HC Deb 11 December 1857 vol 148 cc545-9

said, he would beg to ask the First Commissioner of Works, Whether any, and, if so, what steps have been taken for the purpose of carrying out so much of the Act 18 & 10 Vict., c. 120, as relates to the main drainage of the metropolis?


As this is a subject of considerable importance, perhaps I may be allowed to answer the question at some length, and to inform the House of the various proceedings which have taken place in relation to the matter since the Act was passed in 1855. Towards the close of the Session of that year the Metropolitan Act was passed, and under the 135th section it is declared that the Metropolitan Board shall make such sewers and works as they shall think necessary for preventing all or any part of the sewage of the metropolis flowing or passing into the river Thames. The clause goes on to say that, in case of sewers being constructed they shall be covered and kept so as not to be a nuisance or injurious to health; and under the provisions of the next section, the 136th, it is required that before any works are commenced plans shall be submitted to the First Commissioner of Works for the time being, and such works shall not be proceeded with until the plans have received his approval. The Act was passed in August, 1855, and on the 3rd of June, 1856, a deputation from the Metropolitan Board waited on me with a plan for the main drainage of the metropolis, which I supposed would be in conformity with the spirit and intention of the Act. I told them the plan should have immediate attention, but before giving any positive decision I desired to have a Report on the flow of the tide in the river, which I had directed Captain Burstal to make. Captain Burstal's Report was sent me on the 1st of July, and on the 2nd I forwarded a copy to the Metropolitan Board of Works, and informed them that I could not accept their plan for reasons which I stated in a letter, concluding as follows:— By the Metropolis Act of 1855 it is provided that 'The Metropolitan Board of Works shall make sewers and works for preventing all or any part of the sewage within the metropolis from flowing or passing into the Thames in or near the metropolis.' But the scheme submitted for the approval of the First Commissioner actually provides that the sewage shall flow into the Thames at a point within the metropolis. It consequently follows that before any such scheme can be carried out it will be necessary to call upon Parliament to repeal so much of the Act of last Session as provides for the purification of the river Thames within the metropolis. The First Commissioner feels that he cannot undertake to do this, and, considering that the scheme is entirely at variance with the intentions of the Legislature, as set forth in the Act which passed last August, he considers it to be his duty to return the plans which were submitted for his approval. On the 5th of November last year a second plan was submitted, having an outfall on each side of the river just outside the metropolitan area, the consequence of which would have been that the sewage would have flowed back with the tide into the metropolitan area. I felt bound to return that plan also. The two plans which they presented were wholly at variance with the spirit and intent of the Act and with the plain intention of the Legislature. In the meantime I had desired Captain Burstal to point out to me the nearest points at which the sewage of the metropolis could be discharged without reflowing into the metropolitan area, and having received that Report from Captain Burstal I suggested to the Board that it would be desirable to have a conference. The conference took place on the 20th of November. I told them that Captain Burstal had reported to me that the nearest points at which the sewage could be discharged without returning with the tide to the metropolis was at Rain-ham Creek on the north, and one mile above the town of Erith on the south; and that if they submitted plans having those outfalls I should be satisfied, so far as the points of outfall were concerned, inasmuch as it would meet the provisions of the statute and the actual requirements of the metropolis. It may be convenient that I should state to the House that Captain Burstal has such a thorough knowledge of the river that he has recently been selected as the most fitting person to hold the office of Secretary to the Thames conservancy instituted by the Act of last Session. On the 22nd of December, the Board presented to me a third plan, having outfalls at the points suggested by Captain Burstal, and, seeing that they had so far complied with the terms of the Act, I put myself in communication with some of the most eminent engineers in the kingdom. I selected Messrs. Simpson and Blackwell and Captain Galton to report upon the plan, and I gave directions to these gentlemen not only to consider the plan submitted to them, but to consider the whole subject, and if they could devise any scheme for the main drainage better calculated in their judgment to carry out the object to be attained they were to lay that scheme before me. That was on the 31st of December, 1856. I am anxious to lay the exact dates before the House, to show that not a single day's unnecessary delay has occurred in the office over which I have the honour to preside. On the 31st of July last, these gentlemen sent in their Report, and the same day I presented a copy of it to the House. I also sent a copy on the same day to the Metropolitan Board, and I told them that I hoped they would think the plan worth consideration, as it emanated from men so eminent in their profession, and I returned the plan of the Board as not approved. But my disapproval was not based on the ground that the outfalls were at the points indicated on the plan. On the 5th of last month, the Metropolitan Board directed their chairman, secretary, and engineer to wait upon me in regard to the plan of the three referees and the rejection of their last plan. The chairman stated that the Board principally objected to the scheme of the referees on three grounds:—1st. That the main sewers near the outfalls were not covered. 2nd. That the outfall was extended to Sea Reach, and, consequently, beyond the points indicated by Captain Burstal near Erith. 3rd. That the area of drainage was extended beyond the metropolis. I informed the deputation that I had sent the plan of the referees to the Metropolitan Board for their consideration, that I wished them to understand that I was not in any way committed or wedded to the plan, and with regard to the first objection, I stated that I quite agreed that it was desirable that the main sewer should be covered, and there was an end of that objection. With regard to the second, I said that the referees, considering Sea Reach to be the best point of outfall, had inserted it in their plan, and the Chairman of the Metropolitan Board so far acquiesced in this view of the case that he used the words, "it is impossible to deny that Sea Reach is the best point of outfall." With regard to the third objection, the difference between us was this, and I think the House will be of opinion that I am right:—By the Act it is de- clared that they shall make such sewers as will prevent the sewage from flowing or passing into the Thames in or near the metropolis; and what they contend for is, that when they have disposed of the sewage which is generated within the metropolitan area they have complied with that requirement, and that they are not hound to carry away the sewage created out of the metropolitan area, even though that sewage may actually pass through their sewers into the Thames. I say that that never could have been the intention of the Legislature or the true meaning of the Act, and that it is their duty to intercept all sewage which flows into the Thames within the area under their jurisdiction. In this way the matter stands, and I hope the House will be of opinion that I have properly exercised the powers which were intrusted to me. It now remains for the Board to submit to me another plan. I understand that the Board have appointed two engineers to assist their own engineer in preparing a plan, and I hope it may be of such a character that I shall be able to approve of it.


asked, whether it were true that the First Commissioner would not sanction any outfall within Sea Reach?


I am quite aware that such a report has been industriously circulated, but there is not one word of truth in it. I have stated that so far as the outfalls are concerned, I shall be satisfied if they make the outfalls at the points indicated by Captain Burstal. But when I was informed that if the Board attempted to make their outfalls at those points great opposition would be given them, I felt it to be my duty to inform the Board of the fact and to state to them that if they attempted to carry out the outfall near Erith they would have much opposition and perhaps some serious difficulties to overcome, but that was a matter for their consideration. If the Board are prepared to meet those difficulties, I shall leave them to be got over by the Board.

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