This Century’s Sewer (not pictured)

By Ellen Greenberg

note: image above is the Thames Barrier, which does bring to mind the Thames, and Big Infra. It’s an image I quite like so am using it here, though it is not directly connected to either this or last century’s sewer.

In A Jane Jacobs for the Engineering Set I wrote about Joseph Bazalgette, who became a London legend for his design of the sewer system that solved the city’s 19th Century “Big Stink.”  This Century’s answer to Bazalgette’s project is Thames Tideway, a massive project to upgrade London’s sewage system to cope with increased demands and protect the ecology of the Thames and its tributaries.  Unsurprisingly, the £4 Billion + project, which includes a new 25 km interception, storage and transfer tunnel running up to 65 metres below the river Thames,  is highly controversial.  The sponsoring organisation has an info-packed website, www.Tideway.London.

Google “Thames Tideway” and you’ll find plenty of material about the project, its opponents, questioners and funders. The Guardian quoted an official project assessor as describing it as a “stupendous” waste of money after a 2014 review.

The Tideway website, of course, celebrates the Bazalgette legacy on its history page:

The Victorian sewerage network simply cannot keep up with the demands of 21st Century London and need future-proofing.

The sewers built by Sir Joseph Bazalgette in the 1860s form the backbone of London’s sewerage system today. They are in excellent working condition, but have simply run out of capacity. Built when London’s population was two million and designed for four million, they are now struggling to serve a capital city with more than eight million people; a figure that continues to rise.

By 2031, there will be 10 million people living in London. To cope with this increase, it is estimated that at least 600,000 new homes are needed. In order that these homes can be built the sewerage network, which is already under severe pressure, needs to be upgraded.

The argument offered, like the argument for other major infrastructure project, is closely tied to the capital’s growth forecast. Though the projects are in many cases partly needed to respond to current deficiencies, their justification almost universally rests heavily on the need to serve future growth.

(an aside, I always shudder a bit when the claim of “future-proofing” is offered.”  How do you spell H-U-B-R-I-S?)

This is where we can circle back to the question of Brexit, and whether it may have impacts on infrastructure project, as I mused about in my post-referendum post Brrrr…...  In recent conversations additional possibilities have emerged: perhaps most obvious is the scenario I speculated about, that projects may be reconsidered based on revised growth projections downward.

This century’s project, linked to the lasts – perhaps a bit of the shine will rub off. Image from accessed 24/7/2016

Another is that the new Government may implement a post-referendum stimulus program to compensate for other Brexit impacts that might drag on the economy. But of course the new Government may have very different views of national and London priorities.  A very thoughtful colleague of mine summed it up the other day with the wise words: “Nobody knows.”

Re-using this image as it brings together the Thames and the City’s growth


There’s loads online, pro and con, about Thames Tideway.  The Guardian piece cited above is at:

Official project video (excellent production values!) is at:


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