Integrated riverside communities – key to London’s future

Port of London Authority Chief Executive Robin Mortimer.
Port of London Authority Chief Executive Robin Mortimer.

The next Mayor of London has the challenge of sustaining a growing city, whilst addressing the cost and shortage of housing, improving transport infrastructure, all while cutting carbon emissions.

It looks like the east of London is set to provide much of the land needed for new housing.

New river crossings, tube stops, train stations, roads, parks, schools, doctors surgeries and shops will need to be planned in to the designs of East London to provide an integrated, well connected community.

Little of this supporting infrastructure currently exists, but what does, is a piece of natural infrastructure which is the reason for London’s existence and success.

Enter the River Thames

The River Thames is enjoyed by London’s residents for its serene views, riverside paths and by over 5,000 regular rowers. It attracts 23 million tourist visits a year, bringing £2 billion of Gross Value Added (GVA) to the economy.

The river remains a trading hub, with 70 terminals and wharves which generate £4 billion of GVA and employs (full time) 44,000 in river related jobs.  The terminals are growing too, with £1 billion new private investment planned over the next five years.

Given much of the Greater London’s development is planned to be along the river, there is real opportunity for the country’s most valuable natural infrastructure asset to play a role in making new areas of London great to live, working and visit.  So what role can the river play?

Services for communities

 Over 10 million passenger trips were made on the river last year, getting commuters to work and offering tourists a relaxing way to see the city.  As more frequent services and stops are being added along the river, the river ‘bus’ is becoming a good alternative to the tube and conventional, road bus for those who live and work along the river. Piers for river bus services are much cheaper to develop than tunnelling new tube lines and easy to integrate into the plans for residential areas to the east.

The Thames transports 50% of Greater London’s construction aggregate, bringing sand, gravel and cement as close as possible to the heart of the London’s building projects. It is a ‘no brainer’ to continue to use the Thames to support London’s growth in a sustainable way, including in the building new homes in East London.

The river is currently used to move 15% of London’s residential waste by barge, helping to cut down on lorry traffic, pollution, and accidents involving cyclists.  Newly built areas to the East can continue to properly integrate wharves to further cut down on HGV traffic.

Attractive living

Connectivity adds significant value to places.  The river connects us from East to West and it doesn’t have to be a barrier to North-South movement.  River crossings like tunnels, ferries and bridges in east London are critical, but they need to be in right places and be the right type to make sure we make the most of the river as a low carbon highway.

There might be a temptation to respond to the demand for housing by creating a ‘wall’ of densely populated luxury apartments along the river bank.  But the priorities need to be community integration, taking some of the best of central London’s design, like the large riverside paths in front of City Hall, or the tow paths in Kew, creating much more enjoyable traffic-free walk-to-work opportunities around the neighbourhoods.

How many other capital cities can boast about the strength of their water sports?  People interested in water sports like sailing, paddling or rowing have the water, they just need the access via slipways.

Cultural inspiration

Open space over the river (not to be confused with unused space), has inspired and attracted writers, painters, designers, actors, film productions who make the capital their home and a cultural hub. Let’s look at how the river can be a magnet for cultural activities in the east.

A bright future

 By integrating the river with the landside infrastructure during the planning phase of East London’s development we can achieve a much more desirable, and functional, place to live, work, and visit.

We are working with the London Chamber of Commerce & Industry to call on the next Mayor of London to make the most of the opportunity the river provides to help create better integrated communities, across the growing Greater London area.


By Robin Mortimer – Port of London Authority, Chief Executive

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.