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PLA Meetings and discussions

Notes from a public PLA meeting at the London Rowing Club on 7 Feb 2017

John Richards writes:
As agreed I went along to this meeting which was surprisingly well attended. As Richard had indicated Kevin East, representing British Canoeing also attended. There were also representatives from Chelsea CC and Edge CC and possibly others from the paddling fraternity (not BCC that I could see). There were inevitably a number of rowing clubs and then people with environment and other interests, most vocally a  representative of the house boats. 

Robin Mortimer the PLA CEO led the presentation, but PLA was represented in depth, including Bob Baker the new Harbour Master.

The first topic was the reported incidents on the river. The numbers were again down with those involving recreational vessels (e.g. us etc) down 23%. The one fatality had been the pilot who lost his life.  There is a form and procedure for reporting incidents and the PLA want us to report these even if we are not involved. The PLA is in conjunction with the police and others is looking at finding ways for cutting back suicide on the river.

The second topic was a brief report on the status of the Tideway project with construction now underway, directly in front of the LRC. Construction will take 4 years and then implementation will follow. The project is monitored by the PLA engineers, led by Terry Lawrence. 

The river rebutments are subject to on going tree works, mainly repairing damage by the roots and trimming branches dangling in the water. There was some discussion on this mainly as the rowers regularly seemed to get entangled, the environmentalists wanted to keep the trees and the sailors saying that the trees ruined the wind they relied on. In the Questions it was suggested that the PLA pick up the large stones from the rebutments that had fallen into the water over the years - the rowers were colliding with these and damaging boats. 

The PLA will be clearing debris and sand from the Surrey side of Kew Bridge, which has become shallow with tangles of trees. In the questions afterwards two other areas needing work were identified - the shoaling just after the St Paul's slipway and a pinch point by Chiswick Pier where the restricted crossing point brought the rowers and paddlers from Edge into close proximity. There was some discussion about the Edge pontoon at Kew Bridge, which sounded as though it was something of a hazard at some states of the tide as it was above water level and a  potential trap. Edge (and presumably St Georges are keen to give this away).

The initial results of the sports participation were presented by Catherine Riggs. 73 clubs completed the return and some 140 clubs on the tidal river were identified. There was an additional 23 on the docks, canals and side waterways. The potential for growth of sports participation currently 20,000 was thought to be 40% - these seemed conservative to me. The main barriers to greater participations was lack of financial support, volunteers and coaches/trainers. There seems to be a special access problem to the East of the river - i guess mud and industrial and former industrial lands. This area is work in progress for PLA, but there was big interest from Sport England with a focus on participation.

There was a rather opaque discussion on House boat fees and later on how house boats were positioned at Brentford. 

The PLA has launched that very day an app that gives live tide data for the various points of the river, named PLATidalThames. Apparently this available through the iTunes, etc. Chelsea CC said that without actual flow rates on the river it was difficult for leaders to brief paddlers  before they go out(?). I was puzzled by this since they paddle in much the same area as we do, but PLA said they do not collect live data, but do have model data. It was pointed out that the Environment Agency do monitor flows live at some points. 

The PLA is also working on an air quality strategy, in anticipation of this becoming more important in the light of the vehicle use in the city and its resultant particulate and NOx pollution. The initial focus is on the commercial boats in the Gateway area, but will be spread to other vessels along the river. There was a question about sewage soiling by  vessels and this is also being examined requiring eventually vessels not to release into the river. All passenger boats were to stop releases by 2020. There was some questioning about black and grey waste water - PLA treats both the same. 

The Paddling Code was mentioned as work in progress. 

The Boat Race will again consist of several races on Sunday 2 April.  

Kevin East asked about whether the PLA was actively involved in the South East Marine Plan. 

After the meeting I touched base with Kevin, just to let him know our thoughts about the paddling code and that Richard had gone back on these, specifically on the safe paddle areas downstream from Putney Bridge. He seemed to be aware of this. I also said that we had been approached by PLA staff in the past who seemed convinced we were in the wrong part of the river - he reported that he had discussed this with the PLA and they had not briefed their river staff about the new paddle regs and were waiting for them to be finalised before doing so!