As terminal and wharf operators continue to invest in facilities and equipment, the Port of London has its sights on being the UK’s busiest port once again

The Thames – a river home to many usesThe Thames – a river home to many uses

Sometimes the best way to understand a river is to cross it.

And whether you are taking in the view from the soon-to-be Illuminated Bridges of central London, or from the passenger seat as you are driven over the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge at Dartford, those views tell the same story. It’s a story of investment, growth, development, confidence, opportunity. It’s a story of safety, quality, service, efficiency and ambition. It’s a story that deserves illuminating!

As cargo volumes continue to climb, the Port of London is looking at the prospect of reclaiming the title of the UK’s busiest port. Terminal and wharf operators along the tidal Thames are investing in new and improved facilities and equipment, and they are welcoming new and expanded shipping services.

As cargo volumes continue to climb, the Port of London is edging closer to reclaiming the title of the UK’s busiest port

Logistics operators are looking to the water for smart distribution solutions. Awareness is growing of just what the river can offer.

For stakeholders all along the river, the Port of London Authority’s Thames Vision has provided a new focus and direction, and there is a clear sense of the great opportunities that lie ahead.

“We are seeing major growth in volumes,” says PLA CEO Robin Mortimer. “We handled over 53 million tonnes of cargo in 2018 – you have to look back to the early 2000s when we were last at that level. If we continue to grow at this rate, we will be able to contend for the title of the UK’s biggest port, a position we last held in 1999.”

The past year has seen a phenomenal rise in volumes at DP World London Gateway; significant growth is also starting to flow at the Shell and OIKOS terminals following some major investments; and once consented, Tilbury2 will add a huge new extension to the Port of Tilbury, meeting growing demand for facilities on the Thames.

There has also been incredible success in building intra-port freight. The two years since the Vision launch saw a 40% surge in the underlying volume of freight moved between wharves on the Thames, removing thousands of lorries from the capital’s roads.

Naturally, it is substantial growth that takes the headlines; but, says Robin Mortimer, the statistics are only part of the picture.

“Alongside this success, we have concentrated on, and achieved, a continued improvement in safety – we have seen fewer navigational incidents on the river, despite the volumes increasing.

“Meanwhile, again alongside the growth, we have taken up the challenge of meeting demand for pilotage. We have cracked the problems we had in 2017 with delays and our service levels reached 98% in in the final quarter of 2018.

“We have been recruiting 12 pilots a year for three years and those trainees are advancing through the system. Our new working practices have replaced systems that were decades old and our pilot allocation system has delivered exceptional results. The combination of all these brought us to the 98% level of
service. We are not quite there, but we are getting there. We have had good feedback and we are still on track.”

Inland freight has been a particular focus and success story for London – reflecting years of unstinting work by the PLA and vindicating the Mayor of London’s safeguarding policy for strategically placed wharves along the Thames.

Peruvian Wharf, purchased by the PLA after an extremely lengthy legal battle, will begin operations once again in 2019 with the opening of the Brett Group’s aggregate terminal. “We are trying to get hold of and reactivate further wharves to unlock freight development – that is a key priority,” says Robin Mortimer.

The PLA has also pushed forward with its green policies, becoming the first port in the UK to publish an Air Quality Strategy, strengthening the evidence base by undertaking monitoring, working to get more technology in place to improve vessel efficiency and reduce emissions, and doubling the port rates discount offered by its Green Tariff for greener, cleaner ships using the Port of London.

“We in isolation are not going to revolutionise shipping – but if enough ports provide an incentive as we do, it would be hoped that shipowners would be encouraged to renew their fleets more quickly and that they would choose to send their cleaner ships into ports,” says Robin Mortimer.

“We welcome the fact that the Environmental Shipping Index has been really established as the preferred way to measure clean ships. It has become the standard global measure and that gives us clarity and the ability to drive this forward.”

Infrastructure is always an issue for port operations, and that was highlighted in research carried out for the UK Government’s recent Port Connectivity Study.

In 2017, the PLA led the launch of the Port of London Infrastructure Group, which brings together representatives of the 70 ports and terminals on the Thames and the bodies that influence the port’s success, including the Greater London Authority (GLA), Department for Transport, Transport for London, Highways England, Network Rail and the local authorities.

“Other ports have been quite successful in lobbying for the infrastructure they need but our footprint, by its nature, is ‘long and thin’, so this is more of a challenge,” says PLA CEO Robin Mortimer. “The idea of this group is to bring together all parties to consider what the Port of London needs. It has enabled us to focus on the upgrading of the A13, the Lower Thames Crossing, Crossrail 2 and other major developments which could strategically benefit what will shortly be the biggest port in the UK.”

Digital connections are as vital as physical ones. As well as automation of pilot allocation, the PLA has forged ahead with digital advances such as moving to electronic billing and introducing a new ERP system. More e-communication with customers is on the agenda.

Trusting in a Trust Port

No shareholders seeking short-term returns; profits invested back into the business for the benefit of all stakeholders; a strong focus on being a good citizen; a commitment to work for the whole community: these are just some of the advantages of the PLA’s ‘Trust Port’ status.

Trust Ports, the way they work and their legal standing are often poorly understood, and the model has come under the microscope at the Department for Transport numerous times over the past two decades. In essence...
Trust Ports are independent statutory bodies, each governed by their own statutes and controlled by an independent board.
Do not pay any dividends; financial surpluses are reinvested for the benefit of river users and other stakeholders.
The Thames Vision is a perfect match with the PLA’s Trust Port priorities.


Vessels readying to depart the ExCel Exhibition CentrePLA pilotage service – benefiting from continued investment

Lighting up

The Illuminated River project will incorporate 15 bridges from Albert Bridge to Tower Bridge. The first phase of what will be the longest public art commission in the world is due for completion in 2019, when the first bridge will be switched on.

Volumes up

The Port of London handled over 53 million tonnes of cargo in 2018. That cargo is vital to the daily lives of millions of people. The huge variety of cargoes handled across 70 terminals and wharves on the tidal Thames means it is difficult to find something that is NOT passing over the quaysides. London handles oil, fuel, chemicals, cars, engines, machinery, vegetable oil, sugar, wine, fresh produce, cocoa, coffee, paper and forest products, cement, steel, construction materials, grain, animal feed, clothes, consumer goods, waste and recyclates.

Pilots up

The PLA now has a total of 102 pilots: 82 sea pilots, 16 river pilots and four trainees. This follows recruitment of 12 pilots a year for the past two years – another 12 will be recruited in 2019.

PLA – in summary

The PLA is responsible for navigational safety along 95 miles of the tidal Thames, providing pilotage, Vessel Traffic Services, hydrographic surveying, dredging, river works and vessel licensing, environmental services and a wide range of marine services, as well as promoting the use of the river.

Employment and expansion

The Port of London generates £6.4 billion GVA (gross value added) and total river-related employment exceeds 140,000. River operators plan to invest more than £1 billion in their businesses over the next five years.

Colours worth signing up for…

Red... The PLA has continued with its Red Tape Challenge, designed to reduce and simplify its rules and regulations.
Green... The PLA’s Green Tariff offers cleaner ships a discount on port charges – and the discount has been increased from 5% to 10%.
Brown... DP World London Gateway, now one of the world’s fastest-growing ports, was built on brownfield land at the former Shell Haven oil refinery.

Stakeholder engagement – at the heart of a busy Trust Port.Stakeholder engagement – at the heart of a busy Trust Port.