LETTER: Brunel's tunnel threatened again

From Lord Howie of Troon

Sir: Marc Brunel's historic Thames Tunnel is again under immediate threat of irreparable damage from London Underground. LU's earlier proposals to shotcrete the inside of the tunnel and obliterate its original brick lining were prevented by a last minute Grade II listing in March. At the same time, English Heritage asked a panel of independent and eminent engineers to examine the matter and advise. As recently as last Friday, the panel had not reported, although it had submitted preliminary memoranda on 29 and 31 May.

Nevertheless, on 30 May the London Docklands Development Corporation considered a listed building consent application from LU to shotcrete most of the lining, leaving a length of brickwork exposed to view. The application was referred to the Environment Secretary for decision. The LDDC planning director has justified LU's proposals saying,

The tunnel requires repair and is potentially unsafe. Furthermore, it leaks. This was confirmed by the panel of independent engineers ... .

In fact, the panel said that the tunnel, despite its age of over 150 years, was in good condition and had considerable reserves of strength even against accidental damage and could be expected to last as long again, given normal maintenance. The panel also complained of inadequate provision of information by LU.

There is ample evidence of undue haste and even fancy footwork by London Underground, the LDDC and English Heritage. A public inquiry is called for, and one should be held before any work is permitted.

Yours sincerely,

WILL HOWIE

House of Lords

London, SW1

14 June

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