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Thames Vision 2050: Stakeholder Engagement

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The Thames is central to the life of the country, region and city. A major generator of economic activity, it is home to the UK’s biggest port, busiest inland waterway and a draw for leisure and cultural activities.

We launched Thames Vision 2035, the first framework for growth across the tidal Thames, in 2016. Five years on, working with partners, much has been achieved but much has changed too. This includes the accelerated pace in the response to climate change, Britain’s exit from the European Union, the impact of the pandemic, changing patterns of consumption and rapid evolution in technology. The river can play a central role in London’s recovery and future direction, with strong development and growth across the estuary.

Through 2021 we will be engaging and consulting as we develop a refreshed Thames Vision, looking out to 2050. This initial engagement is to gauge stakeholders’ views on priorities for the future of the Thames and the steps that should be taken in realising long-term ambitions. As a Trust Port, we work to hand on the Thames in a better condition to future generations.

What’s changed since Thames Vision 2035 launched?

The shock of the COVID pandemic affected all our lives and put the importance of resilient port operations in sharper focus. Whilst the impact of restrictions on some river operations may be short lived, the pandemic may have instigated and accelerated societal and economic change, creating opportunity and challenge for river operations.

The decision for Britain to leave the EU in 2016 creates new trading opportunities and will see new legislation developed in place of EU regulations. The success of the Thames Freeport bid and nature of the major terminals on the Thames places the Port of London in a strong position to harness the opportunities arising; research into the port’s economic impact found that £900 million of new investment is planned over the next five years.

The UK Government legislated in 2019 to update its greenhouse gas reduction target to Net Zero by 2050. The Marine Environment Protection Committee approved the acceleration of the International Maritime Organisation’s greenhouse gas strategy and the Department for Transport (DfT) published the Clean Maritime Plan and guidance on Port Air Quality Studies.

This, in addition to the wider climate change movement, places the Port of London Authority (PLA) Air Quality Strategy centre stage for sustainable growth on the Thames. The 2020 Environment Bill also sets out new legal frameworks for air pollution, water quality and nature conservation and the Committee on Climate Change has produced the Sixth Carbon Budget, setting a path to Net Zero that is now enshrined in law.

The Government’s policy, Maritime 2050 – Navigating the Future (2019) sets out the following priorities:

  • Leading the way in taking action on clean maritime growth
  • Setting the pace in maritime innovation
  • Developing an increasingly diverse maritime workforce
  • Supporting continued multi-billion-pound commercial investment in maritime infrastructure

This is built on seven high level themes: the UK’s competitive advantage, environment, infrastructure, people, security, technology and trade – including the promotion of Innovation Hubs and Smart Ports, with digitisation and automation to improve navigation and the efficiency of port processes.

The Thames Vision itself also delivered substantial change on the river, which is captured in the first Five-Year Progress Review. The Review reflects  substantial PLA investment in improving our pilotage service levels (a key port service) and other stakeholder investments, bringing safeguarded wharves back into use and habitat improvements. Over the same period, safety on the river, fundamental for long-term growth in river use, continued to improve.

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Opportunities and challenges

Taking account of the changes set out above, the following factors present specific opportunities and challenges for the port and river:

  • Net Zero transition, with:
    • evolution of cargoes
    • adoption of new lower carbon technologies and changes to ships/vessels energy demand and supply infrastructure
    • a role for the Thames in supporting changes to energy demand and supply for the wider economy and society
  • Developments in ship technology leading, over time, to the introduction of semi or wholly autonomous vessels
  • Big data facilitating change in ship operations management and risk management
  • London, like other cities transforming post-COVID, with more agile working leading to less busy urban centres and potentially increased demand for diverse amenities in local areas along the estuary
  • Logistics operations’ responses to changing patterns of consumption and policy measures
  • The ongoing need to create and deliver wealth creation and opportunity, through skills development, technological development and innovation
  • Ensuring fair access to water space, education, cultural and leisure opportunities and jobs
  • Recognition of the importance of water for mental health and wellbeing
  • A community voice in the management of public assets

Post-pandemic recovery

The Mayor of London has established the London Recovery Board with London Councils, bringing together leaders from across London’s government, business and civil society, as well as the health and education sectors, trade unions and the police, to oversee the recovery effort.

