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Thames Vision Engagement Events

The original Thames Vision 2035 was developed with the extensive involvement of stakeholders. We are engaging with our Thames and wider communities now, as we work to create a strategy out to 2050, moving the tidal Thames and Port of London to a sustainable future.

We held three events during the initial engagement around development of Thames Vision 2050.

Global factors influencing the future of the tidal Thames

Tuesday 29 June, 2.00 pm, online

Reporting on: “Thames Vision 2050 – Global Trends” webinar.

Five years after the original Thames Vision was published in 2016, and against a background of enormous change, the Port of London Authority (PLA) is taking a fresh look at the river, the Port and the future in order to deliver a new Vision 2050.

This is a collective effort – all those involved in the River Thames, whether for work or leisure, for living or visiting, have a stake in its future. The PLA is consulting widely and seeking input from all stakeholders.

On 29 June 2021, for the second of two webinars being held in the PLA’s engagement phase for the Thames Vision, a panel of leading experts considered the global factors that will influence the future of the tidal Thames.

The speakers were: Ed Glaeser, professor of urban economics at Harvard University; Juliet Mian, technical director of the Resilience Shift; Emma Page head of sustainability at the Exeter University; and Joe Borg, marine and offshore UKI commercial manager at Lloyd’s Register.

Introducing the panel, moderator Tim Moonen noted how many factors there were to consider when thinking about London and the role of the river – from the impact of the pandemic to technology, skills, sustainability and the way the river can bring people together.

Professor Ed Glaeser

“The downside of globalisation is that we are also vulnerable to things that travel across oceans and continents – globalisation doesn’t just bring ideas and tools, it also brings bacteria and viruses, and it has always been so,” said Ed Glaeser.

Starting with the plague that hit Athens in 430 BCE, he demonstrated that plague and cities ‘have long been companions’ – with populations hit by yellow fever, cholera, typhus and influenza. In each case, these challenges were met with extraordinary innovation and medical breakthroughs.

“As we face the aftermath of our own pandemic, I think we will have to build similar protections,” he said. "However, where previous pandemics led to higher wages and almost immediate rebooting of the economy, today millions of people are employed in the urban hospitality industry, serving a cappuccino with a smile. These jobs can disappear in a heartbeat when that smile turns into a source of infection.”

Cities thrive as places of productivity but also places of pleasure, he said. “The pandemic will not cause the death of cities, but all cities are more vulnerable than ever. It is really crucial that cities throughout the world recognise that talent is mobile.”

However, he was upbeat. “London is a joyful place and it will be again, and the river is a great urban asset. The river began, of course, as London’s connection to the world. It still is – but it is so much more. It is a tremendous asset that must be nurtured and used to make sure that London is as competitive as possible.”

Juliet Mian

The Resilience Shift was founded by the joint efforts of Arup and the Lloyd’s Register Foundation to promote resilience across sectors, businesses and infrastructure, said Juliet Mian.

“For the past five years we have been working with partners, with collaborators, with pioneers globally to create this shift in practice that everyone believes is needed, and thinking about resilience through different lenses.”

The focus is not only on physical assets that need to be resilient to climate and other shocks but also the ‘soft side’, i.e. the whole supply chain and governance, she said.

“We have taken a particular interest in the resilience of ports, a sector where resilience across the whole system is becoming increasingly important and urgent.”

Ports are dependent on cities, landside transport and waterside transport and are a good example of a highly interconnected, global system, said Juliet Mian. “We are delighted to be helping the PLA, working with them, particularly because of the way the PLA is approaching this, taking the long-term view.”

She highlighted five important points for resilience: whole systems thinking – “looking beyond the boundaries and considering interconnectivity and interdependence”; overcoming fragmented governance – “time and time again, when there are catastrophes, it is fragmented governance or leadership across many different stakeholders that causes many of the problems”; managing deep uncertainty – “the future is not certain and there are many different scenarios, and the decisions we make now need to enhance resilience for all of those”; focusing on outcome-led approaches – “we shouldn’t be thinking about what an asset/piece of infrastructure is, but the service it is providing’; and adopting technology which enhances resilience – “technology has huge potential to enhance resilience through use of data, AI, sensors and smart monitoring but also the potential to create new potential vulnerabilities”.

