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New study reveals the potential to use London’s piers for handling light freight on the River Thames

News / Freight

1st April 2022

New report by Cross River Partnership (CRP), a non-profit and impartial partnership organisation, identifies the feasibility of handling light freight at London piers which could support a thriving river economy and contribute toward net zero ambitions.

The ‘Light Freight: Design Solutions for Thames Freight Infrastructure’ study produce by Beckett Rankine was commissioned by Cross River Partnership (CRP) and the Port of London (PLA), as part of the DEFRA-funded Clean Air Villages 4 project.

The study has been undertaken in association with the Thames Estuary Growth Board, and the study builds on a recent Light Freight on the River Thames report published by the Growth Board and the PLA.

Across public and private sector organisations there is a fast-growing desire to make better use of the River Thames to transport light freight, alongside the heavier freight already moved on the river, to secure environment and logistical benefits.

Light freight services on the Thames could potentially benefit numerous consumers and be a financially viable method of reducing road vehicle movements in central London. These services would contribute towards the Mayor of London’s Plan Transport Strategy and the River Action Plan, as well as the PLA’s and Government’s objectives of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 as set out in PAS 2080.

The study identifies a shortlist of seven pier locations and considers two models for a successful Light Freight service: Partial Service and Continuous Service. These represent different visions for how the service could operate and face different challenges in how they could be incorporated on the River Thames.

A suite of design solutions demonstrate how each of the shortlisted pier locations could be incorporated into the Light Freight service to service either a partial or a continuous service. The cost of this design solution has been provided for each pier to demonstrate the potential costs involved.

This study confirms the intended focus of the light freight service which is to be smaller, more manoeuvrable cargo such as letters and parcels, medical supplies, food and drink, and other business supplies. This cargo is to be moved primarily with a ‘Roll On-Roll Off’ approach, although the ability to have people handling goods is to be allowed for where possible.

Perry Glading, Deputy Chair of the Thames Estuary Growth Board, commented: “Thanks to this study we are getting a rounded picture of the feasibility of handling light freight on the River Thames and the river’s infrastructure. The pieces are in place to build on what is already happening to develop a thriving river economy and make deliveries into London greener. The Thames Estuary Growth Board is delighted to be working with CRP and PLA, and private sector businesses to make better use of the river, and support the country’s net zero ambitions.”

Fiona Coull, CRP Project Manager, said: “Within the context of an increased desire to use the Thames to transport Light Freight, CRP is pleased to publish a study into investigating the feasibility of handling Light Freight across London’s piers. We hope that this study will contribute to an expanded, sustainable use of the Thames and a better environment for all Londoners.”

James Trimmer, Director of Planning and Development, Port of London Authority, said: “Light Freight has much potential for significant growth in the 21st century. This study sets out a clear plan for moving forwards for smaller freight along the Thames, with the use of specific desired pier locations and costings to provide a sense of context and value to the future of any Light Freight scheme.”

Read the full report here.

Discover the CRP’s findings on the air pollution impact of moving freight by river.