn't an expert on the figures “I'm just a local politician!” but nevertheless outlined the huge proportions of the scheme. Essentially he argued that doing nothing wasn't an option but that there must be a better way – he called for a “hybrid solution” which was basically a combination of measures to deal with the symptoms, not the cause of the problem. These include 'skimming' the detritus from the water – condoms for example, using a form of soap, and pumping oxygen into the river to keep the fish alive, using 'bubbler boats'.
Responding to Richard Aylard's pointed use of Caroline Spelman, the Secretary of State's statement that the scheme proposed by Thames Water was the “cheapest option by far”, Cllr Greenhlagh then said that the same Secretary of State had described to him pinning the Chief Exec of Thames Water to the wall, by the lapels and demanding to be assured that the costs wouldn't escalate! I can only hope that this was a metaphore.
He then went on to boisterously exchange figures with fellow Tory Tony Arbour AM, both of whom thought the scheme would inevitably escalate in cost. Presumably having peered into his crystal ball in Hammersmith Town Hall Cllr Greenhalgh confidently claimed that he could “guarantee” the cost would be millions of pounds more than Thames Water claimed.
Amongst all this sound and fury one thing did emerge on which all sides could agree, which is that we as customers are going to be paying between £60-65 extra every year for this scheme. And Cllr Greenhalgh did at least have a good point that this was occuring against a backdrop of cuts everywhere else.
Lastly, Tory AM Tony Arbour and Labour AM Murad Qureshi both picked up on the fact that the Sunday Telegraph had claimed that H&F Council's much trumpeted petiton of 2,000 people against building in Furnival Gardens had swayed Thames Water. Pravda has been trumpeting this as a glorious victory and therefore worth all of our taxes the Council spent warning people that they would be made homeless by the scheme among other things. To this Thames Water had a withering reposte – they hadn't even been aware of the petition. I suspect Pravda may run out of space before being able to report that.
You'll be able to watch the whole thing yourself here, if you're so minded. I have to say from a personal perspective, although I was studiously avoided by Mssrs Greenhlagh and Botterill at the event, presumably angry at my not toeing their line on this issue, I was quite impressed by the measured tone Cllr Greenhalgh adopted. He actually raises very valid points about the expenditure issue – just look at the Olympic budget or the Jubilee line extension for examples of public expenditure projects gone wrong. He also has a very effective style of setting his arguments out – so if he just sticks to the issues from now on and avoids any more scare tactics, he'll be doing us all a great service. Time will tell.