Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Thamesbank (IW 75)


Waterways for Tomorrow.

2.  The following are views about how the Government's policies might work in practice.

3.  The information is based on experience of the Thames. Further evidence can be provided.


  4.1  Recent flooding has revealed rather publicly the conflict of interests that exist between the Environment Agency and local councils which accept plans to build on flood plains although such building is known to lead to reduced flood capacity and reduced drainage capacity. The consequence of the local planning decisions is subsequently borne by other authorities, the public and owners who have to plan, construct and pay for flood defences that would not be necessary had the flood plain been preserved.

  4.2  Local councils make local arrangements with developers which have implications for the whole river for which councils neither have to pay nor take responsibility. For example boat builders yards, river facilities and access points are replaced by housing developments. Reducing the number of boat builders and boat yards leads to a reduction in commercial and leisure boating. Local authorities are under financial pressure to support developments that increase council tax income.

4.2.1  Pressures on councils  Financial aspects

  Local authorities are under financial pressure to increase revenue. In return for negotiated, so-called planning gains, and the potential for improved council tax revenue from additional flats, councils approve developments that include multiple, high-rise flat blocks on river foreshores where boathouses and commercial river sites had previously stood. There is no evidence to show that commercial interests would not continue to be viable.


  There are very few boatyards and boat builders left along the tidal Thames. The consequence is a continuing reduction in commercial and recreational boating, a loss of local jobs, a loss of river skills and hence a loss of the body of knowledge that should be passed to future generations. (Tough's boatyard operated for 100 years, was a source of local jobs, and was the boatyard at which the little ships were assembled for the Dunkirk rescue. The developer , St George, has replaced the boatyard with three blocks of flats, each five to seven stories high.)  Government pressure

  Councils claim to be under pressure from the government to provide housing.

In practice

  In practice, local needs are not being met. Flats are being marketed to overseas buyers to the exclusion of local purchasers and those locally employed. (Block C at Ferry Quays at Brentford developed by Fairview and Rialto is, as reported by the saleman, only being marketed in Hong Kong.) There is now evidence that the lack of housing for key workers is an acute economic problem for London.


  New flat dwellers demand unnatural changes to the river. Purchasers of high-priced river flats have demonstrated a lack of river interest, other than for the river as providing a view. Flat purchasers oppose the use of the river by children who make a noise, they oppose the use of the river by party boats that also make a noise, they oppose the use of the river by working boats because they are unsightly, they oppose the use of the river by geese because they make a noise outside the permitted hours of 8-11 pm, they oppose the use of the river by large boats because they block the view of the river. (Examples can be supplied from along the Thames.)  Lack of development balance

  The development of flats to the exclusion of any other development is so pervasive along the Thames that residents of every one of the riparian London boroughs can give many examples of river sites lost to commercial, boating and community interests in favour of developments of high-priced flats. It is the pervasive development of flats to the exclusion of any balance that is the problem.


  Recreational sailing is increasingly difficult for experienced sailors and dangerous for beginners because of the wind tunnels created by multi-storey flat blocks lining the river foreshores, river traffic is restricted because there are fewer and fewer short-term moorings or wharves available to commercial of recreational boats, education of future generations about the river is increasingly restricted by lack of access to the river with the removal of steps and public slipways along the river, the green corridor for wild life is destroyed. Flat dwellers oppose trees in front of their flats hence habitats and resting places for birds are lost. The river is slowly being sterilised of wild life, commercial activity, noisy youngsters and recreational parties in favour of its becoming "a river view". This is happening so quickly that within two years there may be no sites remaining for commercial river life, work and regeneration. (Projection of Thames Landscape Strategy.)

  At Teddington Wharf, the developer St George agreed to retain a public slipway. A new, shorter, steeper slipway was built but it is now difficult to pull boats from the water by hand. Boats that have stopped are sent away by the concierge. There is a Section 106 agreement to provide access to the slipway and to the water frontage but the slipway is chained off and although a notice says that access will be available by contacting a concierge, experience has demonstrated that this is made difficult and discouraged.  Designation of river land as brown-field sites

  Councils, Developers designate river land as brown-field sites. In many cases, the sites are reclaimed river foreshores and subject to flooding. River industries are generally built to take account of the needs of the river as well as the industry, for example there are slipways and drainage in boatyards. The natural drainage is removed when the site is developed for flats.


