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PLA Annual Reception – 12 March 2019 Chairman, Christopher Rodrigues’ Speech

More than 250 river stakeholders came together for the Port of London Authority (PLA) annual reception on 12 March. At event, PLA chairman, Christopher Rodrigues delivered a speech covering the key themes of investment, pilotage and jobs. The full text of the speech follows.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, welcome to our annual reception.

In these somewhat uncertain times, it is a pleasure to come together as a community to celebrate our unique, resilient port and waterway and reflect on the progress made not just by the PLA but by all river users and operators collectively over the last 12 months.

Three themes stand out:

• Investment;

• Pilotage; and

• Jobs.

On investment, I’d like to start with the Thames Vision.

Last year I mentioned that we had developed our first PLA Investment Plan.

This was launched at our AGM in May and signals an important broadening of the PLA’s activities on and around the river.

The Investment Plan reflects our commitment to backing the future development of the Thames and we are looking at opportunities in all areas from port trade and passenger travel, to sports and culture.

I’m really pleased that we already have the first venture underway, in a ships discharge project with CEMEX at Northfleet. This will both secure existing business and provide scope for increased volumes over the long term.

It is an investment that reflects our commitment to a ‘virtuous circle’, with returns from our commercial projects being recycled into other projects.

Of course the Vision is not just a road map for the PLA; future development of the Thames depends on your investment plans too.

We look forward to discussing other projects along the river in which we might invest, co-invest or provide seed capital. So, if you have ideas and plans, come and talk to us. Robin Mortimer, Julie Tankard and James Trimmer should be your first point of contact.

Turning to port trade I’m delighted to report that last year this grew to 53.2 million tonnes, up by more than three million tonnes over the previous year.

Much of last year’s growth was in the container trades as London Gateway enjoyed its first full year with three berths and East-West services calling.

We have seen fuel terminal expansions at OIKOS and Inter Terminals. Cobelfret are upgrading their facility to handle new, bigger freight ferries. Brett Group is developing a new building materials centre at Peruvian Wharf and Seacon is investing in expansion and new equipment at Northfleet.

The future looks bright too. Last month, Forth Ports was granted the development consent order for its £200 million Tilbury2 expansion scheme.

Alongside this we have seen substantial investment by the building materials companies in new, bigger vessels to serve London as the principal market for sea dredged aggregates in the UK and Europe.

All these projects ultimately mean more trade on the Thames. That’s why my second theme: getting our pilotage service levels back to normal, has been such an important focus for us.

I’m really pleased to say that the service has improved markedly since we met here last year.

We worked with our pilotage leaders and a new automated scheduling system to improve operating processes and we are now recruiting new twelve pilots a year – the most we can train at any one time.

Taken together, these actions allowed the PLA to deliver more usable pilotage hours which meant that, by the end of the year we were very close to where we should be – serving vessels month in month out, without delay.

But our work is not finished. Our commitment is to a sustainable, reliable service for all our customers. As trade in the port continues to grow, so too our investment in pilot recruitment will continue.

Keeping to the theme of investment, let’s turn now from the port to the waterway, where we have congratulations to offer.

To MBNA Thames Clippers on the arrival of the largest vessel in its fleet, Venus Clipper, direct from the shipyard on the Isle of Wight.

And to GPS Marine, who in December scooped the Freight Transport Association Sea Freight Operator of the Year award for their work on projects including Crossrail, the Thames Tideway Tunnel and the Northern Line Extension.

In each case, innovation is to the fore. And innovation is key for us in one of the most pressing areas for our collective operations – making the river’s contribution to improving air quality.

We have a lead here through the UK’s first port’s air quality strategy. Our focus now is on working together to deliver the challenging targets in that strategy

Some of you might recall that we introduced the first discounted port charges for cleaner ships and have doubled it this year, showing our commitment to growing river trade, alongside improving the environment for riparian communities.

We will also be early adopters of new technology ourselves, when the world’s first hybrid pilot cutter joins our fleet this summer. This is a really exciting project, with British boat builder, Goodchild Marine, leading the way.

There are some other important partnerships helping the river to deliver its full potential.

Working with the GLA and Publica we have developed a cultural vision for the Thames that will launch within the next couple of months. Greater awareness of the Thames’ cultural offer will draw more people to the river, get more people afloat, and more people hooked on the river.

We’ve ramped up promotion of the Thames Festival Trust’s annual Thames Lens photography competition. You can see some of the winning pictures in the back lounge of this vessel and I’d encourage you to go take a look. Again, it’s about telling the stories and drawing people to the Thames.

And our broader Vision investments include working on habitat improvements in the lower river with the RSPB, buying a new cutter for the AHOY Centre so they can offer more young people opportunity to get afloat and providing finance for a new pontoon for paddlers at Benfleet Yacht Club so that they can safely board their vessels.

When you see progress on such a broad front you can all be proud of what is being achieved on the Thames - not just by the PLA, but by the whole river community.

So I’m pleased to announce that we are making plans to host a symposium for the Great River Cities of the World this autumn. This is an initiative supported by the Dft and the Lord Mayor and offers all of us a chance to learn from our counter- parties around the world - and in a modest British way to show what British ingenuity and innovation can achieve.

Ours is a great story to tell at a time when we need some great stories about Britain.

And who ultimately will benefit from the growth and improvements linked to the Vision? Young people. The future custodians of our great river. The skippers, deckhands, engineers of the coming decades.

Over the last five years we’ve reinvigorated our apprenticeship programme.

It’s been fantastic to see apprentices join us, develop their professional skills and blossom into confident young people.

It’s something we’re committed to seeing more of. That’s why we challenged our apprentices to work with us to make a new film to entice the next generation of school children to join us or get a job on the Thames.

There are three of them here tonight: Scarlett, Rosie and Dan. And I’m going to close by inviting Scarlett to come and introduce the film they made.

Rewarding, Varied and Fun - A PLA Apprenticeship