Last night saw the reassembling of an army: strong, proud and ready to do battle. As the troops gathered outside London's City Hall to the backdrop of Brazilians dancing to the steady beat of Samba & Zouk in More London's 'Scoop', a palpable sense of victory could be felt on this most unlikely of battlefields. The war is against Thames Water, owned since 2007 by Australian-based Macquarie Group, over their plans to use the Chambers Wharf site on Bermondsey Wall West as a main drilling and reception site for the much needed Thames 'super sewer'. Tonight's battle at City Hall was more of a military exercise, where resources were employed in preparation for the next stage in their military operations: the meeting with the planning inspectorate.
When over 100 members of the local community attend such a meeting in a very small, stiflingly hot room in the bowels of Boris' boudoir, you know that that they mean business. This new Battle of Bermondsey was fronted by a united coalition: Simon Hughes MP, Peter John Leader of Southwark Council, Val Shawcross Member of the London Assembly, Wendy Mortimer-Lee Head teacher of neighbouring Riverside Primary School and a representative from the 'Save Your Riverside' group (SYRG). Their main argument is that there is a far more suitable drilling site at Abbey Mills in east London: it is owned by Thames Water and would not affect so detrimentally the local community.
|The original Abbey Mills Pumping Station|
So, who does Thames Water plan will pay for this decade of works? Well, interestingly enough, not them. According to Simon Hughes MP, the company appears to have run down its asset base over the years and returned the money to shareholders. This has 'forced' Thames Water into going Bermondsey cap-in-hand to the state to ask them for additional funding. In addition, Thames Water customers from Canada Water to Cirencester will see an increase in perpetuity on their water bills of £80 per year - so much for reducing the burden on the state through privatisation.
|Thames Water bills set to increase by £80 per year|
Despite two years of objections from SYRG, Thames Water have not altered their position. Work is due to begin in 2016 and SYRG have appointed an expert legal team, the cost of which paid for through fund-raising. The good news is that there is a cross-party consensus against the proposals; indeed, politicians from all persuasions were positively beaming at tonight's meeting, in sharp contrast to the average Southwark council meeting, which can often feel quite threatening.
What can we do to support the Battle? Visit the website and sign the petition. Follow SYRG on Twitter. Write to Simon Hughes and express your opposition. Make a donation to 'Save your Riverside'. Attend the next series of public meetings. This is a call to arms. This is the Battle of Bermondsey. So, choose your 'weapon', pick it up and fight for your local community.
Actor Patrick Stewart outlines the objections