Monday 26 November 2012

Running the River Thames Project

A recent meeting of the Docklands History Group featured the “Running the River Thames Project”.  by Professor Sarah Palmer and Dr Vanessa Taylor, of Greenwich University..

Sarah explained that the project looks at London,and the environmental governance of the River Thames from 1960 to 2011.  This is a two year project, which stated in August 2011 by the Greenwich Maritime Institute financedby the Economic and Social Research Council.

Vanessa’s is working full time on this and her previous projects have been 1. Public policy, stakeholders and the river in the twentieth century and 2. Thames governance oral histories 1960-2010.  She had interviewed 24 people about their experience of Thames governance.

The current project covered the Thames as a whole - the watershed, the tributaries and the basin.  They had to balance the changes arising from uses which included the port and wharves, passenger and freight transport, land drainage, water supply, sewage and waste and water removal, habitats, eco system services, recreation, landscape and property development of all sorts.

The “stakeholders” involved were groups - for instance those with a geographic interest riparian, residential, houseboat, commercial property, agricultural, environmental or archaeological and also single interest groups like anglers, or sailors. 

The project asks who influences and who governs the River?  They looked at organisations like the Port of London Authority, the Environment Agency, Thames Water Authority, local authorities and the Greater London Authority.    As well as this organisations like the government, the European Union, Natural England and so on.

Some aspects of environmental governance had not been looked at before.  Over the period of the project docks had closed, there had been redevelopment and the port operatioon itself had moved down river.  This meant that In effect the governance had moved away from London institutions and into river basin management under private ownership e.g. Thames Water Authority.  Today there is a need to comply with with environmental regulations and an obligation to consult stakeholders.  They were studying how these changes related to the Thames, the impact on London and the implications for today’s governance. 
They are thus focusing on:

  1. Stakeholders and environmental governance of the port and river 1960 to 1975.
  2. Watershed democracy London and Thames Water Authority 1973 to 1989.
  3. City, port and “Ecological hinterland” 1964-1992.
  4. The Thames, Stakeholders and Democracy 1960 to 2010.

There was now consultation instead of representation.  Has it had influence?  How do stakeholders operate and make their voices heard?

Sarah stressed that as historians they had to remain neutral and take a dispassionate view and they did this by discussion and interviews with stakeholders, campaigning groups and policy makers.  In addition there was a tremendous amount of material providing direct and indirect evidence in the National Archives, although limited by the 30 year disclosure rule, and there was material in local authority archives and with local organisations, and in the Parliamentary archives.  The problem was how to select the material and draw it together.  They would be producing:

  1. Academic articles which Vanessa would produce.
  2. A guide on their website in three parts, firstly a guide to the database of organisations, secondly a guide to the accessibility of archives and thirdly a tabular guide with links.
  3. Talks and presentations to a wide range of audiences
  4. A final conference
  5. A full report.
Hopefully Greenwich Industrial History can be involved in some of this and also hope that either Sarah or Vanessa can come and talk to us about it.

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