Categories: DP World, London, News, Port of London AuthorityPublished On: 21.03.20193079 words15.4 min read

The River Thames provides an uncongested, cost-effective, efficient highway for freight and passengers
– and the message is finally getting through.

Screenshot 2019-03-21 at 09.20.21

Extract from the new Port of London Handbook 2019

East or west, river is best.A barge heading out of London loaded with tunnelling spoil from the Thames Tideway Tunnel might not look that exciting to the casual observer. But just one barge eliminates at least 50 lorry journeys from London’s roads and offers a congestion-free, sustainable route right through the middle of the capital. The construction of Tideway alone will generate about six million tonnes of spoil heading out of the capital and tunnel lining segments and construction materials arriving. Then consider that major construction and infrastructure projects are going ahead all over London. And that we are all seeking cleaner, greener solutions to our last mile and other urban logistics deliveries.

If that doesn’t convince us of the benefits of moving freight by water, then what on earth will? The message is getting through. London has seen a 40% upswing in the volume of freight moved between wharves on the Thames since 2015. In 2017, a total of 4.3  million tonnes of freight was moved on the river and the underlying total once the volumes generated by major infrastructure projects are removed is 3.4 million tonnes – that equates to taking 340,000 lorries off the roads, and it is only 600,000 tonnes short of the four million tonne target set in the Thames Vision.

“In terms of the Thames Vision, the movement of intraport freight is an area that has done really well,” says James Trimmer, the PLA’s director of planning and environment.

“It’s important to emphasise that the underlying figures do not include materials associated with major infrastructure projects including Tideway, Crossrail and the Northern Line extension. While projects like these really increase the volumes of freight moved within the Thames, they don’t give a realistic view of what the ongoing port traffic is – they are more like the icing on the cake. Stripping back to a baseline figure gives us a better way to measure – and that baseline shows clearly a huge success story.”

The past year has seen a dramatic increase in waste and the ash following combustion being moved on the river, particularly due to the opening of the Belvedere energy-from-waste plant.

The volume of aggregates being moved by water continues to hold up strongly, serving the construction market in London.

Construction and excavation waste has been moved out of London from many smaller building sites as well as from the Battersea Power Station and Lots Road development sites.

“Five years ago, probably most, if not all, of this construction waste would have gone by road,” says James Trimmer. “But attitudes are changing. Lots Road is a large development; responding to pressure from the local council and local  residents, the developers came to us to ask how they could put even more materials on the river than they’d originally committed to.

“There is still a perception in the market  that it is going to cost more to use the river than the roads and that it’s more difficult to do. But the message we keep giving out, and which is being picked up by local boroughs and communities, is that you can use the river, it can be competitively priced and it is far better for the environment and for reducing congestion. The PLA is here to help you make the most of the opportunities the river can provide.”

Changing attitudes

The recently rewritten London Plan includes a clear direction that any development near the river should use
the river for moving construction materials. That backing for river freight has been a major boost. “It has made one of the greatest differences, changing attitudes on the river, and we have some very interesting initiatives under discussion right now,” he says.

Meanwhile, the rise of online shopping and 24-hour home/office deliveries of every conceivable item is generating a huge interest in the shape of 21st century urban logistics. East-west delivery of unitised and light freight by water from the large terminals in the estuary to the capital has great potential, says James Trimmer, and is probably the biggest untapped market for intraport freight. The Thames offers the perfect solution for a combination of barge/inland vessel transport to city centre piers, with final-mile onward distribution by electric bike or vehicle.

“The opportunities we have within what is a rapidly evolving urban logistics market are there. We have even more of a role to play than we even anticipated a few years ago. It is all up for grabs.”

In all instances, planners and developersin London should be looking at the river first and working back from there, he says. “Excluding the river and its opportunities would be poor planning and we have seen that before. We are here to help developers obtain the maximum benefit from a location next to or near the river. We are telling them – look and build towards the river. We’re here to help everyone make the most of future opportunities.”

And that takes us neatly to the matter of safeguarded wharves. The Mayor of London’s safeguarding policy, which dates back to 1997, currently covers 50 strategically located wharves for cargo handling. The concept that these facilities should be protected – and where unused reactivated – is well established, particularly after the PLA’s purchase of Peruvian Wharf at the end of 2016, following a 17-year planning and legal battle.

The currently safeguarded wharves are being reviewed and the Mayor’s recommendations on the future will be  submitted to the Government for final approval this year. This will update the basis of wharf safeguarding in London and provide a new impetus to the PLA’s efforts to reactivate more wharves.

Peruvian Wharf

The PLA’s acquisition of Peruvian Wharf for £3 million two years ago sent a powerful message to developers and landowners hoping that the safeguarding policy can be undermined.

Peruvian Wharf was one of the first wharves to be safeguarded, but it took many years of legal action to ensure it was not developed for other uses and then for it to be acquired by the PLA and subsequently brought back into operation.

The wharf has a 200-metre quay on an eight-acre site, all of which had been kept vacant since 1999. During 2018, work continued to prepare the site for the construction and building materials group Brett, which will lease part of Peruvian from the PLA.

