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Policy SI14 Waterways - strategic role


  1. To ensure coordination and alignment at the interface between terrestrial and marine planning, Development Plans and development proposals should take account of the emerging Marine Spatial Plans prepared by the Marine Management Organisation.
  2. To reflect the distinctiveness of areas that specifically relate to the River Thames, relevant Development Plans should designate, and ensure the maintenance of, Thames Policy Areas. Boroughs are encouraged to work together on policies and to develop and update joint Thames Strategies that should support individual Development Plans.

The term ‘waterways’ does not only refer to the River Thames, its tributary rivers and canals, but also to other water spaces including docks, lakes and reservoirs. This network of linked waterways is of strategic importance for London. Every London borough contains some waterways – 17 border the Thames and 15 contain canals (see Figure 9.6).

London’s waterways are multifunctional assets. They provide transport and recreation corridors; green infrastructure; a series of diverse and important habitats; a unique backdrop for important heritage sites, landscapes, views, cultural and community activities; and drainage, flood and water management functions. As such, they provide environmental, economic and health and wellbeing benefits for Londoners. They are protected and their water-related use - in particular safe and sustainable passenger and freight transport, tourism, cultural, community and recreational activities, as well as biodiversity - is promoted. Many of these functions are also supported by boroughs’ local Riverside Strategies, the Environment Agency’s Thames River Basin Management Plan and the Port of London Authority’s Vision for the Thames.

The Thames and London Waterways Forum[138] has been established jointly by the GLA, TfL and the Port of London Authority to address waterways priorities set out in this Plan, the Mayor’s Transport Strategy, the London Environment Strategy and the Port of London Authority’s Vision for the Thames.

[138] The Forum replaces the former London Waterways Commission and the River Concordat Group.

The River Thames is a strategically-important and iconic feature of London. Its character changes on its way through London. Where Thames Policy Areas (TPAs) are not defined in Development Plans, the boundaries defined in Figure 9.7 apply. Within TPAs, lower-height thresholds for referable planning applications apply (25m compared to 30m elsewhere).

Setting the boundary of TPAs should be done in consultation with neighbouring authorities, including those across the river. In defining these boundaries, boroughs should have regard to the following:

  • proximity to the Thames
  • clear visual links between areas, buildings and the river
  • specific geographical features such as main roads, railway lines and hedges
  • the whole curtilage of properties or sites adjacent to the Thames
  • areas and buildings whose functions relate or link to the Thames
  • areas and buildings that have an historic, archaeological or cultural association with the Thames
  • consistent boundaries with neighbouring authorities.

Joint Thames Strategies should cover:

  • the local character of the river
  • water-based passenger and freight transport nodes
  • development sites and regeneration opportunities
  • opportunities for environmental and urban design improvements
  • sites of ecological or archaeological importance
  • sites, buildings, structures, landscapes and views of particular sensitivity or importance
  • focal points of public activity
  • inclusive public access
  • strategic cultural value
  • recreation and marine infrastructure
  • indicative flood risk and water quality.

Thames Strategies should specifically identify and address deficiencies in: water-based passenger, tourism and freight transport; sport, leisure and mooring facilities; marine support infrastructure; and inclusive access and safety provision. Thames Strategies are in place for Hampton–Kew, Kew-Chelsea and East (of Tower Bridge). No joint strategy currently exists for central section of the Thames (Chelsea-Tower Bridge).

The River Thames should not be designated as Metropolitan Open Land, as this may restrict the use of the river for transport infrastructure related uses.

The interface between terrestrial land-side and marine planning is at the centre of on-going coordination and engagement with the Marine Management Organisation (MMO). The South East Inshore Marine Plan is currently under development as part of a suite of Marine Spatial Plans[139]. It covers the covers the coastline from Felixstowe to Dover including the tidal Thames. Development Plans and development proposals should take account of these plans.