Swim in Thames at your peril, Mr Mayor.

Swimming in the Thames in a by-gone era

Such is the colourful language in todays column in the daily Telegraph of the Mayor of London Boris Johnson, you would be forgiven for thinking he was not told of  restriction on swimming in the Thames by the authority that manages the river for us, Port of London Authority(PLA) was about in the first place.

The new byelaw, only controls swimming in the busiest part of the Thames between Putney Bridge & Crossness ( just before the Thames barrier) by making it necessary to get prior consent from the harbour master. This is so because its the busiest inland waterway in the UK. Added to this its the most dangerous stretch of the river, with strong tides and eddies that can drag a person underwater without warning.

Furthermore the new set of byelaws were confirmed by the Department for Transport after extensive consultation and designed to balance the the interests of all river users in the use of the Thames over five years. The byelaws are part of the work of the PLA to secure high standards of navigational safety on the tidal Thames which are essential to underpinning the continued growth of river use, whether for trade, travel, sport, leisure or tourism. They will be known as the Port of London Thames byelaws 2012 and been operational since sunday night, 1st of July 2012.

A further key change is the introduction of a mandatory speed limit of 12 knots within Central London that will apply to all vessels, other than in emergencies. That limit will also apply down river from below Tower Bridge and upriver from Lambeth Bridge to Wandsworth Bridge, unless certain strict operational criteria are met by operators. The speed limit will help to underpin the safety essential to the long-term growth of passenger travel on the river. 

But isn’t the real reason the Mayors complaining is that he was not handed over the PLA ( and thus control of the Thames & the Estuary) by his friends in government last term?  In early 2010, the Mayor made a bid for more power from his friends in the coalition government in his proposals for devolution. The document clearly states that given the critical importance of the Thames to the London’s prospersity the PLA should be devolved to the GLA group. The Mayor further states that the work of the PLA needs to be integrated with the mayors transport strategy and London plan, which l readily accepted at the time. But at the time he and his supporters like the Policy Exchange got their figures wrong when asking for some sort of funding transfer along with the PLA. The reality was and is that the PLA is self-financing and thus has no recall to public funding which explains to us why most Ministers let them get on with managing the Thames without any interference.

Finally the Department for Transport agreed the final form of the byelaws in late May and these were subsequently confirmed by the Secretary of State. The interesting thing about it all, is that it appears by his column that  Justin Greening, Secretary of State for Transport hasn’t bothered to informed the mayor about these changes or he didn’t notice when informed. One can only wonder why that could be the case.