Emma Page

Opening her presentation with a picture of commuters on a frozen River Thames in 1963, Emma Page pointed out: “This picture shows the different aspects the river has played and the impact on the lives of people around it over time.”

Looking at the Net Zero river journey, there are so many aspects to be considered, she said. “The one thing we know is our climate is changing. We are suffering extreme weather, habitat loss, impacts on health. It is either adaption or it is dealing with the consequences of climate change.

“Do we have a ‘do nothing’ option where we accept the impact? Do we look at managing the impacts of flooding or extreme weather or do we just get on with our lives?”

Leading climate change scientists believe that the impact of climate change is far greater than Covid-19, she said.

“We need to look at how the impact of our actions is impacting on other people – not just in our local environment but many miles away.” Those countries that are producing the most carbon are impacting all countries and the impact of climate change is not equal, she said.

Tackling the issue requires an integrated agenda, bringing in hearts and minds, looking at how we make the case for positive action, said Emma Page. “No matter what we do, the climate is changing, therefore we may not be able to continue doing the things we like to do. Carbon comes from everything – from what we buy, where we go and how we get there, the choices we make, the equipment we buy. To build a low-carbon economy takes all of us.”

Presenting a ‘how we need to change’ list, from making difficult choices to changing culture and education, she said: “We have been talking about it long enough.”

The challenges include history and culture and ‘the way we have always done it’, she noted.  

She concluded: “The call to action is definitely with us. It is about positive action rather than a sense of doom, and talking about engaging people in the part they can play, by looking at the bigger picture and seeing how they connect.”

Joe Borg

What are the probable technological trends and opportunities for the Thames? Joe Borg listed autonomous shipping, requiring different skill sets and new safety aspects; AI/machine learning, providing decision-making support systems for a wide variety of port operations from security to optimised logistics scheduling; and low emission port vessels, with smaller port vessels offering an opportunity to pilot technologies.

“The Thames has a real opportunity to take advantage of the theme of decarbonisation and employ the new technologies on smaller vessels, used as a testbed to bring in these technologies to ensure that they are viable to be used at scale for larger seagoing vessels,” Borg said. “There is a huge focus that can be made from the innovation perspective and the Thames in London can be part of that.”

He discussed the challenges of funding and financial incentives for decarbonisation. “Who will pay for the change? Funding the energy transition will require cross-sector commitment. This is where we would like the innovation of London and its creativity to help support and drive this change, along with the clear government incentives that are required.”

Since the IMO announced its 2050 targets, the decarbonisation debate has come to dominate shipping industry discussions, said Joe Borg. He said short-term the immediate action was to reduce emissions; the rest of the 2020s are a critical window for change, where we will start to see prototypes and pilots, and the policy environment needs to take shape to provide clarity, and the 2030s will see a scaling up of zero carbon fuels and a more diverse fuel mix, including hydrogen.

Robin Mortimer, chief executive of the PLA

Wrapping up the presentations, Robin Mortimer said: “There has been a huge amount to take on board. A strong strand has been what does this mean for people,” he said. “That needs to be reflected strongly through the Vision – what role our people should play to deliver the Vision but also all the people involved in the river.”

The time for thinking about decarbonisation and climate change adaption has ‘well and truly passed’, he said – “We need action and we need big steps. The PLA is taking big steps in its target to achieve two-thirds emissions reduction in the next three years – that is some heavy lifting upfront. When we talk about the Thames Vision 2050, it is worthwhile setting our goals on that end point – but also, what does that mean for the next nine years up to 2030?”

PLA chairman Christopher Rodrigues

Closing the webinar, Christopher Rodrigues highlighted the ‘very real trade off’ between incentivisation, rules and regulations and market forces in the drive for decarbonisation.

“Inland rivers and ports in Britain can be in the vanguard, developing and testing some of the ideas – provided there is the right combination of market forces and incentivisation, he said. “So there is a real role not just for the Thames but in terms of what the Thames can do for British maritime.”

