Water Works: Developing London’s Waterways

houseboat on water

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, building near water has implications for biodiversity and flood risk. On top of all of this, fragmented ownership and management of waterways and related infrastructure means a host of delivery challenges.

Future of London’s Water Works project will take a deep dive into the challenges of building on or near water, showcasing innovative projects involving waterways and the strategies, policies and partnerships delivering them. Running throughout 2019, the project will share experiences and expertise from our cross-sector network through field trips, a full-day conference and roundtable.

Get involved

We’re keen to connect with organisations delivering interesting schemes, policies and strategies around waterways throughout London. If you have experience to share, would like to host a field trip, or are interested in partnering with us on this project, contact Amanda Robinson.