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River Thames Development and Works Enquiries

Introduction

If you are proposing to undertake work in, on, under or over the tidal River Thames a number of consents and/or licences may be required from the Port of London Authority (PLA).  These could take many forms and could include:

In addition, planning permission may be required from the local planning authority for the works and the PLA is a consultee in the planning process.

It is therefore important that early discussions take place with the PLA about any works that are proposed.  To assist this, the PLA provides free initial advice in response to any preliminary enquiries about proposed developments but the PLA reserves the right to charge for substantive and intensive pre-application discussions.  Please note any response provided by the PLA will be an officer's initial view based on the information provided and as such must not be regarded as definitive.

PLA Advice on River Works on the Tidal River Thames

“River Works” are defined by the Port of London Authority Act 1968 as works of any nature whatever in, under or over the River Thames.

Objective
To guide the licensing of river works on the tidal River Thames and within its associated creeks, so as to ensure that any works do not interfere with safe navigation or adversely affect the river regime, and are compatible with other activities on and along the tidal river and its tributaries.

Synopsis
It is appropriate that the PLA should provide greater certainty to developers and other stakeholders by outlining how it will approach the licensing of works generally. This approach is intended to be used as guidance for the PLA’s Licensing Committee and will as such supplement the existing decision-making framework contained within the 1968 Act.

Approach
Although every application for any development, residential or otherwise, on the River Thames submitted to the PLA for consent under Section 66 of the 1968 Act will be considered on its merits, the PLA will have particular regard to the following three issues in its decision-making.

Navigational Safety

  • Whether, on the evidence presented and in the reasonable view of the relevant Harbour Master, the proposed works represents a navigational hazard. As a rule, no new works will be permitted to extend into, or interfere in any way with the main navigational or, where applicable, any recreational vessel channel.
  • Whether, on the evidence presented and in the reasonable view of the relevant Harbour Master, the proposed works will be deleteriously affected by wash from passing vessels, or interact adversely with other existing works.
  • Whether, on the evidence presented and in the reasonable view of the relevant Harbour Master, the proposed works are likely to interfere with commercial and recreational river users.

If the answer to any of the three questions above is in the affirmative, then it is very likely that PLA Officers will recommend the application be refused.

Environment

Assuming, however, that the works are acceptable from the point of view of navigational safety, then the PLA will consider whether, on the evidence presented and in the reasonable view of the Manager with environmental responsibilities, the proposed works will have a deleterious effect on the river’s hydrology, environment, ecology, or archaeology.

If the answer to this issue is in the affirmative, then it is very likely that PLA Officers will recommend the application be refused, unless appropriate mitigation measures are put in place.

Planning

Finally, the PLA will have regard to the following issues in its decision-making:

  • Whether, on the evidence presented, the proposed works are appropriate to its surroundings, and complies with any relevant published plans for the development of the area.
  • Whether, on the evidence presented, the proposed works relates specifically to the river and so requires a waterside location.
  • For moorings - whether, on the evidence presented, any mooring, servicing and access arrangements are appropriate for local river conditions and fully accord with all relevant legislation and current best practice.

Procedure

  1. Requests for initial advice should be submitted electronically via this Enquiry Form
  2. Internal consultation will then be undertaken with relevant PLA departments
  3. Responses will be collated and a written response provided

The PLA will aim to respond to all initial enquiries within 4 weeks of receiving sufficient information to assess a proposal.  If it is not possible to provide a response within this time, the applicant will be advised in writing and will be provided with an alternative date by which the PLA will aim to respond.  

Studies Required

A number of studies may need to be carried out in order to enable a full assessment of any proposed development.  When responding to an initial development enquiry the PLA will set out the studies which it considers will be required.  A guide to the types of studies which may be required can be found here.

Other Permissions/Consents 

In addition to any consents and/or licences that are required from the PLA, it may be necessary to obtain permission or consent from a number of other organisations.  Sufficient time should be allocated for obtaining these and developers may wish to obtain any other permissions or consents concurrently with the required PLA consents and/or licences.  A list of the other permissions or consents that may be required can be found by clicking here

General Issues

River Related Uses

Under Section 5(1) of the Port of London Act 1968 (as amended) it is the "duty of the Port Authority to take such action as they consider necessary or desirable for or incidental to the improvement and conservancy of the Thames."  As such, the PLA believes that works which are proposed on, under or over the Thames should have a river related use and that the River should not be regarded or used as an extension of developable land.

