The Full Horror of the Tideway Super-Sewer Excavations at Deptford Creek and the Clear Need for All Housing Developments, Including Tidemill, to be Stopped


Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaigners photographed wearing gas masks to highlight the environmental costs of the proposed re-development of the old Tidemill school site, including the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded investigative journalist, commentator and activist.


In Deptford, in south east London, the Save Reginald Save Tidemill campaign that I’m part of is involved in a significant struggle against three aspects of the current housing crisis that are a microcosm of what is happening elsewhere in the capital and across the country, and that cry out for concerted resistance.

The first is the destruction of precious green space for a housing project that could easily be built elsewhere. The second is the destruction of structurally sound council housing, as part of the proposed development, that has no purpose except to do away with genuine social housing, and to replace it with a new form of allegedly affordable social housing that, in fact, is considerably more expensive and offers fewer protections for tenants. The third involves issues of pollution and environmental degradation that are already at crisis pint, and that will only get considerably worse if councils’ and developers’ mania for ‘regeneration’ continues unchecked.

On this third point, the work of campaigners — who have been occupying the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden since August 29, to prevent its destruction — has successfully enabled large numbers of people to understand that the garden (created 20 years ago as a beautiful landscaped garden for the local primary school, and leased to representatives on the local community for the last six years, since the school closed and moved to a new site) is an important bulwark against the horrendous pollution on the nearby A2 and also on Deptford Church Street, a dual carriageway that is one of two main routes to Greenwich and that also provides access to the Rotherhithe Tunnel.

Science researchers have established that pollution levels, which regularly reach six times the World Health Organisation’s safety limits on these roads, are mitigated by the garden’s canopy of mature and semi-mature trees. This alone is a compelling reason why the garden shouldn’t be destroyed, and, of course, if the destruction goes ahead, the environmental degradation will only increase, via the destruction of the garden, the pointless and polluting demolition of the council flats of Reginald House, and the pollution involved in turning the former site of the garden and the flats (and the site of the school, where the flats for private sale will be built) into a building site for four years.

In addition, environmental degradation is not unique to the Tidemill site. On nearby Creekside, pollution levels have been increasing alarmingly in recent years because of an orgy of riverside developments on both sides of Deptford Creek — in the London Borough of Greenwich as well as in Lewisham, where five new housing developments have been rising up over the last few years — two on the Norman Road side of the river, in Greenwich (Caledonian Point and Babbage Point – check out the architects’ hype here and here), and three others on the Deptford side: at Union Wharf, where a couple of monstrous towers are currently rising up, at Kent Wharf, and at what used to be Faircharm, a collection of artists’ studios whose owners cynically preferred to profit off new housing instead — with some studio space added on as a kind of afterthought (and check this Crosswhatfields article for information about the traffic pollution that resulted from just this one development).

Not satisfied with this priapic, polluting overkill, developers now want to add more forests of towers — on the Greenwich side at Saxon Wharf, and on the Deptford side at Sun Wharf, and around the Laban Centre. Closer to Tidemill, developers also want to raise towers of inappropriate housing just across Deptford Church Street from the Tidemill garden, opposite the Birds Nest pub, at One Creekside. 

For this site, however, which involves the destruction of more trees that help to mitigate the effects of pollution, the environmental degradation has been laid bare, in an official Air Quality Assessment, which, as the Crosswhatfields blog has exposed, “recommends that a filtration system will have to be supplied to all first floor and above spaces in the new development and that [the developer] Bluecroft should advise future occupants to avoid opening their windows during high pollution episodes, i.e. every morning and evening during the commuter run.”

Again, these facts alone should stop this development in its tracks, but if these arguments still aren’t persuasive enough, then have a look at what’s happening just across Deptford Creek at the site of the Tideway super-sewer. 

This huge and essential project to upgrade London’s aging sewage system — still largely based on the phenomenal engineering of Sir Joseph Bazelgette in the late 19th century, but now struggling to cope with the sewage requirements of an increased population — will be adding so conspicuously to the environmental disaster area that is east Deptford (and west Greenwich) that, it seems to me, the only sensible solution is to stop all other developments until it is complete.

The recently circulated notes from the ‘Greenwich Pumping Station & Deptford Church Street Community Liaison Working Group’, regarding the Tideway project, make clear how, environmentally, east Deptford (and west Greenwich) will be unable to cope with anything beyond the building work required for the super-sewer. The facts are so shocking that I genuinely recoiled in horror when I first read them. 

