Water Works: Making the Most of London’s Waterways

Activity around London’s waterways – including 600km of rivers and canals as well as hundreds of hectares of docks, reservoirs and wetlands – is surging. The Port of London Authority anticipates more freight along the Thames and a doubling of yearly boat passengers to 20m by 2035. Much of this increase will come from London’s largest Opportunity Areas, anchored to the Thames, Royal Docks, Lea Valley or Grand Union Canal, and promising a combined 194,000 homes and 230,000 jobs. On the other end of the spectrum, a range of projects are highlighting hidden rivers and ‘rewilding’ waterways.

Varied as they are, all of these schemes promote London’s waterways as places for living, working, leisure, nature, commuting, freight and climate change resilience. Rivers and canals criss-cross the city, offering boroughs, the GLA, housing providers and community groups opportunities to make the most of these valuable assets.

It’s not all smooth sailing. Construction on or near water can be expensive and difficult. Swelling waterside land values exacerbate London’s affordability crisis – which has been pushing more Londoners to choose houseboat living, itself rapidly becoming unaffordable and heightening neighbourhood tensions. As transport infrastructure, waterways are often disconnected from London’s ‘mainstream’ transport network, and central London’s piers are already near capacity. Environmentally, activities near water have implications for biodiversity and flood risk. Balancing the conflicting demands of such wide-ranging uses adds another layer of complexity. On top of all of this, fragmented ownership and management of waterways and related infrastructure means a host of governance challenges.

Future of London’s Water Works project took a deep dive into strategies, policies and partnerships being used – in London and beyond – to better manage competing demands and drive sustainable development around waterways. Running throughout 2019, the project shared experiences and expertise from our cross-sector network through field trips, a full-day conference and roundtable.


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Water Works: Designing With Water workshop

Following our field trip to the Lower Lea Valley in May, which looked at how the CRT maintains, funds and manages uses along their sections of London’s waterways, FoL invited the CRT to facilitate a workshop exploring some of the challenges – and opportunities – that arise when designing with water.

waterways roundtable participants

Valuing Urban Waterways roundtable

Built environment practitioners recognise that urban waterways are valuable for wellbeing, local economies, ecology, transport and more. FoL’s roundtable asked what’s missing from current valuation processes and how to embed a more rounded concept of value in waterways-related projects.

Royal Victoria Dock footbridge

Water Works field trip: Royal Docks

Incorporating both docks and the Thames, development around the Royal Docks has many opportunities to make use of spaces on or near water. The Royal Docks Team outlined some of their ambitions during a recent field trip.

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Water Works: Tower Pier to Tilbury field trip

There’s boatloads of potential to use the Thames to move more people and goods. We explored options for delivery during a Tower Pier to Tilbury boat trip in June with the Port of London Authority, Port of Tilbury, and Thames Clippers.

paddington basin floating pocket park, courtesy of Paddington Partnership

Water Works: Paddington basin field trip

After years of disuse, Paddington basin is being reinvigorated. We visited the area to learn how a multi-developer project is putting the Grand Union Canal front and centre in redevelopment.

Water Works: Lower Lea Valley field trip

With a vast network of waterways in London, how does the Canal & River Trust manage a range of uses on and near water? A field trip to the Lower Lea with FLL21 investigates.

Kayaking on the River Lea

Water Works: Upper Lea Valley field trip

The Lea Valley is home to London’s largest opportunity areas, an extensive network of biodiverse waterways, boatloads of activities. How do they all square up?

View from Hawley Wharf, Camden

Water Works: Regent’s Canal/Camden field trip

In two of Camden’s busiest neighbourhoods, King’s Cross and Camden Town, the Regent’s Canal provides a scenic backdrop for popular markets and public spaces. Despite the bustle of these neighbourhoods,…

Water Works: Thamesmead field trip

Constructed in the late 1960s on low-lying marshland criss-crossed by decommissioned military canals, Thamesmead was designed around water. Today, the estate’s 7km of canals and 32ha of lakes are an anchor for Thamesmead’s regeneration.


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