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Last month, we started looking at the river of the future – London as a Victorian city re-imagined with new juxtaposed glassy lofty heights and crazy development projects. How we see and move, the very urban fabric of London is changing and the Thames is still at the geographical heart of the city. The river’s past was undoubtedly extraordinary but we must look forward to see how dynamic the Thames of tomorrow will be. Amazingly, the Thames is central to three of the biggest construction projects currently taking place in Europe. The so-called ‘Thames Super Sewer’, London Gateway Port and Crossrail are flagships of the UK construction industry.
The Port of London Grows!
The London Gateway is a new port located on the north back of the Thames in the estuary. It was containerisation along with the lorry and construction of motorways that helped to cause the rapid decline and closure of London’s central dockland areas during the 1960s and 1970s. The larger container ships could no longer get up to the central London docks and, down river, Tilbury became the only port to remain in business at a much reduced capacity. As with most extreme changes in society’s social and physical landscape, it was pure economics that played its part – the lorry was simply a cheaper form of transport. Our very own Sailing Barge Will was sold out of trade in 1966 and became a storage space, before being sold again as a private yacht and eventually slipping to P&O and ironically becoming a corporate hospitality PR vessel for the new shipping industry that had replaced her.
A Return to London’s Shipping Fortunes
London Gateway marks a return to London’s shipping fortunes. Although the area in Thurrock has been used for unloading and loading ships since the sixteenth century, the government used statutory powers to establish a new port in the area as part of a wider regeneration scheme. This new deep-water port can handle the largest container ships the world has to offer. By using modern technology, it will reduce shipping costs and also provides a fantastic hub for access to rail and road networks across the UK. Although phase one is complete and the first ship arrived in late 2013, it will not be fully operational for a few years.
Logistically, it’s quite impressive: a container quay stretches 2.7km and it is located on several major shipping lanes. 12,000 new jobs will be created in the area and the developers, DP World, estimate that a further 30,000 jobs will be indirectly supported by the new port. Although small in comparison of old, this resurgence in the Thames as a trading port for cargo is refreshing. It may look radically different but the Thames is once again an important trading hub. It is the reason London became so powerful in the first place: you can’t take shipping away from the Thames for long!
A Victorian Sewer in the 21st Century
Much of London’s infrastructure is still rooted in its Victorian conception and one of the best examples can be found when looking at London’s sewer network. Clearly, human settlements form near rivers because of drinking water, irrigation and trade; however, it is often overlooked that a river can very usefully dispose of waste! Up until the 19th century the Thames was an open sewer! However, with a growing population, many of the Thames tributaries began to slow with waste and spread disease. It was not until 1858 and the so called ‘Great Stink’ that Parliament began to take the issue seriously and they commissioned the civil engineer, Joseph Bazalgette, to design and oversee the construction of an underground sewer system.
This extraordinary achievement covered over many of London’s ‘lost rivers’, built the ‘embankment’ on reclaimed land and solved the waste problem by diverting sewage away from populated areas.
Amazingly, this sewer has served London for years with only minor modernisation. However, with a growing population and increasing rain water running off newly concreted areas, London’s sewer ‘overflow’ which was supposed to act only in emergencies now regularly allows raw sewage into the Thames. It was not designed for the current demand!
This has led to the radical proposal of a new 22 mile long tunnel running over the Thames called the ‘Thames Tideway’. It will run mostly under the Thames between Hammersmith and Beckton and will upgrade London’s sewer for the 21st Century at an estimated cost of £4.2 billion!
Another world class London development is Transport for London’s Crossrail, an ambitious new underground railway that is currently Europe’s largest railway and infrastructure construction project. The 73 mile railway will move east to west across the Capital linking London new and old, Paddington and Liverpool Street to Canary Wharf and Heathrow Airport. Excitingly, the railway will also provide a new Thames crossing from Custom House to Woolwich. The new Canary Wharf station is being built in a drained dock on the Isle of Dogs – crossing the Thames was once an industry in itself for small vessels – now trains have transformed how London’s population move about their city. Excitingly, the Tunnel Boring Machine ‘Sophia’ is currently under the Thames working its way from Plumstead to Woolwich!
Although still on the drawing board, a new London Hub Airport has been proposed for the Thames estuary. All London’s existing airports are in bad locations because of London’s prevailing winds and their proximity to heavily populated areas. Building a new runway at Heathrow is a constant political sore and so several high profile public figures, including Mayor of London Boris Johnson, have championed constructing a new, purpose built airport on the Isle of Grain. Out of the way and on reclaimed land that is currently disused the airport could be paid for by selling off land at Heathrow to form a new, leafy West London borough. Perhaps aircraft will be the new common place sight in the Thames Estuary? The largest Thames port may become one for the air!
By Guy Wimpory firstname.lastname@example.org