A shock U-turn by Thames Water could now see the construction of the so-called 'super-sewer' from one of three sites in south Fulham.
Playing fields in Barnes had looked set to accommodate the huge compound – the size of three football pitches - which will be used to mobilise drilling equipment needed to dig the 20-mile long tunnel, which is being built to stop raw sewage flowing into the River Thames.
But mass opposition from residents in Barnes has forced Thames Water to look elsewhere – and it has now earmarked brownfield sites at Whiffin and Hurlingham Wharfs, both owned by developers St George, and the Hammersmith and Fulham Council-owned Carnwath Business Park, as alternative options. All three sites were previously considered too small for Thames's needs.
The new plans are in addition to a second shaft already planned for Hammersmith Embankment.
Today's revelations have stunned council leader Stephen Greenhalgh, who had identified the wharfs as being central to the council's grand regeneration plans. He now fears those ambitions lay in tatters, and the U-turn is sure to intensify the war of words between the water firm and the authority, which has long labelled the £3.6 billion scheme a waste of money.
"Millions of pounds worth of inward investment would be lost if Thames Water pushes ahead with this plan, and the disruption and noise nuisance will be a major blight to the area for at least eight years," he said.
"We will fight Thames Water all the way on this as the massive entry compound can only be justified in an area of open land well away from built up areas."
Thames, which says construction would actually only take four years, admits the change of plan will affect investment in the area, but says the Fulham sites would allow for easier and more environmentally friendly building.
Phil Stride, head of London Tideway Tunnels at Thames Water, said: "As we refine the options for the tunnel, the size and potential locations for construction sites are subject to change. We are also listening and responding to feedback received to date.
"Both options have their advantages and disadvantages. Unlike Barn Elms Playing Fields, Carnwath Road Riverside is brownfield, not greenfield, and is already designated for regeneration or industrial use.
"It is not important for recreation, would not require any tree felling and is not Metropolitan Open Land. The site’s existing jetty, combined with the greater width of the river at this point, would also allow us to use fewer, larger barges to remove soil excavated during construction of the main tunnel and bring in materials.
"On the other hand, more residents and businesses would be directly affected at Carnwath Road Riverside than at Barn Elms Playing Fields. Using Carnwath Road Riverside for the construction period would potentially also be in conflict with Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s own plans to regenerate the area.
"I must stress that we have not discounted Barn Elms Playing Fields as a possible major construction site for the Thames Tunnel. Before we make any final decisions, we will need to carefully evaluate the suitability of the site in more detail and potential impacts on nearby residential properties and businesses."
Thames Water is to hold drop-in sessions at Hurlingham and Chelsea School on April 6/7, before carrying out technical assessments of the new sites. The next stage of the consultation will begin in September.
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