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Thames Tunnel

Volume 733: debated on Monday 19 December 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with Thames Water about the increase in lorry traffic in London caused by the construction of the Thames Tideway Tunnel.

My Lords, we have regular contacts with Thames Water on all aspects of the tunnel proposal, including its strategic approach to transport. Details on lorry movements are a matter for the project sponsor, Thames Water, and are included in its current public consultation. Final proposals will be in its planning application, expected in autumn 2012. The planning process ensures that environmental factors such as transport impacts will be considered.

I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. He is certainly right that, in its second consultation, Thames Water has reduced the volumes of lorry traffic by half by agreeing to transport the spoil by river, which is about half the total. However, is he aware that in Network Rail’s construction of Blackfriars station most of the materials, not just the spoil but other construction materials as well, are coming in by river? I am sure the Minister will agree that that is very commendable, given the traffic jams around there. What will he do to try to persuade Thames Water to do the same for that very much bigger project, including bringing in tunnel linings, concrete and things like that by river?

My Lords, the noble Lord has great experience in tunnelling and engineering, which I respect, and I share his view that the river is a great London resource that should be optimised and used for such occasions. It is important to emphasise, however, that at the moment the project is undergoing a consultative phase. There are guidelines on the use of rail and river for the movement of waste soil, for example, which are already laid down. I hope that any members of the public who have an interest in this matter will make their views known during the consultation period.

My Lords, is the Minister able to tell us whether he and Thames Water are aware of the great concern of local residents, many of whom I know, about the constant use of their streets in the area? Will there be limited hours of work? Will they have any respite during this work, which I must say is very important for the future of London?

My noble friend is right to emphasise that there are local neighbourhood implications in any project of this size. As I have emphasised, the project is at the moment in consultation and it is very important that people who feel they may be affected make their point of view clear. Thames Water has estimated that there will be around 4.6 million tonnes of excavated material generated in the lifespan of the tunnel’s construction. The management of that lies with the principal contractor, who will have to abide by the planning conditions laid down when planning permission is granted.

My Lords, while I recognise that the planning process is still under way, could the Minister, who is very popular in the House, not agree with the view of my noble friend Lord Berkeley that, in addition to spoil, efforts should be made by the contractors to use the river more than they are doing at the moment? Could he not just simply drop a little Christmas note to them to that effect?

I am of course grateful to add to the House’s Christmas cheer, and this is a great opportunity to do so. I think I made it pretty clear that I saw the river as a great resource and that it would indeed make sense to use it for the shipment of materials, but in the end the process really is that Thames Water has to make the application. I have given a pretty strong steer as to what we expect of Thames Water and, indeed, of the contractors.

Does the Minister agree that, in view of the large number of accidents to cyclists in London, including, unfortunately, a lot more deaths this year, he should ensure during the process that a proper risk assessment is conducted on the means of both supplying material and taking it away?

The use of roads is very important, as is the way that goods are shipped. That is a hazard that needs to be taken into account before planning permission can be given.

My Lords, given the importance of bringing in materials, would the Government perhaps ask the construction authorities and Thames Water to look at the use of Cornish china clay spoils materials? They could be brought to London so that we could have the benefit here, while removing some of the spoils from Cornwall.

My Lords, that is an unusual suggestion, which even in my wildest moments I had not anticipated being asked. I am sure that anything that makes my noble friend feel more at home must be a jolly good idea.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his reply and to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for suggesting the use of china clay waste—I live in Cornwall and it is dear to my heart. I wonder if I could press the Minister a little further, though. Half the materials may be transported by road, which would mean around 250 trucks a day. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, has also mentioned the risk of accidents to cyclists and so on. Surely it would be a good idea for a planning condition to be put on this development saying that perhaps 90 per cent of all materials must come by river or rail.

As I have tried to emphasise, those terms ought to be set in the planning decision. It is not for us at this stage of the process. I have tried to make it clear that there will be consultation, planning and then the award of the contract.