The Landscape Guide

Mooring boats at wharfs and midstream

London began as river crossing point and developed as a great port. The water was used for mooring ships and wharfs were used for unloading them. Governments, wanting income, levied customs and excise duties and an Act of 1558 created 'legal quays' as the only places licensed for export and import. Enclosed dock basins were a later development and provided unwelcome competition for the wharf owners. In the second half of the twentieth century, cargo ships became larger and the Central London wharfs lost their export-import trade. Use of the Thames shifted from trade to leisure, New floating wharfs, using pontoons, were built for passengers.
Boating on the River Thames is now managed more for safety than for revenue and this has led to restrictions on moorings.  Old paintings and photographs show the river much more crowded with small boats than today. Demand for residential moorings has been growing in recent years and the river obviously has the capacity for additional moorings. They have not been made available partly for navigational reasons and partly because of their visual impact. Downings Road Moorings, also called Tower Bridge Moorings, are a case in point. Opinion is divided. Many people think they bring life and vitality to a once-dull stretch of the Thames downstream from Tower Bridge. But some local residents, having bought luxury flats with river views, view them as unsightly and akin to gipsy encampments. The local council has sought to have the 'floating gardens' removed because it believes they do not have planning permission. This is disputed - they are ancient moorings but their former use was not primarily residential.
Central London has little or no space which could be used for residential moorings but locations could be found for more historic ships, like HMS Belfast. The relevant considerations would be:

  • navigational safety
  • visual impact on the river landscape

The Port of London (PLA) commissioned a report which was published in 2013 as Moor or less: moorings on London's waterways. It states the case for mooring charges being raised and argues that the PLA, as the owner of the riverbed, is entitled to a third share of the rental income. From a Thames Landscape Strategy standpoint the key issues are:

  • which locations are, and are not, suitable for new moorings on landscape and visual impact considerations?
  • how to spend the money raised from mooring charges on improvements to the Thames landscape?

Generating revenue as a rent and spending it on navigation would not enhance the greatest happiness of the greatest number.