Port of London Authority Meeting

Meeting with the PLA on 25th June 2019 at Ahoy Sailing Centre,  Deptford

The PLA is the main body responsible for environmental regulation along the 95 miles of the tidal Thames from Teddington Lock to the North Sea.   They hold regular public meetings in different locations along the river.  This was the third of the PLA’s regular public meetings this year,  but the first that they've held in our stretch of the river.   There were residents and business owners from central London,  Bermondsey,  the Isle of Dogs as well as Greenwich.   The main focus was on air quality and other cruise ship and pleasure boat issues.   Robin Mortimer,  the CEO of the PLA, had barely begun his presentation before the questions began.   These were the main issues raised.

Air Quality Monitoring

There were many residents of New Capital Quay present who were very concerned that the new air quality monitors installed along Greenwich Reach were at around 2 – 3 metre height,  the normal height for vehicle monitoring but not necessarily the appropriate height for multi-storey cruise ships with fumes coming out of high funnels next to high rise apartments.   The answer from the PLA expert – that the emissions quickly sink to ground level – failed to convince.  

Another attendee pointed out that none  of the three Greenwich monitors which were supposed to be feeding real time data to the PLA website were actually showing anything.  The PLA admitted there were maintenance issues.   On the way home we noticed that the solar panels that power the monitors were covered in seagull guano which may explain the lack of data.  

On-shore Power Plans

The PLA has been exploring a shore power option for both Greenwich Ship Tier and Tower Bridge.   The amount of shore side paraphernalia is considerable and not visually appealing.   The lack of nearby substations with available capacity means that there would be disruption in bringing in a power supply.   The cost is estimated to be about £10 million.  There was concern that if the PLA was persuaded to make an investment of this scale there would be a perverse incentive to increase the number of cruise ships to make it worthwhile financially.

Cruise Ship Economics

Robin Mortimer admitted that there was no proper research on the benefits of cruise ships in the overall tourist economy in London.   Given the huge numbers of tourists already in London, the  disruption and environmental cost of accommodating a relatively small number of cruise ship passengers in what is effectively a floating all-inclusive resort, may not be a worthwhile investment.  

Noise Nuisance

There was concern about the noise coming from party boats – demonstrated throughout the meeting by a continual parade of boats at varying volumes.   As a riverside resident pointed out, until recently the river was lined by derelict and industrial sites.   Now almost every part of the river from Richmond to Thamesmead is residential and people are not happy at having loud music and noisy DJs backwards and forwards all evening.  

This issue has been brought to the fore by the proposed Ocean Diva  - a floating Ministry  of Sound licensed to carry 1500 clubbers on a boat the size of a football pitch.   The planning application for the pier required for this behemoth at Swan Lane in the City is currently with the Corporation of London.   Bankside residents are very concerned about the potential impact on their lives of having this loading and unloading right opposite.  

Robin Mortimer admitted that the situation with reporting noise nuisance was complicated.   The PLA has no jurisdiction.   Complaints need to go to Port Health – a department of the Corporation of the City of London – which controls noise pollution along the whole length of the tidal Thames.

Rubbish,  Anti-social Behaviour and Traffic

Other aspects of anti-social behaviour have to be reported to the specific borough where the boat is based.  How this is determined by someone on another part of the river is unclear.   Residents of Cherry Garden in Bermondsey complained about anti-social behaviour from departing party goers and piled up rubbish left by tripper boats. 

Which organisation is responsible for what?

It became clear through the meeting that there are confusing boundaries between the different agencies that control the tidal Thames.  Although the PLA have overall jurisdiction, shoreside planning issues are the responsibility of the individual boroughs.   The PLA also has no right to refuse access to the Thames to any ship that the MCA (Maritime and Coastguard Agency)  deems to be properly registered.   Similarly,  noise control resides with Port Health in the City of London.   The PLA is ultimately answerable to the Department of Environment. 

Sheila Keeble