Brett expects to start operations on the site around May 2019, says Oliver Brown, development director of Brett Aggregates.

“Dredging work has been completed and the concrete plant establishment works have commenced on site.”

Brett has been increasing its use of Thames river transport for a number of years, and has supplied a number of major projects with aggregates by river, including the Tideway project and the Wood Wharf, Docklands project.

“We see the use of river transport as playing a key role in enabling the construction demands of London to be met with minimum possible impact on London roads and benefits in improving air quality,” says Oliver Brown.

Brett continues to invest in the expansion of marine and river-borne aggregates and related products, and in the delivery of goods into London by river and by rail, he says. “We have developed a new rail-fed concrete plant at Wembley,we are developing the new river-fed concrete plant at Peruvian Wharf, and we are committed to investing in further river and rail-related developments, helping to meet Government objectives to transport critical goods by sustainable methods where possible to do so.

“Such developments are crucial in meeting the demand for construction materials to enable housing and
infrastructure projects to be delivered in London, while minimising impacts on local highways and reducing air quality impacts of construction traffic.”

Increasing land values inevitably mean that landowners look to develop riverside land across large parts of London for the highest value use, generally residential development, says Oliver Brown.

“Without safeguarding of wharves, key sites will be lost, forcing products to be supplied by road. It is vital for the future of London that river freight is encouraged and more freight is moved off congested London roads. Safeguarding of wharves is critical in taking freight off roads, as is enforcement of safeguarding where non-river related development of riverside land threatens safeguarded sites.”

Chris Livett, managing director of Bennett’s Barges and the Livett Group, says: “I commend the PLA for their action regarding Peruvian Wharf – it was brave, bold and the right thing to do. It sends the message to developers and others that if you don’t start to use a wharf, it may be taken away from you.”

However, he says, there are also many opportunities to establish and protect the terminals needed on the river, which don’t necessary involve conflict with landowners.

“We have invested in the vessels and kit, as have others. Now the challenge is for everyone who has influence to ensure that terminals can be established in the east and in the west and that they have the capacity and ability to deal with large volumes of freight.

“Consolidation for west London and also for east London is important and we need the space for that.”

Where there are major highways close to the river, access to the Thames, including building the necessary terminal or jetty, should be a priority, says Chris Livett. “It is a combination of all parties; the statutory authorities should facilitate and we as commercial organisations should fund. We are not looking for any subsidies but for the ability to do it.”

He concludes: “A bit of ‘Victorian thinking’ is needed here. We need to be looking long-term. The water should be considered whenever planning authorities are looking at developments.”

The PLA continues to press for other wharves to be brought back into action. “We are adopting a pragmatic and can-do attitude to reactivating wharves,” says James Trimmer.


The PLA has embarked on a unique partnership project by investing £2 million in a dry cargo discharge system to be used by CEMEX at its Northfleet wharf.

At present, CEMEX discharges aggregates at the terminal by fluidising material – pumping it ashore in a stream of water via pipeline into a settling pit where the water is then removed.

The new system will be operated by the PLA on CEMEX’s behalf, within a 20-year agreement. “CEMEX will pay a rate per tonne of material moved, which will repay our investment and provide us with a return,” says James Trimmer. “It is a project that benefits both parties. CEMEX can potentially handle higher tonnages with this system and also bring in other materials which can’t be fluidised, so we are increasing their market
opportunities as well.”

Bennett’s Barges

Bennett’s Barges has taken delivery of eight new barges specifically designed and built to meet the needs of the Tideway project. Adding more than 11,000 tonnes of extra capacity to the River Thames, the barges will play a crucial role in removing millions of tonnes of spoil from central London as the Tideway tunnel is excavated. At least 150 lorry journeys will be saved per barge load taken out.

The Tideway-class hopper barges were delivered by Dutch barge builder and operator Baars, working with ACB. Six are owned by Bennett’s – including four 1,500-tonne and two 1,000-tonne barges – and two 1,600-tonners are being hired for the duration of the Tideway project. Shallow drafted and designed to be pushed from either end or pulled, they have been built for working in constrained areas and are also licensed to operate 50 nautical miles out to sea. They operate under the UK flag.

Once their job is done on the Tideway project, they will be an important part of the ‘Tideway legacy’ of encouraging much more freight on to the river.

Bennett’s Barges is a joint venture between Chris Livett and Aggregate Industries.

GPS Marine

GPS Marine has invested in a fleet of eight new barges on the Thames – seven 1,000 cubic metre hopper barges which can carry up to 1,750 tonnes each and one 30 x 11 metre pontoon barge. The first of these started operations in 2017, supporting the Northern Line extension project.

The new barges are central to GPS’s contract to transport over two million tonnes of materials associated with the Tideway Tunnel project. In December 2018, the tug GPS Ionia re-entered
service after a major refit and refurbishment, enabling it to act as principal berthing tug at east Tilbury in support of the Tideway marine spoil work.

In December 2018, GPS Marine won the FTA Sea Freight Operator of the Year award.