He concluded: “This is not going away as a set of issues. I hope people feel there is another party that is committed – that is the PLA. As custodian of the tidal Thames, we have a job to do in bringing people together and causing collaboration – but at the end of the day, this is about individuals and industries deciding they want to be part of the solution.”

Thames Vision 2035 review - Thames Vision 2050 emerging priorities

Tuesday 22 June, 6.00 pm, online

Related information: Presentation Slides 

The pressure for action to respond to climate change and improve resilience is increasing as the world emerges from the pandemic. As the custodian of the tidal Thames, at the Port of London Authority we are taking steps to ensure that the river is protected and improved, economic development is sustainable and the port evolves as a low emissions hub.

To achieve these goals, we are updating our roadmap for growth by launching a consultation on our Thames Vision.

It's crucial that we hear from people and organisations who are part of the Thames community. 

The programme included:

An opening presentation on Thames Vision 2035 progress and Thames Vision 2050 emerging priorities from Alistair Gale, director of corporate affairs & strategy, Port of London Authority.

An interview with Robin Mortimer, chief executive, Port of London Authority, reflecting on the development of river use over the last five years and the challenges to which the new Vision will be responding.

An open audience Q&A session with a panel of PLA speakers:

  • Robin Mortimer, chief executive
  • Cathryn Spain, senior harbour master
  • Tanya Ferry, head of environment
  • James Trimmer, director of planning & environment
  • Nadine Collins-Smith, head of Thames Vision

Reporting on: “Thames Vision 2035 review: Vision 2050 emerging priorities” webinar.

Five years after the original Thames Vision was published in 2016, and against a background of enormous change, the Port of London Authority (PLA) is taking a fresh look at the river, the Port and the future in order to deliver a new Vision 2050.

This is a collective effort – all those involved in the River Thames, whether for work or leisure, for living or visiting, have a stake in its future. The PLA is consulting widely and seeking input from all stakeholders.

More than 100 people participated in a webinar organised on 22 June 2021 to discuss emerging priorities for the new Vision. The questions were lively and varied, and answered by a panel of experts from the PLA: Robin Mortimer, chief executive; Cathryn Spain, senior harbour master; Tanya Ferry, head of environment; James Trimmer, director of planning & environment; and Nadine Collins-Smith, head of Thames Vision.

Alistair Gale, director of corporate affairs and strategy

The webinar was opened by Alistair Gale, who reflected on the progress of the Thames Vision to date and the emerging challenges for the future.

“The Thames is an amazing place and means many things to many people. It can be a workplace, a route to work, a highway, somewhere to walk at the weekend, an outdoor gym, a haven and inspiration and much more besides,” he said. “It is a place that inspires passion and that is what put us in touch with so many people when we shaped the original Thames Vision.”

In his ‘report card’ on the six goals set in the Vision, he noted that the Port of London has moved from being the UK’s second largest port to the UK’s largest, for the first time since 1999. The port was resilient throughout the pandemic, keeping the country supplied with food, fuel and medicines; it has seen substantial investment, including the £200m Tilbury2 expansion and developments by Cobelfret at Purfleet and DP World at London Gateway.

“Research shows that over £900m of further investment is planned on the river. Also, earlier this year, the Thames Freeport was designated, and that is set to make the river an even more compelling proposition in the future,” he said.

Covid-19 has hit passenger numbers, but the building blocks are there with new and expanded piers and more to be developed; inland freight tonnages remain strong in both base load and project cargo volumes, and wharves have been acquired and reactivated; traditional sports such as rowing remain strong, while there is exceptional growth in solo non club based activities such as stand-up paddle boarding; the environmental agenda has transformed, with developments including the first Air Quality Strategy for a UK port, an air quality monitoring programme, the launch of a Sustainable Innovation Fund targeting the Thames’ first zero emission berth, and Tideway nearing completion; and a Cultural Vision for the river has been developed and launched, while the first stages of the Illuminated River have been completed.

Why update the Vision?

