Wednesday, June 30, 2021

A Nod to Days of Empire as Shipyard Proposed for River Thames

Return of Trade to the Water Prompts New Plan
Shipping News Feature

UK – In the days of Empire, London was the largest and most influential port in the world. Not only did steamers enter the River Thames to move upstream the Royal Docks, but the Pool of London saw the wharves either side of Tower Bridge clogged with barges, wherries and vessels of all sorts.

This volume of trade of course meant not only were there a multitude of chandlers and ship stores suppliers alongside the river, but it also hosted a variety of boat builders and shipyards, many dating far back into history.

This of course has become a distant memory, the rise of containerisation, the huge size of many types of merchant ships has meant the loss of trade to other coastal ports or to deeper water points further downstream such as Tilbury and London Gateway. Meanwhile ship building, particularly in Asia, has blossomed and London’s maritime linked river become a shadow of its former self.

The last decade however has seen a steady rise in trade along the Thames with the environmental advantages of water borne transport creating a boom as vast quantities of aggregate and other construction materials took to the river. And now it seems, with the government keen to reintroduce some of that lost shipbuilding and repairing heritage, a new project is to see the industry return to at least one of its former sites.

The Port of London Authority (PLA) is working with property developers, London & Regional, and the Royal Docks Team (RDT) to deliver the first new shipyard on the Thames for over a century at Albert Island in the London Borough of Newham. The planned shipyard forms part of Albert Island, London & Regional’s 25-acre, multimillion-pound industrial regeneration scheme in the Royal Docks.

The whole area is undergoing significant transformation as London’s only Enterprise Zone and presents a unique opportunity for a skilled maritime operator to develop dedicated facilities and highly skilled jobs for local people, serving the UK’s busiest inland waterway.

Development of a London shipyard is in line with wider Government moves to reinvigorate shipbuilding in the UK; an updated National Shipbuilding Strategy is due to be released later this year. This is expected to take in broader merchant and other vessels, alongside the current strategy’s focus on vessels for the Royal Navy. PLA chief executive, Robin Mortimer, explained:

“The Thames has been the centre of a river renaissance over the last decade, with continuing investment in new vessels and services of all kinds. This shipyard opportunity has major significance, as it will put the essential repair and maintenance facilities at the heart of the busy river. Once developed it will mean services can be provided swiftly, saving operators time taking vessels to yards off the river and minimising downtime.”

The Greater London Authority (GLA) supports development of a new strategic-scale boatyard through the London Plan. The centre would be a transport engineering hub and will benefit from significant investment already underway across the area, including transport infrastructure and local education and training provision.

The 3.3-acre shipyard development at Albert Island, one of three strategic sites in the Royal Docks Enterprise Zone, already has outline planning permission. The PLA is currently seeking expressions of interest from potential operators of the facility at the eastern end of the Royal Docks. Deputy Mayor, Planning, Regeneration and Skills Jules Pipe, said:

“The Royal Docks is one of London’s most exciting areas of regeneration and it’s great that shipbuilding is returning to this part of the Thames. The partnership between London & Regional and the PLA is driving delivery of this important new asset for London which will bring with it new, skilled jobs as part of our developing industrial engineering base.”

The shipyard is expected to feature a boat lift and other infrastructure. The selected operator will be expected to obtain all relevant consents in accordance with the policies in the London Plan, Newham Local Plan, plus permits/licenses from the PLA, the Marine Management Organisation and the Environment Agency.

A 2020 study of the economic impact of Thames’ operations found that there are 780 full-time equivalent jobs in the London Borough of Newham linked to the river, and that those operations generate value added each year of £162 million. The Mayor of Newham and Co-Chair of the Royals Docks Enterprise Zone Board, Rokhsana Fiaz, added:

“The river has always been of strategic importance to Newham and this exciting and historic development of a new shipyard at Albert Island in the Royal Docks will create another major asset for the borough. Most significantly, as part of my community wealth building agenda, we’ve agreed to a target with London & Regional that 35% of the construction workforce and many of the shipbuilding workforce will be recruited through the Council’s Our Newham Work jobs brokerage service.”

News of the proposals was welcomed by the government with Shipping Minister, Robert Courts MP, saying:

“As an island nation, shipbuilding has long been a source of pride for the UK and it’s encouraging to see the industry continue to grow. Building this new shipyard is a fantastic opportunity to support hundreds of jobs in the UK and forge ahead with the Government’s ambition to reinvigorate shipbuilding right across the country.”

The Royal Docks Enterprise Zone is a joint project between the Mayor of London, the London Borough of Newham, led by Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz, and the London Economic Action Partnership (LEAP). It has the claimed potential to deliver 35,000 jobs, 4,000 new homes and more than £5 billion of inward investment by 2037/38.

As London’s only Enterprise Zone, the Royal Docks has a special government designation that means new business rates in the Zone are reserved and reinvested into the area. This has enabled plans for £314 million of investment into the area over the next 10 years to revive the area as a distinctive location for business and culture.