How things have changed, as GPS Marine managing director John Spencer points out: “In the early 1990s, I was told by the then Port of London harbour master lower that barge traffic on the Thames was gone forever. Indeed, until the early 2000s I believed that freight transport by barge on the Thames was the ultimate sunset industry. Over the years, my team and I often felt that we were swimming against a full spring ebb tide.

“However, subsequent appreciation – by planners, utilities and the construction majors – of the vast economic, social and environmental benefits of river freight on the Thames encouraged us to develop and invest heavily in our business. We were stunned but delighted that our years of commitment and endeavour and our investment in our sector were recognised and rewarded by the FTA award.”

In 2019 and 2020, GPS Marine will be busier than ever with work for the Tideway project, says John Spencer. “We want to use Tideway as a springboard for the future.”

MBNA Thames Clippers

Thames Clippers named its newest and largest-ever vessel in October 2018. The Venus Clipper, being built at the Wight Shipyard in East Cowes on the Isle of Wight, is due to be launched in the first quarter of 2019.

The 19th vessel in the company’s fleet of fast ferries, the £3.8 million Venus Clipperhas a capacity of 222 passengers, with 50 more seats than its sister vessels Mercury Clipperand Jupiter Clipper, which joined the fleet in 2017.

The arrival of the new ferry will allow the river bus service to carry an additional300,000 passengers a year. It will be used across Thames Clippers’ six routes, as well as to support specialist charters and cruise transfer requirements for the Central London Cruise Moorings.

MBNA Thames Clippers’ routes call at 22 piers across London, from Putney in the west to Woolwich in the east. The company, which launched its first service in 1999, celebrated carrying its 40 millionth customer in 2018.

Announcing the milestone, Sean Collins, CEO and co-founder of MBNA Thames Clippers, said: “I passionately believe that the River Thames is chronically underused by London and that our great capital could and should be making much more of our oldest cross-London transport route. As traffic and congestion on the roads continues to pose threats to the capital’s economic competitiveness and wellbeing, it makes sense to move more passenger traffic on to the water.”

Consolidation at Port of Tilbury

The Port of Tilbury is well established as a consolidation hub for the construction and infrastructure sectors, providing facilities to support the distribution of materials into the centre of London. Bricks, pipes, steel, timber, aggregates, waste and spoil are all being moved to and from the port by river.

Among other cargoes, scrap metal is moved into the port by water to the EMR site. There is plenty of scope to increase Tilbury’s role as a hub for the waste sector, says Port of Tilbury commercial director Peter Ward. “Waste can be delivered out from the city by water rather than road – something Cory is already doing successfully.”

Tilbury has played a major role in the Tideway project: supporting the delivery of portable cabins/offices; handling, storing and delivering piles by water; storing large pontoons and jack-up barges; and handling spoil. The port will continue to play an active part in Tideway as tunnelling gathers pace.

There are also significant opportunities to support deliveries by river for sectors such as e-commerce, food and drink and parcels, says Peter Ward.

Tideway ‘super sewer’  work progressesNew piers, cofferdams, jetties, slipways, moorings and hugelycomplex construction sites; barges carrying giant tunnel boring machines, construction materials and equipment, cranes, tunnel segments and office accommodation into central London and taking millions of tonnes of tunnelling spoil out of the city; even the uninformed could hardly miss the staggering amount of work going on in, on and around the river as the Thames Tideway Tunnel super sewer project continues.

Tideway progressed rapidly in 2018, so that by the end of the year, 23 marine sites related to the project were up and running, the first tunnel boring machine (TBM) had started work, and barges loaded with spoil were making their way out of the capital.

The three large-diameter shafts, created to enable the TBMs to be lowered into place, were all completed. Tunnelling started in November; Tideway announced that the first TBM in action, named ‘Millicent’ after the suffragist Millicent Fawcett, had built the first ring at the Kirtling Street site in Battersea.

The 25-kilometre Thames Tideway Tunnel has been divided into three sections, east, west and central, with each section being constructed by a different joint venture of contractors.

Millicent is one of two TBMs that will build the 13 km central section of the main tunnel. Two more machines will dig the 7 km west section and the 5.5 km east section, and two smaller TBMs will also dig the 1.1 km Frogmore connection tunnel in Wandsworth and the 4.6 km Greenwich connection tunnel.

The tunnel, being excavated directly under the Thames, will start 30 metres deep in the west and finish 65 metres deep at
Stratford in the east. Its diameter will be 8.5 metres, reducing to 7.2 metres once the concrete segments and lining have been installed.

This is all about the river. The tunnel will prevent tens of millions of tonnes of sewage from entering the River Thames every year. And Tideway’s commitment to using the river as its ‘highway’ is keeping thousands of trucks off the
capital’s roads.

Work will ramp up even further during 2019 as further TBMs get to work. Tunnelling will continue through to 2021, generating millions of tonnes of spoil which will be taken out of London by barge. Tideway’s system commissioning is due to begin in 2022, with a 2023 date for all works to be completed.

Extract from the new  Port of London Handbook 2019, published by Compass Publications Ltd