New Research Raises Concerns For Health Impact Of Tunnelling Site

Council research highlights residents with breathing difficulties

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The research by Wandsworth Council has raised concerns over the health impacts of a potential tunnelling compound at Barn Elms Playing Fields.

This greenfield space is shortlisted as a possible location for a vast construction project – known as a main drive shaft site – which would be used to help build the proposed Thames Tunnel super sewer.

A sample survey of homes located close to the site has now shown that almost a third of these households (32 per cent) include a family member who suffers from breathing difficulties due to an existing health problem.

The conditions identified included Asthma, Chronic Bronchitis and Emphysema.

All of the homes surveyed are located within 200metres of the worksite location. The council is concerned about the health impacts of a potentially dusty and polluting tunnelling project within such close proximity.

A brownfield industrial site in south Fulham is listed as Thames Water’s ‘preferred’ location for the main drive shaft site but there is still a significant risk that Barn Elms could be chosen.

These works could last for around seven years and would go on for 24 hours a day for most of that time.

A study of the area surrounding Barn Elm Playing Fields has also shown there are 437 homes within 250 metres of the potential worksite. 257 of these properties are located on council housing estates.

There are also two children’s playgrounds, a care home, a youth club, a scout hut, a community boat house, playing fields and a stretch of the Thames path all within 250 metres.

The evidence collected has been submitted to Thames Water and will be considered as part of the ‘super sewer’ scheme’s second round consultation.
Thames Water is also considering using Barn Elms Playing Fields as a ‘combined sewer overflow site’ instead of the ‘main drive shaft’. The council broadly supports this option which would be much less disruptive for the local environment and community.

Leader of Wandsworth Council Ravi Govindia said:  

“This new evidence adds to the case against the Barn Elms main drive shaft and we expect Thames Water to examine our findings very carefully before making a final decision.

“If the playing fields are selected as a smaller, combined sewer overflow site then every possible precaution must be taken to protect the neighbouring community from the impacts of these works.”

Wandsworth Council is a member of the Save Barn Elms Alliance - a coalition of residents, councils, politicians and community groups which has vigorously opposed the use of these playing fields for such long lasting and disruptive work.

The group is not opposed to the Thames Tunnel scheme as a whole - only the selection of Barn Elms as one of the main tunnelling sites.

About Barn Elms:

  • Barn Elms Playing Fields is a picturesque greenfield space on Thames riverside between Putney and Barnes.
  • Resident campaign group Stop the Shaft's has collected more than 16,600 signatures opposing the plan -  making it by far the most unpopular worksite put forward by Thames Water.
  • Council research has shown Barn Elms attracts 10,000 visits each weekend from walkers, joggers, families, cyclists, schools and sports clubs from all over London.
  • The site is one of south London's busiest sporting hubs used by over 30 schools and 40 sports clubs
  • Around 37 per cent of the 16,600 petition signatures were from Putney and Barnes residents. The remaining 63 per cent came from people living in other parts of London or outside the city.
  • If Barn Elms is selected as a main drive shaft site a giant waste transfer jetty would be built out across the Thames to move excavated spoil away from the playing fields by industrial barge. This operation could cause serious difficulties for Putney's rowing and sailing clubs as well as the nearby Barn Elms Boathouse which is used heavily by novice crews.
  • The playing fields sit next door to the London Wetlands Centre - a key urban wildlife site in London.

February 22, 2012