River Thames Society's Recent & Current Campaigns
The Society has conducted many campaigns since it came into being in the early 1960s. Our current campaigns are Thames Tunnel Now! (see the press release on the News page), the listing of the paddle and rymer weirs, Tidy up the Thames, MPs' Parliamentary Group, and the Lock Keepers' Houses.
Latest Campaign News: November 2012
Thames Tunnel Now!
13 November: The following letter has been sent to all London MPs and MEPs:
"We wanted to drop you a quick note to update you on the latest moves by those campaigning for and against the Thames Tideway Tunnel.
We represent Thames Tunnel Now, an expanding coalition of environmental and wildlife charities and amenity groups, which came together in October 2011 to call for an end to on-going sewage pollution in the River Thames through the construction of the Thames Tunnel project. TTN includes: the Angling Trust, the Association of Thames Yacht Clubs, the Inland Waterways Association, Canoe England, London Wildlife Trust, Marine Conservation Society, River Thames Society, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Salmon & Trout Association, Thames21, Thames Anglers Conservancy, Thames Rivers Restoration Trust, Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, WWF and several more groups.
London's 150 year-old combined sewerage system, designed for a city of four million people, is no longer fit for purpose. Even modest amounts of rain now trigger discharges from the combined sewer overflows putting millions of tonnes of untreated waste into the Thames and causing environmental damage and health hazards. Just as investment has been required to clean up similar problems on British bathing beaches, action is needed to clean up London's river.
With the Government and Opposition remaining strongly supportive of the Tunnel and all the necessary parliamentary processes completed, objectors have stopped arguing that there is no need to tackle the CSO pollution of the tidal Thames and have switched to arguing that all can be achieved by retro fitting the whole of London with sustainable urban drainage solutions (SuDs) that disconnect sewerage and rainwater systems. This has shown to be completely impracticable and would not achieve the standards required the Environment Agency in the timescale set out by the government.
Quite apart from the cost, the delay, the disruption, the lack of available space and the technical feasibility of such a suggestion, it is worth pointing out that other cities have tried such an approach in considerably less challenging circumstances than we face in London. The inevitable conclusion was that while SuDs has a valuable complementary role to play, it is not a viable alternative to an interceptor tunnel. Indeed many other major international cities including Stockholm, Paris, Helsinki and Washington are pressing ahead with similar schemes to bring their rivers up to an acceptable environmental standard.
See below the latest statement from Thames Tunnel Now following a recent presentation on the experiences of the City of Portland, Oregon which reconfirmed our commitment to supporting the Tideway Tunnel as an essential part of the solution. The recent judgement from the European Court that the UK is in formal breach of its obligations under the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive and faces hefty fines as a result has made the completion of this project all the more necessary.
We trust that London's MPs will continue the support for the Thames Tideway Tunnel, which began under the last government and the Mayor of London and continued under the present administration.
A more comprehensive briefing on this issue will be available shortly but if you require any further information in the meantime please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Debbie Leach (Thames21), Carlo Laurenzi ( London Wildlife Trust), Dave Harvey (Thames Angler's Conservancy) and Peter Finch (River Thames Society) on behalf of Thames Tunnel Now
September 2012: Tideway Tunnel Now at Thames Festival: Campaigners from Thames Tunnel Now, the coalition of around 30 amenity and environmental groups that back the Tideway Tunnel as the best way of cleaning up London’s river, were out in force recently promoting their message to visitors to the Thames Festival held on the embankment outside City Hall. They received a warm reception from Londoners who want an end to the scandal which sees a staggering 39 million tonnes of untreated sewage entering the Thames every year as London’s Victorian sewers struggle to cope with the demands of a city with 8 million people.
Debbie Leach, Chief Executive of Thames21 said:
“The Festival was a wonderful weekend in celebration of the river and it was fantastic to see everyone not just enjoying the Thames, but wanting to talk about the challenges it faces. I was really struck by the overwhelming level of support for the Thames Tunnel project and people recognising that sewage in the river must be dealt with effectively, decisively and without further delay.”
Richard Crimp of Thames Anglers Conservancy added:
"The Tideway Tunnel simply has to happen as soon as possible, the current ecological status of the river is an environmental disaster that needs to be rectified, to do otherwise is grossly irresponsible and short sighted. Millions of tonnes of untreated sewage spew into the river every year and it has to stop."
Chief Executive of London Wildlife Trust, Carlo Laurenzi said: ‘It was a delight to see so many people who love the Thames and its wildlife at the weekend. The Thames Tunnel will greatly improve the health of the river for a wide range of wildlife from European eel, flounder and smelt, to grey heron and even grey seal.’
Campaigners from the London Wildlife Trust, Thames Anglers Conservancy, Thames21 and the Angling Trust staffed the TTN stall on both days of the festival weekend (8th & 9th September) handing out leaflets and collecting signatures in support of the Tideway Tunnel.
Lock Keepers' Houses
September 2012: Waterways Working Group to Examine Lock House Disposals: While River Thames Society welcomes the opportunity to fully explore all aspects of current arrangements and proposed plans, it remains opposed in principle to the disposal of any lock houses.
February 2012: Another Threat to Resident Lock-keepers: In 2008 the Environment Agency announced plans to dispose of a number of lock houses along the Thames, with the consequent disappearance of resident lock and weir keepers.