After a meeting on October 2, the working group explained that three aspects of the super-sewer development are in place that will profoundly affect the quality of life of everyone near the site, and will also have serious repercussions for the infrastructure required to support the building projects envisaged at Tidemill and at One Creekside.

Firstly, from November 2018 until 2021, the northern lane of Deptford Church Street will be closed to traffic, “so that Tideway engineers can build an interception chamber and connecting tunnel to the original sewer, built by Joseph Bazalgette, that runs under [Deptford] Church Street.” It is difficult to under-estimate the traffic chaos this will unleash, which will no doubt create a state of almost permanent gridlock on Deptford Church Street.

Secondly, from November 2018, for somewhere between nine weeks and three months, an “acoustic shed” 230 feet (70 metres) tall will be built over the shaft at the Greenwich site, just across the river from Creekside. This “will be built through the night from 01:00 to 05:00,” because “it is close to the DLR track and cannot be built during the daytime when the DLR is in operation, because of risk to the travelling public of falling steel girders or tools.” The working group added that the engineers “claim the usual level of outdoor night-time background noise is 61dB and that the level at the construction site is expected to be 67dB (the sound of a passing car, 7.6 metres or 25 feet away, travelling at 65mph).” They also concede that “there will be light pollution”, because the site “will be very brightly light.” This is set to be so disruptive that the working group stressed that residents of the Crossfields Estate nearest the site “can ask for support to minimise the disruption, such as black-out blinds or curtains.”

The working group added that the acoustic shed “is designed to reduce tunnelling machinery noise”, because, “when tunnelling starts in 2019, it will happen for 24 hours a day, for two and half years.” As they explain, this tunnel will “connect the shaft at the Greenwich Pumping Station to the one in Deptford Church Street.” Running 70 metres (230 feet) below the lawn of Farrer House, it will be 25 feet (7.7 metres) in diameter – as wide as the Channel Tunnel.

Finally, the working group added that, “When the tunnelling starts the spoil will be taken away by trucks and by barges. At the Greenwich Pumping Station there will be 110 trucks a day arriving empty and leaving full via Norman Road and Greenwich High Road. The site can only accommodate 6 trucks at once. To manage the number of trucks there is a plan to have a waiting area in Greenwich High Road, similar to the one outside Frankham House in Deptford Church Street”, right next to Tidemill, which is the reason that Deptford Church Street will be turned into a single-file gridlocked nightmare for most of the next three years.

If, like me, you can’t see how it’s possible for the Tidemill site and One Creekside also to be turned into building sites during this extraordinary sewage engineering episode, then I hope you’ll let Lewisham Council know that, frankly, they have taken leave of their senses.

And if you think it’s just the Tidemill and Creekside areas that will be affected, please also consider that the biggest housing project of the lot, the monstrous 3,500-home project to turn King Henry VIII’s Royal Dockyard at Convoys Wharf into a slice of Dubai-on-Thames, is also scheduled to begin during this period, a monstrous and ill-conceived project that, even without these other disruptions, would overload the capacity of all the roads that lead to the project (again, the A2 and Deptford Church Street, but also Evelyn Street and Creek Road and the smaller roads leading to the site) to cope with yet another endless cavalcade of construction lorries.

With the super-sewer project causing such disruption, it really does seem like it’s time for the entire ‘regeneration’ juggernaut in Deptford to be derailed for at least the next three years — and, preferably, on a permanent basis, with the council urged to consider refurbishment rather than demolition on sites like Reginald House, and to only consider new housing if it is undertaken on a basis that is as environmentally low-impact as possible. This, however, is something for which the current corporate-led racket of housing development has shown absolutely no interest, preferring instead to sacrifice people’s health and the wider environment in their endless quest for profits.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. Since August 2018 he has been part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

5 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, exposing how the monstrous traffic congestion from the Tideway super-sewer on both sides of Deptford Creek in Deptford and Greenwich (not to mention the noise and light pollution for those living nearby) genuinely means that no other proposed developments – like the re-development of the old Tidemill School site (including the occupied Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden and Reginald House), and the proposed new towers at One Creekside – are actually feasible for at least the next three years, as the main road needed for all the proposed demolition and construction work – Deptford Church Street – will be reduced from a dual carriageway to two single lanes and will be in a state of almost permanent gridlock. You might perhaps think that Lewisham Council would be able to do some joined-up thinking about this, but apparently not.

