Legacy for London Waterways?



by David Hilling

For too long Britain has turned its back on water transport but government rhetoric and a wide range of environmental considerations suggest that we should go back to water transport wherever possible.  Mode shift back to water has been recognised with the creation of a Mode Shift Centre by the Freight Transport Association.

As part of a World Heritage Site, its proximity to the National Maritime Museum and the recently restored Cutty Sark and with a view over the Thames , the GMI could hardly be other than concerned with the idea of legacy. It was, of course, a case based on its possible legacy that brought the Olympics to Stratford and Greenwich Park and much is now being made  of this with respect to sporting activities and a transformation of East London based on residential, cultural and commercial developments in the area of the Olympic Park.

But why not a legacy for waterway transport?  Look out of GMI’s windows at the underutilised highway that is the Thames and the few remaining Greenwich peninsula wharves used for freight – does it have to be like this? Every year over 600,000 tonnes of containerised London waste is barged from Wandsworth to an incinerator wharf at Belvedere and Crossrail used barges to move excavated material away from its Canary Wharf station site. In October dredging of Bow Creek will facilitate barge removal of Crossrail tunnel excavated material from Limmo and Instone wharves.

Bow Creek is but the southern end of the Lee Navigation which passes through the Olympic Park to Edmonton (where there is already a waterside incinerator plant), Enfield and on into Hertfordshire – a waterway which stimulated food production and industries for the expanding London market. The new developments proposed for the Olympic Park area will require considerable excavation, vast quantities of aggregates and other building materials and will create land uses which continue to generate waste and recyclables way into the future. There could, indeed should, be a role for water transport in this and the London Legacy Development Corporation is being urged to give it serious consideration and ensure that possible wharf sites and their accessibility are not taken over by land uses for which a waterside location is not a necessary condition.

Dr David Hilling is Research Adviser and Visiting Lecturer in Maritime History at the Greenwich Maritime Institute.  He was a lecturer in Geography at the University of Ghana from 1961-66 and a lecturer and senior lecturer at the University of London (Bedford College and Royal Holloway), until retirement in 1996. He has undertaken consultancy work on African port organisation and the cruise shipping market and destination/port lecturing on cruise ships (Western Mediterranean, Iberia, Atlantic Islands, Western Africa). During his career he has lectured at the Universities of Western Michigan and West Indies, Mona, Jamaica. Dr Hilling is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport and Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. He is also UK vice president of the European River Sea Transport Union.

Image by Victoria Carolan