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Planning Inspectorate opens hearing to decide how Thames Tidal Tunnel inquiry will run

PUBLISHED: 10:19 12 September 2013 | UPDATED: 22:12 12 September 2013

Mock ventillation tower showing what a permament structure might look like on the park waterfront at Shadwell

Mock ventillation tower showing what a permament structure might look like on the park waterfront at Shadwell

© 2011 Mark Baynes (promo)

The preliminary meeting opens today to decide how the forthcoming inquiry into London's 'super sewer' Thames Tideway tunnel construction project should be carried out.

Mock ventillation tower showing what a permament structure might look like on the park waterfront at ShadwellMock ventillation tower showing what a permament structure might look like on the park waterfront at Shadwell

The Planning Inspectorate is hearing evidence at the Barbican Centre in The City from Thames Water as well 37 protest and environment groups affected by the proposed 17-mile tunnel along the riverbed, from Brentford in the west to Limehouse and the Isle of Dogs in east London.

The hearing opens at 10.30am and will last all day—but could run into tomorrow. It will decide how the formal public inquiry starting later this year is conducted, which is expected to last six months.

Strong opposition has been growing in east London over proposals to use Shadwell’s King Edward Memorial Park as a construction site which would then be left with a permanent 26ft sewer ventilation shaft on the riverfront.

A campaign group fighting to prevent the park being used, which won backing form Tower Hamlets council and members of the London Assembly, erected a ‘mock shaft’ in a protest in July to show how the waterfront would end up.

It is putting a marker down at today’s hearing for an alternative site, an industrial estate of old warehouses a-quarter-of-a-mile away in Heckford Street, off The Highway, which has now been included for consideration by the Inspectorate.

“Thames Water always said once they’ve chosen park, that’s it,” said campaign group founder Carl Dunsire. “But now the Inspectorate is reviewing our suggestion, so we’re in with a chance with a level playing field.”

Thames Water won’t be able to remove the excavated soil by river barge if the alternative Heckford Street site was chosen—it would all have to go by road.

But few dispute the need for the tidal tunnel to update London’s ageing Victorian sewer system laid down in the 1860s. Sewage regularly overflows into the Thames at least once a week because of growing pressure caused by London’s exploding population.

A coalition of 25 environmental and wildlife charities including Thames 21, also addressing today’s preliminary hearing, has been campaigning for the tideway tunnel to clean up the river.

Its chief executive Debbie Leach said: “Arguments over the principle of the tunnel are over—we must get on with it as soon as possible to bring to an end the national disgrace which is the condition of the river.”

The tideway tunnel is listed by the Treasury as one of Britain’s top 40 projects.

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