In July 2016, the Thames Vision was officially launched.
This represented a turning point for the Port of London Authority, London, the Thames and everyone with a link, present or future, to the river.
Developed by the PLA after 18 months of research and consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, this is a Vision for the development of the Thames, in all its guises, over the next two decades.
Two hundred people gathered to witness the official launch; the six goals of the Thames Vision have the potential to impact on millions.
Thames Vision Goals...
The busiest ever Port of London, handling 60-80 million tonnes of cargo a year.
More goods and materials routinely moved between wharves on the river – over four million tonnes carried by water every year, taking 400,000 lorry trips off the roads.
Double the number of people travelling by river – reaching 20 million commuter and tourist trips every year.
A riverside which is a magnet for ramblers, historians, artists and others. l Greater participation in sport and recreation on and alongside the water.
The cleanest River Thames since the Industrial Revolution, with improved habitats and awareness of heritage.
“It is a shared vision – it is all about the stakeholders and communities along the river, both in its development and delivery.” Katherine Riggs Director of the Thames Vision project
Director of the Thames Vision is Katherine Riggs, who joined the PLA in 2015 having previously worked at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as head of strategy. She emphasises that this is a shared vision, not just a PLA project.
“The idea of the Thames Vision was very new for the PLA,” she says. “People welcomed our lead in this, as the PLA is the only body with responsibility all along the river. Now we have published the Vision, we are recognised as ‘custodians of the Thames’. However, we were very keen to take the project through in an open, consultative way. It is a shared vision – it is all about the stakeholders and communities along the river, both in its development and delivery.” The Vision project began with a very open question to stakeholders: what would you like to see over the next 20 years?
“What was fascinating and encouraging is that people want a living, working river with a variety of uses; that message came back very strongly,” she says. “It is about heritage as it has always been a working river. Yes, people want it cleaner and greener, but they also want it working.”
“The PLA is about serving sports and leisure as well as commercial vessels. There is a lot we can do to encourage the use of the river for sports and recreation.” Katherine Riggs Director of the Thames Vision.
What does Katherine Riggs hope to achieve for the river? “To get the Thames valued more as an asset and clearly on the map as such. For the first time ever, we are looking at the whole picture, both risks and opportunities. To a certain extent, the river has been overlooked in the past.
“The Vision is relevant to the communities that live alongside the river; new users of the river; those who walk on the towpath; those who enjoy cultural events along the river. Whether you work or row on the river or not, you still have a stake in the future of the Thames.”
The six goals for the next two decades are ‘consciously aspirational’, she says. “Within the goals we have 27 priority actions and they vary enormously, from sustaining private investment and delivering harbour services to very specific things we need to do to create momentum, such as reactivating wharves. It is about moving from being reactive to proactive. The Vision has set out what we want to happen – to make more use of the river.”
A key target now is to work with the Mayor of London and his team to get the Thames Vision included in the new London Plan. “We are delighted to see that the Deputy Mayor for Transport, Val Shawcross, is fully on board with the whole Vision. We are also lobbying for the River Concordat to be extended to include a freight target as well as passengers.”
An early outcome of the Thames Vision was to organise the first Tidal Thames Environment & Heritage Conference at the Museum of London in January 2017, with topics up for discussion ranging from biodiversity and water quality to green tugs, solar panels and hybrid vessels, all designed to create the momentum for greener port activity.
The Port of London is the UK’s second biggest port. The PLA has set up a new Port of London Infrastructure Group which will meet twice a year to discuss road, rail and other infrastructure needs to influence decisions that affect the Port and its strategic direction.
Just a week after the launch of the Thames Vision, Lord Heseltine and members of the Thames Estuary 2050 Growth Commission took a fact-finding trip on the river with the PLA, from Tower Pier all the way down to the Port of Tilbury and London Gateway. The formation of the Growth Commission was announced in the March 2016 Budget; its task is to develop a vision and delivery plan for North Kent, South Essex and East London, reporting back in autumn 2017.
“Because of the Thames Vision, we were able to invite Lord Heseltine and the Commission out on the river so they could see most of the Thames port area,” says Katherine Riggs. “This helped promote the port and Thames-side industries as part of the Growth Commission.”
Passenger transport is also being actively promoted. For example, the new pier at Battersea Power Station will open in 2017 – well before the Northern Line extension. “This means that the pier is used first, so people get into the habit of travelling by boat.”
“We’re working with TfL and operators to develop a long-term pier strategy, looking strategically at where current piers are and how they are managed. Looking too at the potential for new piers”.
Through the Thames Vision, the PLA has set up new strategic links with Sport England and London Sport, and is working directly with the Royal Yachting Association, British Rowing and British Canoeing, amongst others.
“We are working with these organisations to see what sport is happening on the river, who uses it, how do we get more people to use what is already available, and how we can get more capacity on the river,” says Katherine Riggs.
“We have done a baseline study of approximately 120 sports clubs on the river, to establish their membership, what they do, how they could grow and how we could help. We have had a great response and that’s important, because the PLA is about serving sports and leisure as well as commercial vessels. There is a lot we can do to encourage the use of the river for sports and recreation.”