Residents demand Thames Water do more to tackle ‘tunnel of poo’

Pedestrians in New Southgate face wading through sewage whenever there is heavy rainfall, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

The approach to the so-called 'Tunnel of Poo' (credit Jim Sells)
The approach to the so-called “tunnel of poo” (credit Jim Sells)

An overflowing sewer on a walkway in New Southgate has left residents facing “disgusting” flooding “every time there is significant rain”.

The problem has created what some have dubbed a “tunnel of poo” beneath a section of railway line on the path between Oakleigh Road South and Beaconsfield Road, which is next to a children’s play area.

Local resident Jim Sells said unsuspecting people sometimes walk through the “disgusting” foul water, which he branded a “clear health risk”, and anyone who wants to avoid it has to take a longer diversion.

Jim said the flooding sewer had been a problem since he moved to the area six years ago, and neighbours told him it had been going on for more than 20 years. He fears it will never be fixed, and that new developments going up nearby – including the 1,350-home scheme at North London Business Park –will make the flooding worse.

Jim said: “Underneath the train line, there is a pedestrian tunnel on the path that goes in front of blocks of flats, and there is a large play area in front of that.

“At the end of the tunnel, a lot of kids play in that area from the blocks of flats – lots of kids and families all play out. At the end of the tunnel, there is a manhole. Every time there is significant rain or a few days of rain, it pushes up through this manhole.

“It will knock the manhole out – the lid is lifted off and broken, and you could step into it and do yourself a mischief. The rain pushes it all up, sewage overflows – and it is not just excrement, it is sanitary items and whatever else gets flushed down the toilet.”

Jim said the flooding can be “six or seven inches deep” and that it “covers a lot of grass” as well as flooding the tunnel. He said unsuspecting people can walk through it and “traipse it through their houses”, and avoiding it involves taking a 500-metre round route – which can be a long way for some people.

When he started reporting the leaks someone would clear it, Jim explained, but he had to keep having the same phone conversation with Thames Water every time it happened.

Acknowledging that the problem is exacerbated by some people putting the wrong items down the toilet, such as wet wipes, he said that he felt Thames Water could do more to educate people about the issues.

Jim said the water company had taken some action, including clearing rubble from the sewer and installing an alarm system to alert one of its teams to the flooding – but it can still be “three to five days” before the mess is cleared up, and residents will ultimately pay for the work through their water bills.

He added that he was once told by an engineer that the problem is that the sewage pipe is not wide enough for the needs of modern London, meaning the flooding will never be stopped.

Jim said: “Nothing has really happened properly to fix this for however many years – that is the bit I can’t get my head around.”

A Thames Water spokesperson said investigations into the issues are “ongoing” – including into pipes downstream, where a problem has been rectified – and the company has “continuously carried out line cleans” on its network in the area.

They added: “We have also installed sewer monitors in the network in several different manholes to help us identify where infiltration, which is when excess water enters our pipes through cracks and joints, is occurring on our network.

“We work closely with developers and planning authorities across our region to ensure water and sewerage infrastructure can support growth and, where upgrades are needed to accommodate new developments, they will happen.

“We look at each development case-by-case and where needed will request conditions are added to planning applications, so, for example, new homes are not occupied until the necessary upgrades to our infrastructure have taken place.”

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