Almost 400 people signed the petition against the works site for the Thames Tunnel on Crossfields Green. But after years of campaigning, the project is now about to proceed. In this article, Campaign Co-ordinator Nick Williams asks how we should proceed.
The future of Deptford’s Heart
In June 2014 Thames Water launched the latest round of ‘engagement’ on their multimillion pound scheme with characteristic incompetence. As we reported here previously just four people attended their meeting.
The following week it was announced that after a series of embarrassing cock-ups the contract to deliver the £4.3bn tunnel would go to, ah yes, ahem, virtually the same bunch of investors that own Thames Water – a gaggle of Chinese and overseas investment bankers who’s only real interest, it is very safe to say, lie a long way away from the interests of the people of Deptford.
Last week (11 January 2016) Thames Water announced that the contractors will be starting the next phase of preparatory work on Crossfield Street.
The ball, is therefore, now clearly rolling on the second stage of this project. It therefore seems a good time to review our campaign.
Central and regional government appears absolutely committed to this project. The government’s approach was demonstrated many years ago, when the terms of reference for the enquiry by the Planning Inspectorate were set out. They forbade the Inspectors from examining whether the giant sewer was actually necessary. And, when the Planning Inspectors dared to make a number of fairly common-sense recommendations to mitigate the impact, they were overruled.
The private sector scents a sure-fire money-making opportunity underwritten by government and paid for by every London householder through an £80 annual surcharge on our water bills. Despite the opposition of a number of local authorities and many local communities, supported by a small number of MPS valiantly shouting about the utter pointlessness of it, it now seems that only an act of god will stop this steam-roller.
So, though it won’t hurt to continue to protest loudly about the folly and environmental and financial cost, we have to look at what we can achieve in this latest phase.
It seems to me that the key tasks are:
1. Continue to monitor and campaign on minimising the disruption and degradation of our environment while the work is in progress;
2. Make sure that the ‘community benefits’ outlined in the Summary of section 106 commitments (a contract between LB Lewisham and the developer) are delivered and that the community has a say in how they are delivered; and
3. Think about the future of Crossfield’s Green in particular, it’s role and what we want this to look and feel like when the project is all over.
If these are the tasks, then it begs the question of whether this campaign group is necessary. Your time – like mine – is limited. So, how do we best use our time and resources?
Thames Water has set up a community liaison working group that is supposed to meet four times a year while the work is underway. It’s terms of reference suggest that it would cover points 1 and 2 above, plus the section 106 stipulates that there should be a steering group which includes local residents. One option would simply be to go along with this and try to influence the agenda.
Alternatively, there seems to be a few local groups concerned about the local environment and development of the borough, and we could hand responsibility to one of these. Deptford Neighbourhood Action (DNA) seems to be the latest. DNA is formally constituted, is fairly broad-based, and is applying for funding. See www.deptfordaction.org.uk. The second option might be – though we would have to explore this – to just make sure the Crossfields Green is on the agenda there, perhaps as a separate sub-group. A possibly more radical variant of this option would be to try to insist that Thames Water reports to DNA rather than set up a separate community liaison group. If you know other organisations which could take on this role, I’m keen to hear about them.
This option would allow us to look at a broader and possibly more exciting range of local issues, while keeping the issue under public scrutiny. The downside being that it would lose a little focus and we’d be getting immersed in a more bureaucratic structure, moving away from the very loose coalition we have been up to now.
The final option would be to continue going as we are now. Don’t Dump on Deptford’s Heart is loose and possibly not democratically constituted or representative at the moment, so we would have to address this. But this might take more effort, when the fundamental cause is lost.
What are your thoughts?