The Landscape Guide

Thames Landscape Strategy - Central London

The Thames Landscape Strategy is an important aspect of London's Landscape Architecture. The Thames Strategy is being developed in four sections:

  1. Weybridge to Hampton to Kew – Thames Landscape Strategy (originated by Kim Wilkie)
  2. Kew to Chelsea - Thames Strategy (strategy document by Atkins)
  3. Chelsea to Tower Bridge - Cross River Partnership (strategy in development by London Landscape Architecture Group)
  4. Tower Bridge to Shoeburyness – Thames Estuary Partnership (strategy document by LDA)

The least developed of these sections, and in many ways the most important, is the Chelsea to Tower Bridge - the Central London Reach It includes the City Corporation and the London Boroughs of  Westminster,  Southwark and Lambeth. London's historic core is changing as swiftly in the 21st Century as it has done in each century since the Middle Ages. Though a wonderful urban landscape, it is not as wonderful as it could be.

The three developed sections of the strategy each has strengths and weaknesses. In working towards a Thames Landscape Strategy for Central London, the aims should be (1) to draw upon the strengths of the other three sections (2) to found the strategy on a landscape architecture theory (3) to develop a strategy which benefits all London residents, workers and visitors to London, in addition to current users.

Weybridge to Hampton to Kew – Thames Landscape Strategy

Kim Wilkie gives this account of the Strategy's origins:

The Thames through London has increasingly become a focus for both concern and optimism about the city. The river has been identified as one of the Capital's greatest but most undervalued resources and the most important natural and visual element in the Capital's unique urban character The Thames Landscape Strategy comes as part of a widespread response to the plight and potential of the river. The initiative for the Strategy originally sprang from the 1991 exhibition of ideas for the Capital's river organized by the Royal Fine Art Commission and inspired by Judy Hillman's' A New Look for London'. As part of the exhibition our practice showed how the Upper Reaches are linked by a network of historic landscape lines and vistas to form the landscape structure of this part of the city. These ideas caught the imagination of local interest groups and coincided with a growing concern to find a way of carrying the special character of the riverside into plans for the future. Although many of these issues are addressed in local authority Unitary Development Plans, there is no coordinated strategy which follows the river beyond borough boundaries. Gradually the project evolved into looking at how the riverside as a whole could be enhanced, reinstating parts of the historic landscape to work with today's uses and nature conservation habitats. In the end it was decided that a landscape strategy for the river throughout the area was needed to supplement local authority plans and relate to London-wide policies.

Starting with the Royal Fine Art Commission, Kim Wilkie assembled a large group organisations in support of the project. It included amenity societies and both local and national government bodies. The Thames Landscape Strategy document was published in 1994 and received many awards. Wilkie summarised the first 20 years of the TLS as follows:

Hundred year plan for the river through London based on the historic, natural and cultural landscape. Adopted as the prototype for the Thames by the Government Office for London's Strategic Planning Guidance. Achievements of the Strategy in its first twenty years, include planning and policy decisions as well as projects on the ground. The following are some of these projects that Kim Wilkie has been directly involved in: Pastoral Arcadia, Richmond; Floodscape, Richmond; Ham Avenues, Richmond; Old Deer Park, Richmond; Richmond Green, Richmond.

The Thames Landscape Strategy is now run by a non-profit organisation and has a website. It states that:

Initially the Thames Landscape Strategy developed from proposals to restore the network of neglected historic vistas, avenues and landscapes along and across the river but the growing awareness of the need for a series of integrated policies for the Thames gradually evolved to cover an analysis of the character of the river corridor between Hampton and Kew, leading to the publication in 1994 of the Thames Landscape Strategy (now incorporated into planning policy) and the formation of the Thames Landscape Strategy Partnership. Consisting of 14 funding partners the ground-breaking organisation works closely with over 100 local groups and communities and has won many awards. During the past twelve years the Strategy has successfully turned the original vision into reality through the implementation of a wide range of initiatives in the areas of recreation, land management, nature conservation, flood risk management, historic restoration, river use, access and interpretation, visitor provision and landscape enhancement.