  2. Anna says...

    Oh dear, Andy, your super sewer drilling prospect brings back memories of a something similar 20 years ago in Amsterdam, except that that was to drill 4,5 km of unnecessary new subway right under the historical city centre. But that was only some 30 m underground (albeit in very soggy terrain).
    The whole subway line – including above ground stretches north and south of the 4,5 km – was to be operational by 2006. It was opened just a few months ago, in 2018.
    We – the members of a the ‘Aboveground’ group which organised a referendum on this subject, predicted that among other disasters some buildings would start sagging, nuisance for people living and shops trying to make a living along the trajectory would be horrendous and that the cost would inevitably exceed the plans. But the town council desperately wanted to push this through : it would be technically perfect and would remain within the budget which 20 years ago was to be about 700 million Euros (then still guilders). It ended up up costing at least four times as much (!) and that is without discounting various costs creatively camouflaged in other city budgets.
    The tunnels would be drilled, but the (30 m deep) spaces for stations would be excavated. Beware of authorities offering (Hobson’s) choices, so that later they can claim that you guys chose that option yourselves.
    We had for instance the choice between the humongous number of metric tons excavated soil mixed with water under high pressure, to be evacuated through wide pipes which would be placed a few metres above street level – above the entrances to the flats where people lived – towards a canal one block away where it would be loaded onto boats, or, to have it removed by trucks … Anyone who knows how narrow Amsterdam’s streets are in the city centre can imagine what that would mean.
    I left Amsterdam in 2001 before that hell started, but people in the narrow shopping street around the corner had the very noisy and dusty work going on for years, litterally right in front of their flats and until 22:00 hrs every night ‘in order to speed up the process’. This work included huge cranes pounding double metal walls 30 m into the ground before the excavation would even start.

    In your case, the objective at least is necessary, although one might wonder whether a different option (different place ?) would not be possible.
    Fight, fight! In our case we won the referendum (65 % of the votes opposed this megalomaniacal folly), but the total of votes did not reach the minimum treshold.
    The city had cleverly planned the referendum day on a Sunday well into June, so presumably one of the first warm days and many people absent for the weekend.
    Not to mention the fact that we received a budget of 30.000 guilders (about 15.000 Euro), while the city spent roughly a million on PR …
    One thing I learned in that process, was that the ‘public consultation process’ is a scam, ment exclusively to pacify opponents by giving them an opportunity to vent their rage. And of course – as we had predicted but the city denied – the number of much more convenient trams on that 4,5 km stretch has been severely limited, as the bloody metro must be filled …

    I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you guys …

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Anna. Good to hear from you – and to hear of your campaign in Amsterdam. Hadn’t heard about that from you before!

  4. arcticredriver says...

    Good luck to you and your friends Andy!

    I’ve done some reading, and other work on some of Toronto’s lost rivers. (There is an excellent website introducing those lost rivers. While looking for information on lost creeks outside the area covered by the website I came across a surprising term, the “sewershed”.

    When these creeks became polluted, they were buried, and turned into sewers. Smaller sewers would drain into them, sometimes roughly emulating the watershed of the original creek. Hence the term sewershed.

    A few voices in the wilderness argue for “daylighting” some of these creeks.

    The driving of piles with huge hammers is not permitted here. All piles are drilled, the drills being hollow, generally about one meter in diameter. When they get to the right depth a steel beam is put down the middle, and it is filled with concrete. This process is quite quiet.

    Believe it or not, once upon a time, the driving of piles was performed by attaching a large and heavy 2 stroke engine atop of the pile. The engine had a single very large piston, which would attach to the pile, with the piston head. The rest of the engine would be dropped onto the piston, compressing fuel in the piston chamber. The drop would compress the fuel, driving the pile deeper, and shooting the engine up again, for another stroke. Stroke after stroke the huge engine would drive the pile. No muffler. And, of course, 2-stroke engines are much more polluting that four stroke engines

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the Canadian history lesson, arcticredriver!
    I’ll be following closely what happens with the super-sewer project here, but sadly I have to let you know that today the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden was violently evicted. See here:
    Full article to follow.
    The struggle will continue, however! After all, the new development hasn’t been built yet!

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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