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Upper tidal Thames public meeting (11 February 2021)

Here are the answers to the questions we received before, during and after the meeting, held online:

Our next public meeting is due to take place in June, focussing on the middle section of the tidal river, through central London. This will be online again, if lockdown restrictions have not eased by then.

For updates, please keep an eye on our weekly Tidal Thames News. Subscribe now.

Jump to section: COVID-19 | Environment | Freeports | Governance | Hammersmith Bridge | Harbour Revision Order | River Use and Safety | Thames Tideway Tunnel | Trees and revetments

COVID-19

  • What is the PLA approach to COVID-19 tests?

In line with Government guidance, we have robust risk assessment and control measures in place, covering staff and contractors. For example, we encourage employees who are symptomatic to obtain a PCR test, and provide support in tracing contacts for anyone who tests positive. We have also provided lateral flow tests to frontline staff since January.

  • Many river enterprises have been having a difficult time during the pandemic. Is the PLA able to help out?

We refunded all Class V operators’ Port Dues for 2020 and have not charged for the first half of 2021.

We have also been able to provide some assistance on payment timings on river works licenses, where requested.

Environment

Climate change

  • To what extent would the Catapult climate case study (Tidal Thames News, 27 Jan) be joined up with Environment Agency (EA) plans for the Thames to 2100?

Using PLA data, the case study was produced to illustrate how a model for mitigating climate impacts can help port activities around the world.  We work closely with the EA on actions arising from the TE2100 plan, which utilised our adaptation plans and our voluntary reporting to Government, requested under the Climate Change Act.   

  • When will the PLA declare a climate emergency?

Whilst we have not declared a climate emergency, we have been working since 2018 to develop a pathway to decarbonise our own operations, while improving biodiversity.

In 2020 we committed to reach Net Zero in the PLA by 2040 and a 60% reduction in carbon emissions by 2025. Updates are posted on our website. The Thames Vison refresh will also address these topics.

Litter

  • Are you working collaboratively with Thames21 on the Cleaning the Thames website? What other groups are logging their events via the website?

Yes. Thames21 events, including those supported by our Marine Services team, feature on the site. The wildlife trusts and local community groups are among the other contributors.  

We operate passive collectors at fixed sites, which work very similarly to the examples given, collecting 200 tonnes of litter every year.

Pollution

  • Could the PLA request more accuracy and ease of access to Thames Water sewage release notifications?

We liaise closely with Thames Water and EA, who lead the response to the combined sewage discharges on the Thames. We have raised stakeholders’ concerns about notification delays with Thames Water and are awaiting a response.

  • Is the deep brown/green turbidity in the river at Chiswick traceable back to a particular source?

Please email details, including photos, if available, to environment@pla.co.uk, so we can investigate this matter fully.

  • Is sewage still allowed to run off into the river, when the land is saturated and drains overloaded?

We do not have control over the surface water pollution, but will happily report specific cases to the EA.

  • Where are the precise locations that Natural Flood Management would be most effective?  Do you have data or maps of the upper Thames that would illustrate this?

We do not lead on flood management, and don’t have such maps, but we work with local councils and the EA on this. 

Shore power

  • Is the PLA working with EA and the electricity and shipping companies on shore power?

To deliver our Air Quality Strategy (updated in 2020) and Net Zero targets, we continue to work with others on both shore power and decarbonisation issues, to review the latest developments. A report issued in June featured a call for collaboration.

Freeports

  • Don’t freeports attract money laundering and tax avoidance?  

The Thames Freeport is committing to the OECD Code of Conduct for Clean Free Trade Zones, as well as the UK’s money laundering regulations. 

  • If they are a good idea, why haven’t we got them already?

DP World began as a free trade zone in Jebel Ali, while Tilbury was a freeport until 2012. DP World operates a number of freeports globally.

Governance

  • Will the meeting slides and a summary of all Q&As be made public?

Both are available on our website. (Meeting slides are available at this link.)

  • To which government department is the PLA accountable?

The PLA Chairman, and at least one other board member, are appointed by the Transport Secretary. The board is responsible for making its own decisions.  

  • Who audits PLA conservancy of the Thames?

Our conservancy income is audited by Ernst & Young, as part of the overall audit of PLA financial statements.

  • Will the PLA please remove the 'custodian' label it has given itself?