The Society opposed this decision as being detrimental to the safety of those who travel on and live near the river, and further stated that it would alter the character and traditions of the Thames while dealing a serious blow to a loyal and skilled group of employees.
After a substantial campaign involving a wide range of organisations and with the support of many MPs, the Agency agreed not to proceed with lock house disposal while retaining a lock and weir keeper at each of the 45 lock sites.
However, in October 2011 the Agency reneged on this commitment by stating that currently vacant houses at Grafton, Cleeve, Sunbury and Chertsey, for which resident keepers had not been appointed, would be put on the market for rental. In addition, when houses at Goring, Whitchurch and Blakes become vacant later in the year, they would also be leased , to be joined by another two over the next few years.
The vacant resident posts associated with these houses have been “frozen”, with peripatetic staff to take over.
Although the River Thames Society recognises that the Agency faces serious financial challenges due to a reduction in Government grant-in-aid, it considers that the employment of resident lock-keepers remains of crucial importance to the safety and well-being of the river.
The Society again urged the Agency to shelve the rental proposal and re-examine the placing of staff based on that fundamental principal –a resident lock-keeper at every lock. A further meeting was held during December and a formal response to concerns raised is currently awaited.
February 2012: The Government announced that the new charity, the Canal & River Trust, would take over from British Waterways in June and would take over the Environment Agency's navigation duties from 2014/15 subject to the next Spending Review adn the agreement of the charity's trustees.
July 2011: A letter has been sent to all non-tidal riparian MPs, outlining the Society's concerns over the planned transfer of EA navigations. British Waterways has also raised concern about the funding of the proposed new body.
At the Society's AGM in April, the Chairman outlined the current situation, explaining that Waterways Minister, Richard Benyon, had announed that he was still "convinced by the compelling vision of a national trust for the waterways that includes British Waterways and Environment Agency navigations." This would be delivered in two phases and only if sufficient funding can be found in the next Spending Review to enable the new body to take on the liabilities involved. Mr Benyon added that following a review of the new body in 2014, the intention remains to proceed with the transfer in 2015 or 2016 if it is affordable.
The RTS remains unconvinced that a genuine 'national trust for the waterways' can be created only if the navigations aspect is included, leaving all other equally important responsibilities to the EA. We believe the health and viability of the non-tidal Thames has best been achieved through the governance of one body - from the Thames Conservancy through to the Environment Agency.
The Chairman explained that devolution no longer seems to be on the immediate agenda for the Port of London Authority and a closer working relationship with the Mayor and his team is developing on a number of important issues.
October 2010: The Society is very concerned that the imminent government spending review will mean that responsibility for Thames navigations will be moved from the Environment Agency to a new, and as yet unknown, organisation. The following is the recent letter from Peter Finch, RTS Chairman, to Rt Hon Richard Benyon MP, Waterways Minister:
"Dear Mr Benyon,
Since 1962 the River Thames Society has sought to protect and promote the Thames. We are unique in that our members are active in virtually every activity that takes place along the river.
We noted with interest your statement in June on inland waterways, which mentioned the possible inclusion of the Environment Agency's navigations in the third sector model which could replace British Waterways. That possibility raises many questions, not least in relation to funding, particularly in view of the forthcoming spending review and what might happen to the Agency's other river-related duties - flood management, water extraction, pollution control and management of the overall waterside environment.
We participate in various stakeholder forums led by the Agency, co-founded the successful River Thames Alliance and receive regular reports from our five Branches that cover the entire river. The consensus is that the Agency has done a great deal of very useful work on the Thames, addressing abacklog of lock and weir maintenance, providing improved moorings and other facilities, developing leisure and recreation and protecting wildlife habitats.
To date, we have not heard a convincing case for transferring part of the Agency's responsibilities, particularly as many of them are closely entwined, to any emerging new body, to the advantage of theThames. Even if such a case was proven we would argue that any transfer of the navigation aspect should not occur until BWs successor body is firmly established, with a sound financial structure in place.
We would ask that our concerns be taken into account during your current deliberations."
Paddle and Rymer Weirs: March 2012
A paddle and rymer weir consists of removable upright bars (or rymers) which are slotted into a horizontal base plate fixed to the river bed. These rest against a fixed upper beam which is notched to hold the rymer, in between which are placed removable timber paddles, stacked vertically depending on the depth of water. All are held in place by simple water flow, but are moved in sequence to control the levels. This technology has been used on the river since the 17th Century and in association with other structures, such as flash locks and pound locks, they provided greater control of river flows and so enabled navigation of the upper reaches of the Thames.
Although periodically rebuilt, the structure at Rushey Lock is the oldest surviving paddle and rymer weir in the country. The River Thames Society successfully campaigned for listing of the weirs at Rushey, Goring and Streatley, to help to ensure that this important part of our river heritage is not lost.
In February 2012 the Society opposed the EA's plan to drastically reduce the paddle and rymer weir at Rushey and we continue to press for listing of the structures at Northmoor. We were pleased to be informed by the Environment Agency, in March 2012, that following significant concerns raised by local residents and other groups, the weir upgrade at Northmoor has been postponed until these issues can be resolved.