Thames Vision... bigger, bolder and more optimistic

The PLA's Thames Vision has gathered momentum and continues to raise the profile of the river as a transport route, destination and attraction in its own right.

PLA Thames passenger tripsThe Thames Vision is for passenger trips on the river to double to 20 million

Some visions are launched with a fanfare and quickly fade out of sight. But the Thames Vision was launched with conviction, has gained momentum, and is now seeing action and delivery follow.

The result? The spotlight is on the River Thames as never before. And far from fading, the Thames Vision has become bigger, bolder and more optimistic, as private and public sector get behind its goals.

The Vision is a 20-year view of the river’s future and the first of its kind. It covers 95 miles of the tidal Thames and it sets out clearly the enormous opportunities for growth on and alongside the river and its importance for the wider growth of London, Kent, Essex and beyond.

Its goals include pushing the Port of London to the top of the UK ‘league table’ for volumes. But it goes much further than a simplistic view of cargo in/cargo out; this is about all elements of the river, including passenger transport, sport and recreation, environment and heritage, and community and culture.

The Vision is a 20-year view of the river’s future and the first of its kind. It covers 95 miles of the tidal Thames and it sets out clearly the enormous opportunities for growth

PLA visionTalking Thames – deputy mayor for transport, Val Shawcross CBE at the launch of the Thames & London Waterways Forum.

The momentum of the Vision has seen its principles embedded into the Mayor’s Transport Strategy and the London Plan; in parallel, the PLA has fed into the UK Port Connectivity Study. It has directly led to the creation of Port of London Infrastructure Group being formed; and it has prompted Communities and Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid to ask for a boat trip along the Thames to get a broad view of the river’s importance.

The PLA has broadly welcomed the new London Plan, which has reinforced the importance of industrial land in the heart of London. Alistair Gale, who leads on the Thames Vision for the PLA says, “You can’t have sustainable communities without mixed developments accommodating housing, jobs and recreation.”

As well as explaining the importance of the river to national government and industry, a key area is influencing the London boroughs. And in this, the approach has changed.

“Success for the river and port is about being proactive, especially on the wider goals. We are emphasising that the river is part of London, Kent and Essex. Yes, it is a boundary of sorts, but it is also an asset offering economic, social and environmental benefits, if we’re ready to seize them.”

The PLA lobbied hard in advance of the London Plan, particularly for protecting industrial land from residential development and for keeping the policy of safeguarding wharves. The fact that these two principles have now been embedded into the London Plan sets the tone for the boroughs, which can draw on the plan as they look at riverside development, says PLA planning and environment director, James Trimmer.

“Our job is to enable the boroughs to do what they need to do. The Thames Vision has raised the profile of the river and means boroughs want to get on board.” Meanwhile, the Thames and London Waterways Forum, of which the PLA is a member, is aligned with Vision goals such as...

1 Doubling the number of passenger journeys on the river
2 Increasing intra-port freight on the river
3 Attracting people to the river – for example, through greater use of the Thames Path

And the inclusion of the latter point is key. “The river isn’t just a transport route, it’s a destination and an attraction in its own right,” says Alistair Gale.

Indeed, a recent survey of visitors to the capital found that the river and parks of the capital are the third top attraction for people coming to London, higher even than museums and galleries. “As a result, this is now embedded into London tourism strategy – it is all about more people coming to enjoy the river. For example, initiatives such as the Illuminated Bridges project can create the demand from people who would like to go on the river in the evening.”

The Thames Vision goals … and progress reports

The busiest ever Port of London, handling 60-80 million tonnes of cargo a year. Volumes exceeded 50 million tonnes in 2016, for the first time since 2008. The vision now is of London becoming the UK’s busiest port in the near future.

More goods and materials routinely moved between wharves on the river, with more than 4 million tonnes carried by water, taking 400,000 lorry trips off the roads.
The baseline inland waterways freight tonnage is growing, with more than 3 million tonnes moved annually. The PLA and GLA’s safeguarding policy is working well to prevent valuable wharves being swallowed up by housing. Meanwhile, there are many discussions ongoing about using the river for more than the traditional waste and aggregates volumes.

“There are discussions about moving containerised and perishable items by barge – and that is partly because of the restrictions of the Low Emissions Zone, as well as congestion,” says James Trimmer. “There is a real change in attitudes; it is about exploring what is possible, and about access on and off the water.”