“Substantial change has already taken place and more is to come,” said Alistair Gale. “That includes the drive to reduce emissions and improve climate resilience, new trading relationships following the UK’s departure from the EU, technology developments in vessels and port control centres, and, of course, the impact of the pandemic on patterns of consumption and the way we work.”

“Considering all this is a massive undertaking. Whatever we learn from the forecasts and the studies, the core goals of the Thames Vision 2050 will remain rooted in enabling as many people as possible to make the most of this fantastic natural asset and our Trust Port mission to hand the river on to future generations in a better condition. I think we can be confident the Thames will remain a vital port, a busy inland waterway, a centre for sports, a haven for wildlife and more besides.”

In shaping the new Vision, “We really need your help and your support. Have your say and help shape the future of the river.”

Questions and answers

BBC journalist Mike Johnson opened the session by putting a series of questions to Robin Mortimer, chief executive of the PLA.  

He asked: What has gone well and maybe less well since the launch of the original Thames Vision?

“I think the Thames Vision did really help to put the river on the radar of the organisations we need to be influenced and involved in the river,” said Robin Mortimer. “For example, the London Plan, many local authority plans and infrastructure like the Lower Thames Crossing – a lot referenced the Thames Vision and have bought into that vision of growing and sustainable river use.”

What is going to be at the core of the new Vision – what will define it?

“We are genuinely trying to pull together a huge amount of evidence and data and the views of all stakeholders and all those with interest in order to create the Vision,” said Robin Mortimer.

Themes which are going to be central include the Net Zero transition – “It is hard to overstate the significance of the change in the economy that is going to be required to deliver Net Zero, and ports and rivers are going to be absolutely on the cutting edge of that.” – and technology – “We are looking at things like automation and how that is going to affect what skills are needed, and how we attract young people with the right skills for the future.”

How is the port and river doing in terms of the zero emission goal?

“The shipping sector has a huge journey to make and ports can play a part in that by incentivising green vessels to call, as we do with our Green Tariff. The PLA has set a goal to achieve Net Zero by 2040 but more encouragingly we think we can do two-thirds of that in two years by switching our fleet to sustainable biofuels.”

Answering the questions – the expert panel

Is it credible really to plan so far ahead?

Nadine Collins-Smith: “Short, medium and long-term actions will make it much more meaningful, and five-year steps will have a role.”

Has the Port of London ever considered closing the Thames Barrier one weekend a month for clubs and public to use the river?

James Trimmer: “The Thames Barrier is run by the Environment Agency rather than the PLA and its principal purpose is to protect London from flooding. It does close once a year for a test but regular closure of the barrier would create a number of operational issues.”

What can be done about noise from party boats affecting people living along the river?

Robin Mortimer: “Noise regulation depends on where the vessel is. We do have a role in terms of licensing vessels on occasions and we can take a view on planning applications. Having said that, the Thames has always been a part of the London night-time economy and lots of people do really value and enjoy that, so there is a balance to be struck here between very reasonable concerns of local residents and the night-time economy.”

Has a location been identified for ammonia (as a fuel) imports?

James Trimmer: “Clearly ammonia is a cargo that is of interest to a number of operators. It is something we are talking to a range of people about.”

Tanya Ferry: “Ammonia has certain rules we need to take into account when choosing locations and how to carry out operations safely.”

How will the Freeport affect day-to-day river traffic and the function of the PLA as a Trust Port?

Robin Mortimer: “The two can absolutely work alongside each other. Obviously we are very supportive of the Freeport but the PLA will continue to act as a statutory Trust Port in terms of the services we provide for safety of navigation, the environment, etc.”

Would the PLA consider installing air quality monitors in residential areas?

Tanya Ferry: “We have a number of different types of monitoring up and down the river, some of which is in partnership with residential groups and at various sites, and the results of those are published on our website.”

Deepsea shipping is achieving efficiency through increasing vessel size but this causes congestion challenges that could undermine the environmental benefits. Can a port drive shipping behaviour?

