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Environmental footprint – waterways versus road

Out on the River Thames, guests of Bennett’s Barges were reminded by their host: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Chris Livett, managing director of Bennett’s, seventh generation waterman, Queen’s Waterman for 12 years and recently appointed Barge Master to the Queen, wasn’t referring to the Royal barge Gloriana (not present) or even to guests’ view of the iconic Tower Bridge against a blue sky.

He was referring to a 1,500-tonne capacity barge, Pegasus, one of eight new barges specifically designed and built to meet the needs of the Thames Tideway Tunnel, a 25-kilometre ‘super sewer’ being excavated through London and centred on the river.

“This is a very special moment not just for Bennett’s but for me personally,” he said. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and for me, this is a thing of great beauty.”

Praising the quality, stability and strength of the new fleet, he said: “These barges add more than 11,000 tonnes of extra capacity to the River Thames.”

Millions of tonnes of spoil are being removed from central London as the Tideway tunnel is excavated; at least 150 lorry journeys will be saved per barge load taken out, said Livett.

Efficient, economical and environmentally friendly

“Without Tideway having confidence in us as the river community and the river to deliver their projects, Londoners would have suffered intolerable road journeys by HGVs. It is indicative of what the future Thames looks like – we are all working with the Port of London Authority (PLA) on the Thames Vision, and the aim of transferring more freight by water.

“Look at what we have here; a four-lane highway with no bicycles, speed bumps or pedestrians. All of the major construction projects in London should be using the River Thames, to ensure they are efficient, economical and environmentally friendly.”


The Tideway class hopper barges represent an investment by Bennett’s of ‘between £5m and £10m’. They 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 nm to sea. They are classed by Rina and operate under the UK-flag.

Read More: Getting heavy transport off the roads and onto the waterways

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. That includes ensuring that the necessary skills are there.

Livett is a strong support of the Thames Skills Academy, which has brought together major employers on the river to develop training and promote career opportunities on the tidal Thames; a Thames Apprenticeship Programme was launched last year.

“It was patently obvious back in 2012, when we were talking about the Tideway project, that there wasn’t enough quality equipment on the River Thames and certainly not enough quality people to deliver the project,” he said. “Writing the cheque (for the barges) is, relatively speaking, easy to do – but getting the right people, who are the biggest asset, is not so easy.”

Bargey McBargeface

Bennett’s held a Twitter poll to help decide on names for its new barges. Most popular name? Bargey McBargeface. Of course.

Chris Livett opted for names of strength – Poseidon, Apollo, Churchill, Hercules, Pegasus, Valiant and Zeus, leaving one of the 1,000-tonne barges to take the name of his granddaughter, Phoebe. She would, as he pointed out, be a ninth-generation Livett waterman, should she choose that route.

“Walking to work this morning, I looked across at Butler’s Wharf and saw the barge sitting there – and it struck me that my grandfather would have seen exactly the same view, except that he would have seen six 250-tonne barges alongside, where I saw only one, at 1,500 tonnes. This has been a long, hard process but I am absolutely delighted with the end product. We have here a legacy, and I am determined to help it happen.”