Britons have a strange relationship with the toilet.
On the one hand it is something to be engaged with on a strictly private basis, but on the other a source of great entertainment (or ‘the focus of an entire culture’, to quote Baron von Richthofen in Blackadder).
But in London it is absolutely crucial we talk about it in a serious way because if we don’t we are heading for an unholy mess, in an all too literal sense.
We have a dirty secret in this city - a story that we shy away from telling – and that is where our effluent goes.
“We have a dirty secret in this city - a story that we shy away from telling”
When it rains, the overflows gush into the river leaving human waste floating along our iconic landscape. This happens on a near-weekly basis and it’s going to get worse.
Today the equivalent volume of eight billion lavatory flushes pollute the tidal section of the river in London every year.
As London continues to grow, an additional 600,000 properties will need to be built by 2030, and each of those homes will need at least one loo.
The system we have currently does not have the capacity to cope with the existing population, let alone support a growing city.
It was built in the 1850s to support four million people and the London population now numbers around 8.3m and growing fast.
This is why it is so important the government has granted planning permission for a £4bn London super sewer – the Thames Tideway Tunnel (TTT).
Reservations have been voiced about the cost for households, as well as the interruptions caused by its construction.
The government has accepted that there will be major disruption in certain places.
“Those who stand in the way of this mammoth task need to think about the consequences of inaction”
But it has also concluded TTT has solid plans to mitigate the interruption as much as possible and – crucially – that there aren’t any better options.
Those who stand in the way of this mammoth task need to think about the consequences of inaction for us and for future generations.
When you consider that enough sewage already discharges into the River Thames each year to fill the Albert Hall 450 times over, you’ll realise that those consequences stink.
Baroness Jo Valentine is chief executive of London First