Double the number of people travelling by river – reaching 20 million commuter and tourist trips every year. Passenger numbers have remained steady since the launch of the Vision – and the PLA is working with Transport for London to develop new timetables. Meanwhile, the opening of the new Battersea Power Station Pier is a great example of a development incorporating the river as a key part of its transport plan – and the Thames Clipper services to/from the pier are proving extremely popular.

“TfL and the PLA, with the support of the Passenger Transport Group, are producing a pier strategy,” says harbour master (upper), Mark Towens. “We envisage the main growth in passengers to the east, because of the hundreds of thousands of new homes being built alongside that section of the river. It is about being proactive about where the piers are required and where they would realistically work as part of these developments. We could see ferry services out as far as Thamesmead, Purfleet and Gravesend.”

“Our job is to enable the boroughs to do what they need to do. The Thames Vision has raised the profile of the river and means boroughs want to get on board.” James Trimmer PLA planning and environment director

A riverside which is a magnet for ramblers, historians, artists and others. Culture, skills and education will all link into this goal, and the PLA is supporting the GLA in the development of a cultural strategy on the River Thames. Meanwhile, there has been good take-up of its new Thames app, which is targeted at the leisure user and provides information on tides, notices to mariners and contacts.

“There is also a strong theme of educating local children about the Thames – we fund Thames Explorer Trust, which is a free resource for schools and is being extended eastwards,” says Alistair Gale. The PLA also supports London Youth Rowing’s ‘Breaking Barriers’ project, which teaches youngsters rowing as well as workplace skills. “We sponsor some children on this project and it helps us to promote careers on the Thames as well.”

The provision of visitor moorings is also being examined; meetings were held with people who own and use moorings on the Thames, to establish whether there was a shortage, or whether they are in the wrong places, or whether people simple didn’t know they exist or where they are. As a result, the moorings and marinas have all been mapped and are clearly shown on the PLA website, and plans are being drawn up to promote their use more effectively.

Greater participation in sport and recreation on and alongside the water. Before any targets could be set, it was important to establish what was already going on. During 2017, the first ever survey of tidal Thames clubs was carried out by the PLA, working with London Sport, British Rowing, British Canoeing, the RYA and others. This survey identified 140 clubs on the tidal Thames and another 23 in basins/docks/ canals using the tidal Thames.

“Previously our role was making sure people were on the water safely – now we are actively encouraging greater participation on the river. We found out that there were more clubs than we realised – and about 19,000 participants,” says assistant harbour master (recreation) Darren Knight.

The target is to double the number of participants by growing capacity in existing clubs and by identifying where new clubs could be established, particularly in the east, where there is far less going on. As part of that, the London docks have been brought into the remit, as they offer an excellent place for beginners to learn.

A new group has been set up which brings all of the East London watersports providers together quarterly – enabling them to share equipment, coaches, information and financial experience, support each other with recruitment and volunteers, and help each other to expand. Meanwhile, the PLA is proactively working with developers to encourage the inclusion of facilities for watersports. “The rather old-fashioned idea of waiting for an application to come and seeing what it’s like, has changed to early conversations around ‘have you thought of’.”

Meanwhile, the Thames Path is about to become one of the UK’s longest inland trails. The England Coastal Path, funded by Natural England, will head inland to join up with the existing Thames Path. As a result, people will be able to walk the Thames Path ‘from source to sea’. The present Thames Path is 184 miles; it will be extended from the Thames Barrier to the Isle of Grain, so adding about 50 miles. The route of the extension will go out to consultation in 2018 – the new path is due for completion in 2019.

The cleanest River Thames since the Industrial Revolution, with improved habitats and awareness of heritage. The PLA’s ‘Green Tariff’, offering discounts to the most environmentally friendly vessels calling into the Port of London, has been widely praised and take-up has been strong. During 2017, the PLA became the first UK port to launch a draft Air Quality Strategy, based on the first ever port-wide emissions inventory carried out on the tidal Thames. In January 2018, the second annual Tidal Thames Environment & Heritage Conference was held.

PLA RowingSport and recreation focus – the Vision supports the This Girl Can campaign promoting greater female participation in sports.

During 2017, the first ever survey of tidal Thames clubs was carried out by the PLA, working with London Sport, British Rowing, British Canoeing, the RYA and others