The port authority that likes to say ‘yes’

The PLA team takes a proactive approach, whether it’s supporting a film crew or working to minimise disruption from major works on the river.

From the dramatic to the downright daft – and everything in between. The iconic backdrop of the River Thames is in demand, for films, stunts, projects, and promotions, and nothing surprises the team overseeing the ‘middle’ district of the tidal Thames.

In 2017, the river welcomed Peter Rabbit, the world’s largest beachball and a record-breaking motorbike backflip, and that’s quite apart from the more ‘traditional’ work such as supporting the Thames Tideway Tunnel project and minimising its impact on other river users, or advising and overseeing plans for new piers and a new river crossing.

PLA bk flipBack flip – stunt rider Travis Pastrana jumping between barges floating on the Thames.

“A lot of our work is supporting and enabling – to see how it can happen, rather than why it can’t happen,” says Mark Towens, harbour master (upper). “Instead of ‘the regulator says no’, it is ‘the regulator says – not that, but how about this?’

“During 2017, we coordinated filming of the new Peter Rabbit film; a large production Hollywood movie is scheduled for filming on the Thames in early 2018. In March 2017, we supported the Baywatch world record beach ball team – the ball was loaded on to a barge and towed to the London Eye, where it was inflated and was measured by the Guinness World Record officials.”

In October 2017, the American stuntman Travis Pastrana performed a recordbreaking motorcycle backflip between two barges 75 feet apart in the river. The PLA advised and worked with the promotors and marine contractors Livett’s Launches to ensure the stunt could be carried out safely.

Such events grab the headlines, of course, but the day-to-day work of the middle district team is equally demanding.

“Most of the works for the Tideway project are now up and running – there are construction sites up and down the river and large numbers of crane barges on site,” says Mark Towens. “Large parts of the river are sometimes cordoned off and there is a lot of equipment and of course that creates challenges.

“It is a case of working around it – supporting the project and supporting other users. We have a number of staff recruited for this project. Of course there is disruption – you can’t have this amount of work going on and expect everything to be the same. But each phase of the project has to be consented and at each stage we are looking to minimise the impact on river users.”

Through a specially created Tideway forum, the PLA meets with passenger and freight operators regularly to discuss work over the next six months, so that any issues can be raised and discussed.

Pier developments

The new Battersea Power Station pier opened towards the end of 2017 and quickly proved popular for passengers.

“It has enabled an additional stop on the west London river boat service from central London to Putney, while the main service from Woolwich through to Westminster has been extended to run to Battersea in the mornings and evenings. We are expecting significant growth from that pier over the coming months.”

Meanwhile, the team is working with the private developers of new piers in a number of locations, including at Ordnance Wharf (near the O2), New Providence Wharf (opposite the O2) and Royal Wharf Pier (just above the Thames Barrier).

“The focus is particularly on pre-application work, so that once a project gets to the planning application stage, it is quite straightforward,” says Mark Towens. “We take a proactive approach so that the developers understand our requirements at an early stage. We want to work with developers to provide new piers that will support increased use of the river.”

The PLA has also been working with Transport for London on a new crossing between Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf.

Illuminated bridges

The Illuminated River project will see pedestrian, road and rail bridges lit up in central London, creating a unique night time spectacle. The PLA has worked closely with the promoters of this project and the first bridge is due to be ‘switched on’ at the end of 2018. The project has been described by London Mayor Sadiq Khan as a wonderful celebration of the River Thames.

Terror attacks

The PLA was part of the emergency response to the Westminster Bridge and London Bridge terror attacks. “We had a role in closing the river and supporting the police,” says Mark Towens.

“Since then, we have undertaken a capability demonstration for the Mayor and heads of the emergency services. This was a multi-partner demonstration of collaboration and partnership work, involving simulated rescue. The PLA is a vital part of the response to emergencies and works with the other authorities to ensure we are all prepared.”

London cruise plans

London City Cruise Port is an ambitious project to create the first dedicated cruise terminal in central London, designed to accommodate medium-size cruise ships from around the world.

Its location on the Thames will be a major attraction – equidistant between the Maritime Greenwich UNESCO World Heritage Site and Greenwich Peninsula, with easy access to Canary Wharf and the O2 arena.

“This will be the first central, dedicated alongside cruise facility in London, and would be complementary to the PLA’s existing cruise moorings,” says Kate O’Hara, CEO, London City Cruise Port.

PLA cruise terminal proposalLooking to the future – computer generated image of London City Cruise Port.

Passengers will disembark to a newly redeveloped area, Enderby Place, fittingly named after Samuel Enderby, a maritime explorer. This will feature residential accommodation, a sympathetic redevelopment of Enderby House and increased public space, with a riverside park and viewing deck.

“London City Cruise Port will give visitors a world-class welcome in close proximity to major maritime, cultural and historic attractions,” says Kate O’Hara. “It is well served by an established transport network of riverboat services and London Underground, Docklands Light Railway and National Rail stations to the centre of London, and all London airports are nearby. A river bus service will run from the site, offering both scheduled and charter services.

An economic assessment report forecasts that the terminal will create 364 jobs per year during the construction phase and 88 new jobs when it opens, plus 432 jobs across the wider economy as a result of income from passenger and crew spend.

Accommodating vessels up to 230 metres long and 8 metres draft, the terminal is likely to open in 2020 or 2021. “This will be a landmark development for the city, with the port being considered another entry and exit point for visitors to London.”