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Last Updated: Friday, 27 January 2006, 13:36 GMT
London: Battle of the Thames
Tim Donovan
Tim Donovan
Political Editor BBC London

Whale in Thames

The Thames came to the fore once again last week with the strange and sad tale of the bottle-nose whale that lost its way and died.

The response from Londoners showed how much the river and its environment matter to the city.

The Olympic Games, which will be based in the Lea river valley in east London, have made the debate on the future of our waterways even more prominent.

Next week a new London Waterways Commission meets for the first time with the Olympics, development and sewage overflows at the top of its agenda.

The commission's role is to advise the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, on his policy for the so-called "Blue Ribbon Network" of waterways.

Nearly half of London's boroughs have a waterway of some sort running through it - a canal, smaller river or the Thames.

A key force behind the establishment of the Commission has been Green Party leader, Jenny Jones.

She has raised concerns that the waterways are not receiving proper protection "in the face of enormous development pressure", and that there is a "growing list of cases where important Blue Ribbon policies have been ignored or sidelined."

The Commission brings together for the first time the plethora of groups with a stake in the network, including British Waterways, which manages canal and rivers across the UK, the Environment Agency, the Port of London Authority, the London Development Agency, and borough and community representatives.

Top of next week's agenda is how to prepare the Lea Valley for the Olympic Games in 2012, and how best to use the waterways in the area.

Apart from issues about how much to use the river to transport construction materials, there are grave concerns that sewage overflows, which happen regularly in London, could run up the river with the tide and right through the Olympic site.

Heavy rain in August 2004 ended up pumping billions of gallons of sewage into London rivers from storm water overflows and killing thousands of fish.

The sight of sewage litter and the smell could cause major harm to the image of the Olympics internationally.

So serious is the issue that the Department of Education, Food and Rural Affairs has set up an independent working group to "urgently consider" an action plan to deal with the problem.

The group is due to report shortly to Environment Minister Elliott Morley, who will have to decide whether to give the go-ahead to the preferred option of experts to construct a 1.7 billion sewer running under the Thames for 22 miles.

Water regulator OFWAT has raised concerns about the impact on the water bills of Londoners.

If the sewer is to be built in time for the Olympics, work will have to begin this year.

Also on the Politics Show London

We discuss possible European Commission action against the British government over sewage outflows in London, and what the government proposes to do regarding the 22-mile sewage tunnel plan.

... And Zia Trench reports on houseboat owners' fears that they are being priced off London's canals and rivers, and the response from landlord British Waterways to their concerns.

We discuss what the right balance is between preserving existing communities and buildings on London's waterways, and encouraging new developments with economic benefits.

The Politics Show

Join the Politics Show on BBC One on Sunday 05 February 2006 at 11.55am with Tim Donovan.

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11 Sep 05 |  Politics Show


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