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Why some visions are more visionary than others

Why some visions are more visionary than others
How many times have we heard, amongst other currently popular phrases, a reference to a “shared vision”? It is a phrase that could be consigned, along with “sustainability”, “optimisation” and “strategy”, to a certain type of bingo.

But hearing Port of London Authority (PLA) ceo Robin Mortimer talk of a “shared vision” for the Thames makes perfect sense. After all, taking a detailed look at the future potential and development of the Port of London involves far more than just freight volumes and quay cranes.

To use another “bingo” word, the Port of London Authority works with an awful lot of stakeholders – including more than 70 port, terminal and wharf operations along the tidal Thames; passenger services carrying up to 10m people a year by water; cruise ships; tourist organisations; a wide variety of leisure users, from rowers and canoeists to walkers on the river banks; and countless others with a ‘stake’ in the commercial success and environmental health of the river.

This is a river that threads its way through a rapidly growing capital city – and has a vital role to play in supporting that growth, in all aspects, whether it’s handling the world’s giant containerships, or providing the venue for Tall Ships or the University Boat Race.

So, at the PLA’s annual reception, a new “Vision for the Tidal Thames” study was announced – a year-long project in which the PLA will gather evidence and views, and consult widely on the future of the UK’s busiest waterway.

PLA chairman Helen Alexander described the Thames as “one of the most iconic and most historic waterways in the world”. She reported on London Gateway’s handling of larger and larger containerships, culminating in the call by the Triple-E class Munkebo Maersk in February; on the Port of Tilbury’s London Distribution Park development, highly successful cruise business and handling of the Battersea Power Station cranes, brought downriver for refurbishment; and on the increased use of the river for freight, particularly vital for projects such as Crossrail and the Thames Tideway Tunnel.

This latter part, she said, was making a real difference to people’s lives – keeping lorries off the roads, reducing congestion and making the city a safer and better place to be. Intraport freight grew to a new high of 5.5m tonnes last year.

“I think now is a good time to stand back and ask ourselves some fundamental questions: what is our shared vision for the Thames? How can we see port trade increase to feed, clothe and supply a growing population? Do we want to set new passenger targets on the river, and maybe a (intraport) freight target of 20m tonnes? And what do we need to do to sustain this unique environment?”

Robin Mortimer, who took over as ceo a year ago, said: “There is enormous potential for future growth.”

The purpose of the study was to “stand back and see what the potential is and how we can realise it,” he said.

“This river is a finite, natural asset. We have to make sure we make the best use of it and hand it over to future generations.”

As part of the exercise, the PLA will organise open forums and seminars in May and June, and gather information and evidence to feed into this “Vision”. The study will establish the economic value of the river not only in terms of commercial port operations – but also, for the first time, the river’s worth will be measured in terms of the health and wellbeing of its leisure users.

“We are really excited to be doing this work, which promise to shape the future of the river,” he said. The final document, due early next year, will give a ‘clear shared view of where we are heading, in every aspect of river use’, he said.

In short, London is a growing city – “and it’s about how are we going to be part of that”.