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Policy SI15 Water transport


  1. Development proposals should protect and enhance existing passenger transport piers and their capacity. New piers will be supported in line with the Port of London Authority and Transport for London’s Pier Strategy. The necessary provision of moorings, waste and sewage facilities for passenger vessels should be provided.
  2. Existing boatyard sites should be protected and development proposals to increase their capacity or range of services should be supported. Alternative use of a boatyard site should only be accepted if the facilities of the site are re-provided at a site with equivalent or enhanced facilities. Proposals for a new strategic-scale boatyard site, at an appropriate site within London, will be supported.
  3. Development proposals to facilitate an increase in the amount of freight transported by river should be supported.
  4. The Mayor will keep the network of safeguarded wharves under regular review. Boroughs should protect existing locations and identify new locations for additional waterborne freight. There may be opportunities to consolidate wharves as part of strategic land use change, in particular, within Opportunity Areas; these will need to ensure that the capacity and operability of the wharves is retained and where possible expanded.
  5. Safeguarded wharves should only be used for waterborne freight-handling use, including consolidation centres. The redevelopment of safeguarded wharves for other land uses should only be accepted if the wharf is no longer viable or capable of being made viable for waterborne freight-handling (see viability testing criteria). Temporary uses should only be allowed where they do not preclude the wharf being reused for waterborne freight-handling uses.
  6. Development proposals which increase the use of safeguarded wharves for waterborne freight transport, especially on wharves which are currently not handling freight by water, will be supported.
  7. Development proposals that include the provision of a water freight use on a safeguarded wharf, with other land uses above or alongside, will need to ensure that the development is designed so that there are no conflicts of use and that the freight-handling capacity of the wharf is not reduced.
  8. Development proposals adjacent to or opposite safeguarded wharves should be designed to minimise the potential for conflicts of use and disturbance, in line with the Agent of Change principle.
  9. Development proposals close to navigable waterways should maximise water transport for bulk materials during demolition and construction phases.

The Mayor will work with relevant partners to increase the number of people travelling by river on passenger and tourist services in line with the 20 million by 2035 patronage target outlined in the Port of London Authority (PLA) Thames Vision. This builds on significant passenger trip increases in recent years.

The PLA and Transport for London’s Pier Strategy promotes extending river services to East London and its growth areas to encourage modal shift to the river. This will relieve road congestion and better integrate other forms of transport such as walking and cycling.

Boatyards are essential for servicing passenger and other vessels. Beyond the existing strategic-scale boatyard at Bay Wharf, Greenwich, research indicates that a further facility with the capability to repair and service large commercial boats is required. This is to avoid operators having to get their vessels serviced and repaired far beyond the Thames Estuary at the East Coast or even in the near continent.

Water transport is recognised as one of the most sustainable modes for freight, particularly for low-value, non-time-critical bulk movements. Water transport already reduces the number of lorry movements on London’s roads and their associated negative impacts on Londoners. Greater use of water transport has the ability to remove further lorries from London’s roads. The Mayor will promote positive action to achieve this, including consolidation and the use of compulsory purchase powers where necessary, to bring inactive sites into use or to optimise the use of under-utilised sites. Appropriate access to the highway network and relevant freight-handling infrastructure such as jetties should also be protected.

Many of London’s river freight wharves are located in areas of high demand and high value for other land uses. A network of wharves is protected from redevelopment by Safeguarding Directions. The Mayor will regularly review wharf safeguarding to ensure the changing need for waterborne freight is addressed.

The redevelopment of safeguarded wharves should only be accepted if a wharf is no longer viable or capable of being made viable for waterborne freight-handling uses. The only exception to this would be for a strategic proposal of essential benefit for London, which cannot be planned for and delivered on any other site in Greater London.

Factors to be considered in assessing the viability of a safeguarded wharf under part E of this policy include:

  • its size, shape, navigational access, road access, rail access (where possible), planning history, environmental impact and surrounding land use context
  • its geographical location, in terms of proximity and connections to existing and potential market areas
  • the existing and potential contribution it can make towards reducing road-based freight movements
  • existing and potential relationships between the wharf and other freight-handling sites or land uses
  • the location and availability of capacity at comparable alternative wharves, having regard to current and projected wharf capacity and market demands.

Appropriate temporary uses on vacant safeguarded wharves can ensure that investment in those wharves is maintained and negative perceptions are minimised. Temporary uses must maintain the existing freight-handling infrastructure to a specified standard and be limited by a temporary permission with a specific end date. Priority should be given to uses which require a waterside location. Temporary uses should not be permitted where a permanent freight-handling use is available.

Many wharves are in Opportunity Areas and/or are increasingly surrounded by different land uses that do not have an industrial or freight purpose. In line with the Agent of Change principle, new development next to or opposite wharves should utilise the site layout, building orientation, uses and materials to design out potential conflicts. Proposals for neighbouring development sites must ensure that appropriate highway access to wharves for commercial vehicles is maintained.