  The new building may be designed to prevent flooding of its residents, however the consequences for other residents is loss of flood capacity and hence increased risk of flooding.  Sustainable regeneration

  There is no evidence that any of the flat blocks use contemporary technology to conserve the world's scarce resources or that there is a sustainable balance developed between the needs of the river, eg ducks, birds, river transport, children, education, recreation, and the wishes of flat dwellers who want a tidy river-scape as a view.


  The necessary biodiversity to support river life is lost. Access and habitats are lost in the interests of "cleaning up the foreshores". This includes removing residential craft, many of which have been lifelong homes to the residents. Generally these are river people whose skills and knowledge are then lost permanently. Further, these river residents provide the first-line, volunteer water safety and life boat crews: their knowledge of the river keeps them alert to danger and they are able quickly to cast off small craft to rescue those in trouble. For instance, an island opposite Ferry Quays development at Brentford (Developers Fairview and Rialto) which is at the moment a wildlife retreat with residential craft, is according to the salesman to be cleared of all boats and vegetation in order to install a swimming pool. A foot bridge is to be built to the island swimming pool. The loss of this wild-life site along with others already lost means that the wildlife green corridor along the Thames is being lost or permanently blocked by high rise buildings.  Legal requirements

  Environmental Impact Assessments, including Health Impact Assessments, are not being required by councils or carried out by developers. The required Health Improvement Programmes are not being implemented. There is no single authority that is formally responsible for all aspects of the river and for ensuring that all the river's needs are provided for along the foreshores as they run from one riparian borough to the next. Councils are entitled to overrule Environment Agency advice. Community consultation can occur late in a scheme and becomes confrontation.


  4.3  We wish to suggest that relevant planning policy guidelines are embodied in law. This will prevent local councils from coming under unnecessary pressure to accept plans that are against Environment Agency advice, in conflict with sustainable regeneration (Waterways for Tomorrow, 6.42), contrary to commercial and leisure use of the waterways but financially attractive to local councils. In particular, for the Thames, RPG3B/9B and the Rio principles should be embodied in law.


  5.1  The remits of the bodies as described appear too narrow fully to achieve the policy measures set out, in particular 6.42. For instance, on the Thames, fish are managed by the Environment Agency, but ducks and other birds are not; steps leading to the water have, in general, divided responsibility (PLA upto the mean high water line and local authorities above that) and are now in disrepair; section 106 agreements to ensure public access to the Thames are made with developers but not all local councils have the funds to police and enforce the agreements.


  5.2  We wish to suggest that a single, statutory or regulatory Agency be established to set standards, discuss targets for achievement with the various responsible bodies and ensure that partnerships work to achieve the policies set out.


  6.1  Funding for waterways has continually proved to be inadequate. It is based on the premise that particular users can fully fund the waterways. Interest-group funding already leads to inadequate support for the policies given in the document. Further, it does not take account of implications, intended or otherwise, of local funding actions on other aspects of the waterways. For example, piling along river banks in one area can lead to erosion in another area.


  6.2  The waterways should be treated as a national resource and the funding should be mandatory. This might be achieved by consolidating overlapping funding and saving funding on planning challenges that do not support the sustainable regeneration of the waterways.


  1.  The sustainable regeneration of the waterways should be a matter of law and not guidance.

  2.  A single, statutory or regulatory body should set universal standards and oversee partnerships and community involvement.

  3.  Waterways are a national and not local asset, and should be mandatorily funded. Further, so that waterways are considered holistically and along their length, waterway zones along each bank (Blue Ribbon Zones) should be designated. The following has been discussed by Thames communities.

  4.  Dark Blue 50 metres: legally protected for waterways regeneration.

  5.  Light Blue 500 metres: implementation of RPG3B/9B and the Rio principles.


  Might the Committee require the Secretary of State to use his present powers under Section 69(3) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas Act) 1990, Section 77(1) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, Article 14(1) of the Town and Country Planning Act (General Development Procedure) Order 1995, Environmental Protection Act 1990 and Environment Act 1995.

  1.  To prevent any further domestic building on flood plains.

  2.  To designate 50 metres on each foreshore for river needs (wildlife, boats and boating needs, commercial developments) European Habitats Directive 1992 Ref 92/43/EEC, Birds Directive 1979 Ref 79/409/EEC.

  3.  To designate a further 500 metres as mandatory application of RPG3B/9B. For ease of reference this 550 metres of river foreshore is being called the Blue Ribbon Zone.

Dido, Lady Berkeley

Co-ordinator and planning

Sylvia Wicks,


November 2000

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