We act as custodians of the Thames, in line with our statutory remit. The overall goal of all Trust Ports is  to improve their areas of responsibility, from one generation to the next.

Hammersmith Bridge

Temporary transits

  • When will navigation reopen under Hammersmith Bridge, including for unpowered boats?

The decision on when it is safe to re-open the river for navigation will depend on LB Hammersmith & Fulham (LBHF), based on their risk assessment of the condition of the bridge.

  • What are the opportunities for passage, when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted? Will escorted passages be available on days other than Sundays this summer?

Passages can be booked on Sundays (9am – 5pm).  Any decision to increase transit windows will be based on LBHF’s risk assessment and is not related to lockdown restrictions.

  • Why can’t boats travel under the bridge outside working hours (8.30am – 5.30pm)?

Transits are not permitted while work is being carried out on the bridge. Works on the bridge may be undertaken outside of office hours.

LBHF has provided an eight hour window on Sundays, when works will not be undertaken, other than for emergency purposes.

  • Who do we contact to arrange a Sunday passage? What criteria are used to grant them?

Bookings, for essential transits only, should be made via the PLA website.

  • Are the tide states and flow direction considered when arranging passages?

Mariners are responsible for ensuring that passages are planned safely, taking into account the tidal conditions. They must complete a risk assessment and passage plan, including an abort plan, as transits may be cancelled at short notice.

  • Why are rowers/scullers not included in the temporary transits?

In accordance with the LBHF risk assessment, only essential transits by powered vessels are permitted.

  • What facilities are in place for boats to tie up safely either side, if unable to arrive during the current restricted hours? The limited passage proposals ignore the need for vessels to work the tide. If not changed, temporary moorings will be needed above and below for those with draft or airdraft dimensions that limit their passage plans. What does the PLA suggest?

Information on moorings is available on our Boating on the Thames website and the PLA app. We would be happy to work with the Council to explore the possibility of putting in additional moorings, although the options are limited, due to lack of suitable space.

Temporary options

  • What is the PLA’s view/recommendation on the proposed Harrods Wharf ferry and pontoon from a safety perspective, especially in relation to small boats?  Have you been consulted?

We have been consulted on the landowners’ recently-submitted planning application; a jetty does not form part of the application.There has been no application directly to us for consent for this scheme at Harrods Wharf. An application to the PLA for the ‘Thames Wherry’ scheme, using this wharf, has been deemed refused.

  • How do river users make their objections to this proposal to the PLA?

Any scheme would require the submission of a Navigation Risk Assessment (NRA), which must be undertaken following (and with) consultation with all affected river users. 

  • How will the docking stations be selected? By who?

On the basis this question refers to the current Transport for London (TfL) procurement process, our understanding is that the shortlisted bids propose locations on both Surrey and Middlesex banks. These will be subject to assessment by TfL (with input from the PLA and others), prior to the award of the contract.

  • Will any jetties for a ferry will be removed once the bridge is open again?

The ferry is a temporary solution, but we are requiring the NRA to assess both when the bridge is fully closed and when it open to general navigation. TfL has structured the contract to explicitly require that the infrastructure is removed once the service is no longer required, unless otherwise agreed with landowners (including the PLA).

  • Would a ferry delay repairs to the bridge?

Not as far as we understand, but the question is better put to LBHF, who own the bridge.

  • Is it the PLA who makes the final decision on the ferry proposal?

TfL is undertaking the procurement process, so will ultimately determine which bidder is preferred.

As owner of the riverbed and the Surrey side towpath, and under the Port of London Act 1968, PLA consent for the associated works is required, along with other consents.

TfL has advised us that the ferry scheme has been developed so as not to impinge on any of the main bridge works/options being considered by LBHF.

  • What resources can the PLA make available to speed up deployment of the proposed ferry?

We have offered our technical expertise to TfL and the shortlisted bidders in order to facilitate a smooth process. We are committed to expediting future consent applications.

  • Has there been consideration of potentially using an alternative crossing point?

A number of schemes have been proposed previously, including upstream of the bridge.

It is for the shortlisted bidders to determine their preferred solution.

Upstream of the bridge offers some challenges for construction/servicing, given current restrictions on passage.

  • Has anyone considered providing say four or five jack up barges linked with walkways? to most users.

