Waste Water (Thames and Greater London)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:19 pm on 14th September 2011.

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Photo of Richard Benyon Richard Benyon The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 4:19 pm, 14th September 2011

I put it on the record that I will copy that correspondence to the hon. Members for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick) and for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter), who are present in Westminster Hall for this debate.

The Thames tunnel commission has been established. As I have already said, we are providing evidence to it and we will look at what it produces. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark asked about the cost of the Thames tunnel project. Obviously, that is of huge concern to everybody who pays water bills in the Thames Water area. The current estimates for the costs are being reviewed on a regular basis, as he would expect them to be. As is the case with any cost assessment, there are assumptions in those assessments, including assumptions about construction costs and the financing of the operation. I assure him that Thames Water is building a very large contingency element into its costs analysis. Along with Thames Water, we are being extremely rigorous in ensuring that all risks are being considered and that—without being Rumsfeldian—all the unknowns that we know about are assessed, to see whether we can know more than we currently do.

The most important point, however, is that there must be a credible package to put, first, to water-charge payers and, secondly, to put to investors. Without that credible package and without Government support for the project, I do not believe that we can go ahead with the scheme. As I have said, it is extremely important that there is a credible package. An impact assessment from 2007 of cost-benefit analysis is being updated, and we will make the updated version public.

My right hon. Friend asked what the rules are regarding compensation when people’s land and amenities are affected by this scheme. If he will allow me, I will include a fuller answer to that in my letter to him.

My right hon. Friend’s last question related to issues about the sites at King’s Stairs gardens and Chamber’s wharf. That is a very important question and there are other sites that other hon. Members have already raised with me and will continue to do so. I confirm to my right hon. Friend that those issues are planning issues and therefore that it is for Thames Water to take them forward. However, we are looking very closely at them and we will liaise with him and others if we feel that there is a role for Government to influence the process. We want to ensure that this enormous scheme—both its construction and its eventual operation—has as little impact as possible on his constituents and others in the Thames area.

I cannot give a fuller reply than that, but I assure my right hon. Friend that I will continue to liaise with him and other London Members, particularly riverside Members, as well as with any other hon. Members who represent constituencies in the Thames Water area, to ensure that we are working together, first, to make the value of this project understood and, secondly, to make it a success for future generations.