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‘Show and tell’ on the Thames value to London

‘Show and tell’ on the Thames value to London
“Don’t worry – we’re not having a raffle,” the Port of London Authority’s Robin Mortimer assured his audience at the beginning of London International Shipping Week (LISW).

Others had suggested that the PLA was organising a special Harvest Festival. Ooops, should we have brought contributions? After all, that ‘back to school’ feeling is clearly in the air.

But no, the collection of “produce’ – golden syrup, grapes, wine, lamb, vegetable oil, car oil, laundry detergent, etc etc… at the back of the room was actually more a sort of PLA ‘show and tell’.

Getting in on LISW early with a Monday breakfast briefing at Tower Pier, the PLA was keen to show the vast range of imports and exports handled on the Thames – and to tell the story of two new reports that illustrate the importance of the river to (1) the economic impact of port, passenger and other operations on the Thames and (2) assess the river’s “amenity” value and its impact on the health and wellbeing of London’s residents and visitors.

So, some statistics: port and maritime activities on the Thames generate directly or indirectly 43,500 full-time jobs and £4bn ($6.15bn) of gross value added (GVA) a year, while on the amenity side, the river generates 23m tourist visits and £2.4bn of GVA. The use of the Thames towpath for 10m residents’ walks and bike rides a year and other leisure activity on the river leads to improved health and wellbeing estimated to save the National Health Service more than £500,000 – assuming, I suppose, people do not indulge too much in the aforementioned golden syrup or wine.

In the 1937, London was the biggest port in the world and at the heart of what people thought about London, said Robin Mortimer, the PLA’s chief executive.

“In the 30s, if you asked people what does London do, most people would have had the port in the top three.”

Today, tonnage still going up but there is a feeling in the capital of a “sense of decline” in the port, following the closing down of the Docklands and many developments that have “turned their backs on the river’, he said.

However, the Thames has seen significant growth across the board in the past decade, he pointed out. “Overall, the Thames is a growth area: it contributes a vast amount to London economy, yet it still seems to have a sense that it isn’t all it could be.”

The new data in the PLA reports show that the tidal Thames is “thriving”, said Mr Mortimer. It is home to the second biggest port in the UK and the busiest inland waterway in the country, with five million tonnes of freight moved between river terminals every year.

The two reports, “The River Thames’ Economic Prosperity” and “Adding Value: The River Thames” were commissioned as part of a year-long project to develop a ‘Vision’ for the future of the tidal Thames, which stretches 95 miles from Teddington Lock, through the heart of the capital, into the North Sea.

After consultation, a final ‘Vision’ document will be important in influencing how operators on the Thames, including the PLA, should work – and it is also about influencing big players such as the new Mayor of London in April next year, said Mr Mortimer. “What will be the new Mayor’s aspiration for the river? We would like to influence that.”

Meanwhile, the PLA’s commitment to ‘safeguarding’ wharfs for port use remained crucial in making sure the sites were available for moving freight, he said.

On the discussion panel that followed, Lucy Haynes, CBI London regional director, said: “The Thames is quite clearly part of our heritage and culture, but also part of our future.”

Investment in infrastructure is a top concern for businesses, she said, “But what I don’t hear enough is talk of the Thames within that context. These reports are part of the process of raising the profile of what the river itself contributes to the economy and society. It is extremely important.

“The second really important point is around the supply chain and role that the Thames has within the supply chain process. We know that by strengthening the domestic supply chain, you create opportunities for business of all sizes, and that is a great opportunity.”