Robin Mortimer: “Individual ports can only have a limited impact on the global shipping market but collectively we can have a bigger impact, such as moving towards a set of tariffs which incentivises the update of more environmentally clean technologies.”

When Tideway vacates Chambers and Hurlingham wharves, can the PLA purchase them for freight and logistics purposes?

James Trimmer: “The interesting thing is that Tideway couldn’t actually have happened without safeguarded wharves. Hurlingham is very definitely on our reactivation list – it is safeguarded, reconfirmed by the Secretary of State in the review confirmed in February. That is one we see as ideal for logistics and we are looking to pursue the acquisition of that as soon as we can. Chambers is not protected and has no special status – it is owned by a residential developer and will go back to that use.”

With the potential development of the London Resort and extension of passenger services out to Tilbury and beyond, what measures are being taken to protect recreation on the river east of London?

Cathryn Spain: “As with any new project that comes along, it will be subject to scrutiny in terms of safety and has to take into account all other river uses, including consulting the recreational community.

Robin Mortimer: “Part of this is about balance and trying not to get caught in binary thinking, one or the other. We are trying to maximise the use of the river, which means balancing the things people want.”

How much responsibility should the PLA take for cleaning up the river?

James Trimmer: “Local authorities have a legal responsibility for cleanliness but there is no such legal duty for tidal waterways or the sea. Therefore that is the role which we, in partnership with Thames 21, stepped in to in order to fill that particular legislative gap. For us, it is a two-headed strategy – to do what we can in terms of cleaning the foreshore and monitoring, and to educate people that what they drop as litter ends up in the river.”

What about job opportunities, the shortage of skilled employees and training initiatives?

Robin Mortimer: “Around 46,000 jobs are directly or indirectly supported by the port and river operations. We are looking at how the skills are going to evolve, what are the jobs of the future going to look like. Some will be similar but there may be jobs we have not even thought about. We recently employed some drone operators to do some survey work – that job probably didn’t exist perhaps ten years ago.”

Nadine Collins-Smith: “At present the jobs are mainly maritime and engineering. There is an ageing workforce, so replacement is needed. We are working with training providers and we also have school projects.”

What about the river back-up industry – building and maintenance of big and small boats? These kind of industries have no protection at all and can’t compete with the high price of land due to residential development. How will PLA support keep this industry healthy?

Robin Mortimer: “Absolutely this is something we need to focus on. The good news is our announcement in relation to Albert Island, at the end of Royal Docks. Under the plans for redevelopment, the GLA required a shipyard to be on that site and we are just about to publish a prospectus for a shipyard facility – the first such on the Thames in over 100 years.”

Robin Mortimer concluded the webinar with an overall reflection: “The diversity of the questions reflects the diversity of the river and all of the things it provides. The point of tonight was to provide focus to get input for the Vision. Please follow up with questions or ideas or things you think we should be pursuing more.”


Drop-In Session at the London Rowing Club

Tuesday 6 July, 4.30 pm to 6.30 pm, London Rowing Club

On 6 July 2021, members of the public were invited to meet in person with representatives from the PLA at London Rowing Club, Putney. There to engage with the public on all matters related to the Thames Vision were: Paula Carter, non executive director and board member; James Trimmer, director of planning and environment; Nadine Collins-Smith, head of Thames vision delivery; Tanya Ferry, head of environment; Jenny Cooper, sports participation and community outreach manager; Paul Lorimer, assistant harbour master; and Charlotte Walker, analyst.
 
Questions from attendees led to discussions across a wider variety of topics, including longer-term ambitions to see companies based on the river embrace the challenge of Net Zero, a desire for the Vision to further reflect the needs of the river and wider community, and pressing issues such as the current closure of Hammersmith Bridge.
 
Reviewing the event, Nadine Collins-Smith commented “Following on from the online engagement events on the 22 and 29 July, we were pleased to be able to speak directly with stakeholders on the matters most important to them. Input at these sessions and written responses will inform the development of Thames 2050, which will be shared for consultation later this year .”
 
This concluded the series of initial stakeholder engagement events.

 

Related Information

Thames Vision 2050: Have Your Say