From what has been seen, this approach would not provide appropriate navigational clearance.

TfL has developed proposals for a temporary footbridge. It is for the bridge owner and the Hammermsith Bridge Taskforce to determine what permanent and temporary solutions should be taken forward.

  • Why has no footbridge been installed in the meantime?

The taskforce decided in late 2020 that a ferry service is the most appropriate solution to provide a crossing for pedestrians and cyclists in the short term, and that TfL should lead on its implementation.

  • Should the proposed Ritblat/Foster/COWI temporary road bridge prove unacceptable, please advise if the Beckett Rankine upstream (west) proposed spans of 40m would be acceptable to the PLA?  What minimum central span would be acceptable?

Our position is that the central span width must be sufficient to ensure that safety of navigation is not compromised and access is not restricted for vessels that would usually transit under the bridge.  A navigation risk assessment would be required to demonstrate whether any proposal for a reduced span width is acceptable.

  • Has the PLA been asked to consider a central supporting pier under the bridge? Would that be viable, still allowing boat race traffic?

We’ve not been asked to consider this option.

  • Is a hovercraft a feasible option? Has a cablecar been proposed?

Technical, environmental and amenity issues associated with the operation of a hovercraft would make it unviable.  We’re not aware of any proposals for a cable car.

Other

  • Why has the risk assessment not been shared?

That’s a decision for LBHF.

  • If it were Tower Bridge that were deemed by its owner to be unsafe, would you close navigation below it, without accepting some responsibility for assessing the facts?

As with Hammersmith Bridge, we would expect the bridge owners to have its condition assessed by suitably qualified engineers and would be guided by their analysis of the risk to river users.

  • Are you in discussions with LBHF on Dunkirk Little Ships commerations in May?

Yes, we are in dialogue with the Council on this issue.

  • Is Hammersmith Bridge subject to a river works license? If yes, why hasn’t it been removed?

Hammersmith Bridge is consented, like a number of the main bridges over the Thames, by an Act of Parliament.

  • Does the PLA intend to file a Class Action claim against LBHF for affected businesses’ loss of earnings?

Our understanding is that there would be no legal basis for such action.

Harbour Revision Order

  • When do you expect the MMO's consultation to start?

In the spring of this year.

  • Will it be impact based? While the HRO is delayed, please can work be done on impact assessments?  Why did the PLA not submit any environmental information with the draft HRO in 2020?

As it is an application for a ‘non-works’ HRO, an environmental impact assessment (or other comparable assessment) is not required. 

  • What is the amount (in acres) of extra land sought by the PLA in the draft HRO? Does this land extend the Port Limits of the PLA?

We are not seeking any additional land ownership. The HRO increases the geographical extent of our powers and duties, for example in relation to river works consenting. Our land ownership will not be affected. 

  • What effect will altering the point where the PLA responsibilities stretch to have on archaeological studies/surveys and mudlarkers?

We do not foresee any changes to the consenting/permitting of these activities. 

  • What are the PLA’s grounds for seeking more powers, specifically to cover the category C waters of the Thames, between the stone and Teddington Weir and downstream in the estuary?

We are unclear on the powers referred to in this questions, but all explanations for proposed changes will be contained within the Statement in Support, to be issued as part of the formal MMO consultation.

  • Will the PLA ensure that the "before & after" is made clear to the public on your website, now and before the MMO present their formal consultation?

A copy of the Port of London Act 1968, showing amendments in line with the proposed HRO, is on our website: We will publish updates there too when the consulation launches.

  • Existing RWLs will be transferred over to the new system; what about existing structures which licensing appears to have missed?

Any unlicensed structures within the limits should be licensed as soon as possible.  It’s a legal offence to conduct river works without a  licence. This will not change.

We have recently expanded our enforcement team. We ask anyone with information about unlicensed works to contact us.

  • Where there is a shift in the PLA remit, what does that mean for existing structures, currently falling outside the area for RWL, but which could be caught by the changed high water or expanded port limit?

Existing works would not be impacted by the proposed change.

  • With the tidal Brent to be included, what does that mean for MSO and for the vessels at Brentford Town Wharf?

The reference to the tidal river Brent in the HRO is intended as a clarification only, not to effect any expansion of the limits in this regard. 

  • How will private and public bridges be licensed under the new system?

