The River Thames has enormous, untapped potential for handling light freight. If fulfilled, it would deliver new jobs, ease congestion and air pollution, and help keep the nation on track to net zero. Today, the Thames Estuary Growth Board has released a report with recommendations on making this potential a reality.
The ‘Light Freight on the River Thames’ report has been commissioned by the Thames Estuary Growth Board and the Port of London Authority, and delivered by WSP, one of the world’s leading engineering professional services consultancies. Its purposes are to provide the framework for a viable light freight solution on the River Thames, demonstrate the benefits for both business and the wider public, and set out clear next steps.
The Thames Estuary Growth Board will share the report with business to develop the case for investment and all levels of government to develop policy support.
The challenge for any proposed river freight model is that it needs to be a viable option for supply chains for it to be adopted by business. This report finds that the River Thames can be better used for large-scale light freight, such as deliveries of parcels, food, beverages, and retail goods. Handling just three per cent of the 700 million parcels delivered in London annually could make river freight competitive with traditional road freight.
The study was launched at the Thames Estuary Growth Board’s virtual roundtable, “We’re in a good place for greener freight” on Tuesday 8th February. The study will be discussed by operators, logistics companies and key stakeholders seeking to make light freight on the Thames a reality in the coming years.
In summary, the ‘Light Freight on the River Thames’ report concludes that it is an operational and financially viable proposition. It sets out the following recommendations:
- Establish a coordinating body with political backing that can put pressure on stakeholders to help facilitate riverside developments.
- Show how operations at the key points – loading, unloading and last mile – can work seamlessly and efficiently to attract anchor customers.
- Develop detailed options for pier development that minimise costs and maximise market access.
- Realise the social benefits of river freight through revenue support mechanisms and understanding of customer willingness to pay for environmentally friendly deliveries.
- Push for limited increases in road pricing to facilitate an enormous reduction in van traffic.
- Enter discussions with large, innovative online businesses that can become the potential anchor clients that will achieve the 20m parcel target.
- Support the development of proof-of-concept trials, including those currently underway.
Light river freight is already showing signs of resurgence, with the drive of organisations such as the Port of London Authority (PLA) and the use of the river for parcel trade (by DHL for example) and hospital supplies (Guys and St Thomas NHS Trust). This generates enormous environmental and social benefits whilst also presenting an opportunity to push forward innovation through new marine technologies in green power such as hydrogen and electrical propulsion.
Moving freight onto the river is a key part of the Thames Estuary Growth Board’s ‘Green Blue Workplan’, which describes practical steps to realise the huge potential of the Thames Estuary. By driving a modal shift from road to river, the Board aims to draw in new investment opportunities, supporting its position as a strategic investment partner to Government, and driving levelling up across the Estuary.
Kate Willard OBE, Estuary Envoy and Chair of the Thames Estuary Growth Board, said:“Good, green growth is so central to everything the Thames Estuary Growth Board does – that means sustainable growth that works with the environment and resources we have around us. The Thames is a fantastic example of this. We have this enormous opportunity to make the most of the river and use it to deliver new jobs, reduce road congestion and clean up polluted air.”
Perry Glading, Deputy Chair of the Thames Estuary Growth Board and our lead on light freight, added: “This is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss, as we continue to strive towards net zero and deliver the world’s cleanest, greenest Estuary. We are delighted with the work that WSP has put into creating the models and recommendations and look forward to putting them into action.”
James Trimmer, Director of Planning and Environment for the Port of London Authority,said: “The Thames is home to the UK’s largest port & inland waterway and provides a sustainable and reliable, congestion free highway into the heart of the capital. The WSP report shows how ‘joining the dots’ between port and consumer is a very real possibility and one which will deliver manifest environmental and wider social benefits. At the PLA we’re working daily to turn this potential into reality.”
Prof Jim Coleman, Head of Economics at WSP, said: “The findings from our report are clear: moving light freight onto the River Thames is not only feasible, but has invaluable benefits. Cost is an overriding issue in transportation, but at the right scale, it can easily be competitive with road freight, particularly as new technologies and innovations develop. Decarbonising our transport network and helping deliver a greener net zero future for everybody is a vital task, and one we have been thrilled to work on alongside the Thames Estuary Growth Board.”
To read the full ‘Light Freight on the River Thames’ feasibility study, please visit: https://thamesestuary.org.uk/light-freight/