It has developed Recovery Missions to deliver on its aims, which are to:

  • Reverse the pattern of rising unemployment and lost economic growth caused by the economic scarring of COVID 19
  • Support our communities, including those most impacted by the virus
  • Help young people to flourish with access to support and opportunities
  • Narrow social, economic and health inequalities
  • Accelerate delivery of a cleaner, greener London

The Thames can support recovery aims through wellbeing, tourism and the role it can play in a green recovery. The London Recovery Marketing and Reactivation Steering Group is looking at a range of campaigns and reactivation events through London & Partners and Greater London Authority (GLA), through which the Thames can play a part. This is one of the areas where we are working with the GLA and Transport for London (TfL) through the Thames and London Waterways Forum, which is focused on enabling greater and beneficial river use.

Shared strategic objectives

The Thames can play a central role in meeting wider economic, social and environmental objectives.  We work with the GLA and TfL on shared priorities, coming together through the Thames and London Waterways Forum.  The Thames Vision priorities feature in the London Plan, Mayor's Transport Strategy and Environment Strategy; river use is referenced in more than 90% of local authority Local Plans, strategies and policy documents.

We are key partners of the Thames Estuary Growth Board, launched by Government in late 2019 to drive the beneficial development of the Estuary as the UK’s number one growth opportunity.   The Board’s Plan, The Green Blue, aims to maximise the benefits, potential and opportunities of the Thames, the land, communities, places and businesses that are bound to it.  We leverage our maritime, planning and environmental expertise on the river in support of the Board's work.

The Green Blue Action Plan centres on:

  • Delivering growth
  • Using the Thames to its potential
  • Improving infrastructure
  • Building partnerships
  • Going greener

With the Green Blue targeting areas of common cause to the Thames Vision, our refreshed Vision out to 2050 will be complementary. For example, we already work closely together on the drive to develop hydrogen infrastructure in the Estuary, with the PLA focused on the maritime aspects and needs; the Board focusing on the network and links out to the wider economy.

We will continue close co-ordination and joint working with strategic partners, as well as the range of operational stakeholders.

An updated framework for the future of the Thames

The ambitions that will feature in a refreshed Thames Vision will be shaped through this initial phase of stakeholder engagement. The overarching aim is for Thames Vision 2050 to achieve sustainable development across economic, social and environmental objectives, balancing growth. We will assess the draft Vision against the UN Sustainable Development Goals (https://sdgs.un.org/goals).

In shaping the initial thinking, we convened an expert panel including representatives from Harvard University, Exeter University, Resilience Shift, Lloyd’s Register and The Business of Cities to discuss the major drivers set to influence development of the Thames between now and 2050. Early input from the expert panel focussed on sustainable development objectives including:

  • Social – equitable access to opportunity, including work, leisure and wellbeing;
  • Economic – need for wealth creation to support opportunity, including jobs;
  • Environmental – emissions reduction, climate resilience and water quality, including litter reduction and improving biodiversity

Four main building blocks for successful sustainable development on the Thames were also highlighted: technological innovation, skills development, infrastructure and safety. These align with Maritime 2050 and may provide key categories for action to achieve the sustainable development objectives.

The sustainable development objectives will be achieved by harnessing opportunities through PLA and stakeholder action. The building blocks are included as key action categories for consideration by respondents as they relate to the main uses and role of the port and river:

  • Port trade – for example, technological innovation or skills development required for clean, smart operations
  • Freight and passenger transport and logistics – for example, the wharf and pier infrastructure required to accommodate movements
  • Leisure activities, including sport, culture – for example, the safety measures required for activities that promote wellbeing

About this initial engagement

In this initial engagement phase we want to hear from you about the future development of the Thames in light of the context and emerging framework set out in this document. The simplest way to do this is by completing the online survey in the box below. The initial phase closes at noon on Wednesday, 14 July; please let us have your feedback by then.

Engagement events

We will also be running a series of public events to hear from people interested in the future of the river and development of Thames 2050. To see the list of events, and register, click here.

Thames Vision 2050 development

The programme for working up a draft Thames Vision will run through 2021 and conclude early in 2022.

After this initial phase of stakeholder engagement, we will develop a draft Thames Vision 2050. This will be issued for consultation in the Autumn.

The final version of Thames Vision 2050 will be reviewed and refined in light of comment and feedback, before it is released in early Spring 2022.


On the Thames Vision section of our website we have a range of background materials which you may find of interest in considering your response to this consultation. They include:

Further data will be added to the Thames Vision area of our website over the coming months, including the findings of a sports participation study, completed in partnership with London Sport.

How to get in touch

We welcome feedback on these questions via:

  • Email: thamesvision@pla.co.uk
  • Post: Thames Vision Consultation, Port of London Authority, Pinnacle House, 23-26 St Dunstan's Hill, London, EC3R 8HN

Closing date

This initial phase of engagement will conclude at 12 noon on Wednesday, 14 July.