New works within the limits would be subject to the revised consenting regime, set out in the HRO.

  • What might the impacts be for moored vessels, including unauthorised ones?

Under the proposed HRO, moored vessels will require a mooring permission. This will help us protect the safety for all river users.

  • Will the PLA publish online all comments and questions from the informal consultation and the revised draft of the HRO?

That is a role for the MMO, who will run the formal consultation.

River use and safety

Fulham FC

  • When will the new stadium be completed?

The deliveries of parts by river are scheduled to end in March.

Mortlake Brewery

  • Is the PLA  encouraging river use for the redevelopment?

Yes we are.

Party boats

  • The PLA will be aware of the issues arising from behaviour of Hurlingham party boat customers. Do you have a position on the safety of party boats as a navigation issue?

Like all vessels on the tidal Thames, party boats are required to obey the rules for navigation.

  • What is the PLA's policy on large party boats, such as Ocean Diva?  Will you permit them navigation. In which parts of the river? Between Tower and Westminster bridges?

Any new vessel undertaking commercial transits on the river needs to submit passage plans and risk assessments appropriate to their area of operation.  Currently, there are no new proposals before us for any large passenger vessels to operate between Tower and Westminster bridges.

Safety, use and access

  • Will the PLA encourage use of river barges for materials during demolition and construction? With the increase in barge movements, what plans does the PLA have for the safety of all river users?

In line with the Thames Vision, we are keen to promote use of the river for freight.

As the Tideway project has demonstrated, there is sufficient capacity on the river for increased use, subject to careful planning and risk assessment.

  • Is the PLA aware of the H&S risks to social river sports users by extending a service beyond Putney to Hammersmith?

Currently no such proposal has been submitted. If and when one is, we would consider it

in the the normal way, as part of our duty to protect navigational safety on the river.

  • Why does it take so long to remove the many derelict, semi-sunk and unsightly boats at Thames Ditton? Who is responsible for clearing the site of the wrecks at Waterman’s Park?

Thames Ditton lies outside our jurisdiction. At Waterman’s Park, the tenant is responsible for clearing the site for the phase 1 development. Moving even derelict vessels requires a legal process to be undertaken; this necessarily takes time.

  • Has the PLA been involved in initial discussions on the proposed foot and cycle bridge at the Thames Barrier?

We are aware of proposals for such a scheme; the fundamental issue for us would be the need to maintain unimpeded navigational access upstream.  

Thames Tideway Tunnel

  • What are the plans for public realm space after construction work is finished?

The project’s Development Consent Order (DCO) contained illustrative designs. Now the scheme has progressed, these are being finalised and will be subject to consultation and agreement with relevant local authorities.  

  • Can the PLA work with other bodies to keep Tideway's replacement Putney Drawdock?

The replacement drawdock was intended to be temporary and designed accordingly.

The long-term liabilities of maintaining the structure are therefore potentially substantial.

There have been discussions between the PLA, Tideway and others on assuming responsibility, but no agreement has been reached. 

Without such agreement, the drawdock will be removed, in accordance with the DCO.

Trees and revetments

Middlesex bank

  • What plans to maintain the riverwall along the footpath at Strand on the Green? When was the last river wall survey conducted? Is the  PLA aware that many of the steps from the footpath down to the foreshore require maintenance? Is the PLA aware that the river wall is parting company from the footpath underneath at Kew Railway Bridge and liable to collapse?

Neither of these locations are part of the PLA’s remit for repairs. Responsibility for maintenance here lies with the local Council, or the riparian owner, depending on the exact location.

Trees

  • What is the policy on tree removal at revetments which are being repaired? Will you remove saplings at Barn Elms reach, where trees were removed three years ago? Is there an update on work being done to preserve towpath trees in Hammersmith and Chiswick?

As part of our management plan, we remove saplings and also repair the bank, as needed, when mature trees are removed or die.

Once exposed to tidal scouring, trees root systems can lead banks to collapse and are a hazard to navigation.

We work to preserve the stock of Native Black Poplar, wherever possible, recoginsing the value of this rare species.  Trees on the Middesex side of the river are the responsibility of the local councils or the riparian owners.

  • Can you give an update on the tree survey with Richmond Council?

We have been working with the Council to develop a tree management plan. Delayed by the pandemic, it should be published this spring.