Boris Johnson today signalled that traffic flow would take priority over the repairs to London's waterworks and that a new desalination plant would now go ahead despite a previous legal challenge.
A spokesperson for Boris said earlier today that:
"Thames Water has committed to work with the Mayor to reduce the impact of their roadworks on traffic in London.
"This includes setting up pilot projects across the capital to look at different ways of working in the city's streets, particularly relating to the company's extensive programme of Victorian mains replacement. This should allow London's traffic to move more freely and reduce congestion across the capital."
However, despite claims of a new transparency, there is no detail yet available as to what these 'different ways of working' will actually involve, apart from the statement that 'roads must not be cordoned off when no one is working there.' There is also no available information on the extent to which this will delay the rate of repair to London's mains.
However, I think it is safe to assume that any project that will reduce the extent of Thames Water's roadworks in the capital will inevitably increase the time needed to complete them. The announcement that the proposed desalination plant at Beckton will now go ahead would also suggest that Boris is expecting his traffic policy to reduce current projections for water capacity.
In fact, when Ken Livingstone appealed against the construction of the plant in 2006, he cited the evidence that prioritising repairs to London's Victorian waterworks would save seven times the amount of drinking water produced by a desalination plant over that same period.
In his appeal published in full on the Mayor's website, he said that for Thames Water to spend £200 million on a desalination plant when nine million litres of water were being lost through leaks every single day was 'akin to pouring water into a sieve.'
Part of Ken Livingstone's objection to the plant was that it would unnecessarily add to the capital's carbon emissions. Aware of this criticism, Boris today announced a deal with Thames Water that the plant would be powered entirely by 'renewable fuel.'
However it is not clear whether this means renewable in the sense that a plank of burning wood is renewable, or renewable in the sense that wind energy is renewable. A plant powered by biofuel can be 'renewable' while still adding to carbon emissions. The use of the term 'renewable fuel' rather than 'renewable energy' could suggest that this is the case.
Whether or not the plant will be run on truly renewable energy, the fact still remains that desalination plants are notoriously inefficient at creating fresh water. Even if the plant is run entirely on wind power which seems highly unlikely, that plant would still be a huge drain on our energy resources and will divert Thames Water's resources away from the biggest cause of water shortages in the capital.
The huge investment required to construct and run this plant will also presumably do little for Londoners' water bills.
However, as with Boris' decision to reverse Ken's rephasing of traffic lights, despite evidence showing that it has saved hundreds of lives, today's decision is a further sign that the needs of the motorist will now come above all others in Boris' London.