PLA Handbook 2017

PLA ThamesA busy river at the heart of a vibrant world city.

London. A world-class capital that is rapidly expanding; massive regeneration and construction projects under way; culture and heritage; iconic landmarks both historic and modern; a population forecast to exceed 10 million by 2030.

And threading its way through the centre of it all? The River Thames, ‘home’ to the UK’s second largest port and playing a critical part in the everyday and not-so-everyday lives of millions.

The Port of London handles more than 50 million tonnes of cargo carried on more than 10,000 commercial ship calls every year and the Thames is the UK’s busiest inland waterway. The port generates £6.4 billion GVA (gross value added) and total river-related employment is put at 140,000. River operators plan to invest £1 billion in their businesses over the next five years.

The PLA is responsible for navigational safety along the 95 miles of the tidal Thames, covering pilotage, Vessel Traffic Services, hydrographic surveying, dredging, river licensing, environmental services and a wide range of marine support services.

The Thames is the main logistics route for the Tideway project, which is set significantly to clean the river.

In terms of sheer drama, 2016 saw

1 The start of the biggest construction project in Europe – Tideway. The PLA continues to play a very substantial role in supporting, licensing and enabling the construction and sustainable progress of the ‘super-sewer’.

2 Construction of the biggest warehouse in the UK – the new Amazon fulfilment centre at Tilbury.

3 The arrival of one of the world’s largest ships, carrying a world record load of 18,601 teu, at DP World London Gateway – the 400-metre-long UASC vessel Al Muraykh.

The River Thames, ‘home’ to the UK’s second largest port and playing a critical part in the everyday and not-so-everyday lives of millions.

In terms of freight, diversity is the key. Across the 70 terminals and wharves on the Thames, the Port of 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 recyclables…and the list goes on.

But even against that variety there is so much more to this river (passenger services, sport, recreation, tourism, environment and heritage) and that was, and is, the headline message of the PLA’s Thames Vision. Launched in 2016 after a consultation exercise of massive proportions, the Thames Vision has been welcomed by all stakeholders and the PLA’s role as ‘Custodians of the Tidal Thames’ is now well established.

There has also been recognition for the Thames Vision in an award. In March 2016, the project won the Sir Henry Royce Award for transportation innovation, from the Worshipful Company of Carmen, the City livery company of the transport industry.

Completion of the Vision which set out a clear view of how river users see the Thames developing helped the PLA shape its new strategy around three broad themes...Protect, Improve and Promote.


Protect “Within ‘Protect’ is our ‘zero harm’ objective, encompassing navigational safety, health & safety, safe operations in terminals and wharves, environmental sustainability and air quality,” says Robin Mortimer, PLA chief executive.

The Port of London is the first UK port to offer a ‘Green Tariff’ for shipping, in the form of a 5% discount on port charges for vessels with lower emissions, effective from the start of 2017. In a move widely welcomed in the shipping industry and beyond, the PLA will offer the discount to ships with an Environmental Shipping Index (ESI) score of 30 or above.

“By introducing this discount, we are recognising and supporting ship owners that are committed to improving their environmental performance,” says Robin Mortimer. “We want to encourage faster adoption of new, green technologies by giving this added incentive. At the same time, we are carrying out in-depth work to establish the relative benefits of having freight on the river rather than the road in terms of emissions, and we are looking at the provision of shoreside power and the need to service hybrid vessels.”


“This area encompasses our role as investor and supporter of port operations. We are also focusing on making the PLA more efficient, more customer-friendly and easier to do business with,” he says.

Without a doubt, the big event under this heading for 2016 was the PLA’s acquisition of Peruvian Wharf in Newham, after a 17-year legal and planning battle. Protected since 1997 under the Mayor of London’s ‘safeguarding’ policy, Peruvian Wharf is ideally placed to service East London’s growth.

The PLA paid more than £3 million for the facility. A new access road will be built and the construction and building materials group Brett will develop an integrated terminal on site on a long-term lease. “This is expected to be operational by the third quarter of 2017,” says Robin Mortimer. “We fought long and hard to get Peruvian Wharf back into use. It is the first time we have had a Compulsory Purchase Order to acquire a site, and we are delighted that this new facility will enable more cargo handling on the river, keeping thousands of lorries off the capital’s roads.

“And we have a strong message here... expect more of this. Another target is Orchard Wharf in Tower Hamlets. We continue to explore every avenue for bringing Orchard Wharf back into active use as a freight wharf.”

Within the new strategy, the PLA is also looking to take a more proactive role by investing in port and river infrastructure.


“Our goal is to get the local authorities to buy into the Vision and to work with them,” says Robin Mortimer. “We already have a good partnership with Barking and Dagenham as they develop their plans for Barking Riverside. We are also working with others to promote tourism on the Thames.

“We are committed to encouraging sport and recreation on the Thames.” Robin Mortimer, PLA Chief Executive

“Sport and recreation are already significant on the river, and we are committed to encouraging, expanding and supporting activities. We have set up strategic links with Sport England and London Sport, and are working directly with many sporting bodies. We have also carried out an extensive survey about sport participation on the river to establish what is happening now and how the PLA can support more sport, recreation and leisure activities on and alongside the Thames.”

Sport on the ThamesIncreasing sport and recreation on the river is one of the Thames Vision goals.

Investments and developments

Along the tidal Thames, terminal and wharf operators continue to invest in new and improved facilities and equipment.

The Port of Tilbury has acquired the former Tilbury Power Station site, perfectly placed for a very significant expansion of port operations. Meanwhile Amazon’s new 2.2 million square foot fulfilment centre is taking shape and due to open in mid-2017.

DP World London Gateway is preparing to open its third berth. Supermarket group Lidl is to open a 187,000 square foot distribution centre at the London Gateway Logistics Park in February 2017.

In April 2016, Thames Oilport handled the first of a series of diesel shipments to be stored on site for Greenergy – the first fuel to come into the terminal since the closure of the Coryton Refinery. The development of Thames Oilport is being carried out in phases, with substantial new storage capacity being added.

Oikos Storage Ltd has received planning permission for the next phase of its development, to include a new jetty capable of receiving LR2 vessels up to 120,000 dwt and 14.5 metres draft; construction is expected to start in summer 2017. The plans also include rebuilding 12 tanks with a total capacity of 80,000 cubic metres and licensed for gasoline storage.

GPS Marine has ordered eight new barges to meet the ever-increasing demands of the river, particularly in serving the Tideway project. The new vessels are due to enter service between March 2017 and April 2018. River operators Livett’s and S Walsh are also investing in new vessels.

Thames Clippers is expanding its fleet, having ordered two new 170-capacity vessels to be built at the Wight Shipyard Company on the Isle of Wight, for delivery in summer 2017. This represents a £6.3 million investment for MBNA Thames Clippers, whose present fleet carried more than four million passengers – commuters and visitors – in 2016.

Surrey-based Land and Water Services was appointed by the PLA to operate the Rainham Silt Lagoons, which offer a new disposal facility for non-hazardous material dredged from the Thames and Medway. Land & Water is working with the RSPB, Natural England and the Environment Agency to safeguard the operational function of the site, improve its condition and maintain its SSSI status.

thames-oilportThames Oilport’s phased development saw the first cargoes unloaded in 2016.