Safeguarded Wharves

There are 50 wharves in London which are currently safeguarded by Ministerial Direction.  25 are located downstream and 25 upstream of the Thames Barrier.  Policy 7.26 of the London Plan (2011) protects safeguarded wharves for cargo-handling uses and any development next to or opposite safeguarded wharves should be designed to minimise the potential for conflicts of use and disturbance.  Policy 7.26 of the London Plan makes it clear that the redevelopment of safeguarded wharves should only be accepted if the wharf is no longer viable or capable of being made viable for cargo handling.

Full details of the wharves which are safeguarded can be found in the London Plan Implementation Report Safeguarded Wharves on the River Thames (2005) (opens in a new window).

Residential Moorings

All residential moorings on the tidal Thames are privately operated. The PLA does not itself operate any residential moorings. 

Should you wish to have a residential mooring you will need to contact the operators of licensed residential moorings to see if there are any vacancies. It should be noted that demand far outstrips the number of moorings available.

There are also areas of water in the London area which are not on the tidal Thames (and thus outside the PLA area) where there are also residential moorings.  Examples include the inland waterway (canal) network and the non-tidal Thames above Teddington Lock.

There are also some privately run 'marinas' just off the main tidal river which may have some residential moorings.
 
Information on certain types of mooring on the tidal Thames can be found under "Moorings" on this website.

If you are looking to live on a vessel on the tidal Thames, it will need to be part of a licensed works with planning permission with safe access to your craft 24/7 (the Thames in London is very tidal and rises and falls by up to 7 metres). You will also need to be 'plumbed in' safely for electricity, water, and sewage. (It is not permitted to discharge raw sewage into the Thames from a residential houseboat)     

Should you be successful in locating a residential mooring it is absolutely essential that you check that there are appropriate local authority planning permissions in place in addition to the appropriate PLA consents and/or licences.

It is possible to apply for a River Works Licence to put in a residential mooring provided that a suitable location is found, the permission of the riparian landowner is given and all of the necessary consents are obtained. Further guidance on the PLA's approach to residential moorings can be found here.

Common Misconceptions

There are a number of common misconceptions relating to PLA consents and licences.  If you wish to undertake work on, under or over the River Thames please note that the following criteria apply:

Ownership and Navigational Jurisdiction

  • Where the PLA is responsible for navigation and owns the riverbed, a River Works Licence or a temporary works consent is required from the PLA.
  • Where the PLA is responsible for navigation but does not own the riverbed, a navigation only licence is required from the PLA
  • Where the PLA owns the land but is not responsible for navigation, Estates Department consent is required from the PLA.  

Further information about land ownership and whether a licence or consent is required can be obtained on request.

Timescales

  • It takes a minimum of 3 months to process a River Works Licence
  • It takes a minimum of 4 weeks for a temporary works consent
  • It takes a minimum of 3 months to process an estates department consent
  • If a Notice to Mariners is required works cannot start for 3 weeks from the publication of the Notice 

Surveying, Sampling and Dredging

  • Consent is required to undertake surveying and sampling – details should be provided at least 4 weeks in advance of the intended surveying/sampling date.  The PLA will not accept applications for surveying and sampling on the day that it is due to be undertaken
  • Dredging includes any operation to cleanse, scour, cut, deepen, widen, dredge or take up or remove material from the bed and banks of the River Thames.

Wash

  • Any infrastructure built on or by the River must be constructed to withstand wash
  • The PLA is committed to promoting both freight and passenger transport on the river; consent will only be given to those works that can show that they are appropriate to the prevailing conditions and sufficiently robust to withstand significant wash

Vessel Licensing

  • Any commercial vessels (tugs, standby boats, crane barges etc) required to support works on or over the River need to be licensed by the PLA or other appropriate navigation authority for operation in Category C or D waters.  Developers and contractors should discuss any vessel licensing matters with the PLA’s Marine Surveyor

Further Information/Contacts

Further information can be obtained from:

Planning Officer
Port of London Authority
London River House, Royal Pier Road, Gravesend, Kent DA12 2BG.
Telephone 01474 562384 or Fax 01474 562398 or use this Enquiry Form