Opinion: Down by the River

Director of Environment at Marston Holdings, Nick Ruxton-Boyle looks at the potential and the pitfalls of increasing river transport.

I have been engaging with my company’s expansive supply chain for the last 12 months in order to calculate (or at least estimate) our scope 3 carbon emissions. For those of you that are not familiar of the complexities of corporate carbon reporting, scope 3 is generally those that are outside the direct control of the company.

aerial photography of London skyline during daytime

Well, what has this got to do with air quality I hear you ask? It does as it happens in a couple of totally unlinked ways, at least for me anyway.

The first is nothing to do with my supply chain but is the way in which we, and more specifically local authorities, go about implementing transport initiatives and improvements in our towns and cities.

Most of these interventions, from School Streets to Workplace Parking Levies have the effect of reducing road traffic on our streets. This reduces both oxides of nitrogen and particulate matter from vehicles, it also reduces greenhouse gas emissions including carbon dioxide.

The pollution reduction of these schemes has a local public health impact improving the quality of the local air in a neighbourhood. And the reduction in greenhouse gases helps towards the cooling of the planet, reversing global warming. Win-Win.

This week marks the 20th anniversary of one such ground-breaking transport intervention in London, the Congestion Charge. Love it or hate it, I was surprised how much it has increased to last time I drove into London, it has reduced traffic significantly in the central zone and raised millions of pounds to invest in further traffic reduction schemes.

The second reason is to do with my suppliers and one in particular asked me if I wanted to take part in a river freight trial. I worked in a London Borough for 15 years and one next to the Thames, so I have a reasonable understanding of the potential and pitfalls of increasing river transport.

On the one hand it can remove many heavy trucks from our roads resulting in environmental and safety benefits. However, most river vessels are pretty old, run on diesel and belch out some pretty nasty stuff.

Many of the larger developments in my borough were required to maximise river transport, especially when they were located on the riverside. One in particular, the Thames Tideway Tunnel, which is now almost complete, achieved substantial freight movement of spoil and tunnel sections using barges.

We have a number of air quality monitors around London monitoring local pollution levels in residential communities and many close to the Thames. These often pick up spikes in pollution that correlate with various river traffic movements, highlighting the value of hyperlocal monitoring.

I close this month with another anniversary, it is 10 years since the tragic death of Ella Kissi Debra. I have met her mother Rosamund at several events and want to thank her for her tireless lobbying to clean the air for all of us.


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