Comment. The Weybridge to Hampton to Kew section of the Thames Landscape Strategy is for an area of beautiful scenery. It benefits from a strong historical base, broad local support and a good organisation.

Kew to Chelsea - Thames Strategy

The Thames Strategy Kew to Chelsea (TSKC) section of the TLS was launched in 2002 with the initial plan was produced by Atkins and available as a set of pdf files. It was a 'response to a lack of comprehensive guidance recognising the distinct characteristics of the individual stretches of the River Thames. It was also established to create links between various river users, adjacent communities on opposite banks of the river and river-related businesses and organisations'. The documents produced by Atkins are very well researched in terms of the planning, engineering and institutional context in which the Thames is managed.

Riverbank design provides a good example of the Atkins' approach. They (1) explain the legal situation, which is complicated both with regard to ownership and funding (2) draw attention to the Environment Agency's hard-to-find publication Partnership in Planning: Riverbank Design Guidance for the Tidal Thames. (3) make a bland recommendation 'Policy Recommendation RC2:
The publication of any new advice relating to the flood defences should be kept under review and recommendations implemented as appropriate', (4) give an example of how 'timber
fendering' was recommended in a 1998 report by WS Atkins on Wandle Riverbank Improvements.

With regard to foreshore access, Atkins advise that 'There is a right of access to the foreshore for navigational purposes, for fishing, and for customary purposes, but not for recreational/leisure purposes. Promoting further public access for recreational purposes needs to be carefully considered in the context of the legal and safety implications, bearing in mind the fast tidal flows and potentially dangerous conditions'. The conclusion is correct but unduly cautious and leads to a timid recommendation 'Policy Recommendation RC6: The PLA and Crown Estate (the legal owners of the foreshore below mean high water) in consultation with the EA and other interested parties should review the position regarding public access to the foreshore for water based as well as land based recreational and educational purposes subject to safety and health considerations'.

Comment. The Atkins recommendations for TSKC are well-researched and well-considered. The disappointing aspect of their recommendations is a lack of vision and imagination.

Cross River Partnership

The Cross River Partnership is cited as having taken responsibility for the Central London section of the Thames Landscape Strategy but, in 2014, we were unable to find details of this involvment on the CRP website.

Thames Estuary Partnership

The Thames Strategy East is available on the Thamesweb website. The landscape strategy was produced by Landscape Design Associates (LDA Design) and extends from Tower Bridge to Gravesend. The  purpose of the strategy is to provide:

  • an holistic and long-term vision and framework for the sustainable future development and management of the strategy area that provides the context for development over the next 100 years.
  • a cross-borough, cross-river perspective to inform the preparation of regional spatial strategies, Local Development Frameworks, masterplans, design guidance and investment programmes and priorities.

It gains strength from being related to the East London Green Grid, also produced by LDA Design, so that the river landscape is not treated in isolation from the land landscape. The policy recommendations are also well-related to the different characteristics of the reaches of the study area:

  • Reach 1 The Pool and Limehouse Reach (tower Bridge -rotherhithe/Limehouse)
  • Reach 2 Greenwich Reach and Blackwall Reach (isle of dogs, deptford & greenwich)
  • Reach 3 Bugsby’s Reach and Woolwich Reach (greenwich Peninsula -galleons Point/Woolwich)
  • Reach 4 Gallions Reach and Barking Reach (Beckton, Barking & thamesmead)
  • Reach 5 Halfway Reach and Erith Reach (dagenham & Belvedere)
  • Reach 6 Erith Rands (rainham marshes - erith) Reach 7 Long Reach and Fiddlers Reach
  • (Purfleet/greenhithe - grays/swanscombe Peninsula)
  • Reach 8 Northfleet Hope (tilbury docks & northfleet)
  • Reach 9 Gravesend Reach (gravesend & tilbury)

Comment. Thames Strategy East has the contextual strengths noted above but they appear to have diminished the focus on the promised overall vision of 'a world class river where the diverse social, economic, cultural and environmental legacy is recognised'. With notable exceptions, the character of the Thames from Greenwich to Gravesend is disappointing verging on depressing. It is not 'world class' at the present time.