Plans to develop a cruise terminal in Greenwich have been derailed by a local resident successfully arguing for a judicial review of the scheme’s approval.
The case, supported by a crowdfunding campaign that has already raised more than £11,000, centres around the likely air pollution from cruise liners docking at the terminal. Residents have successfully argued that there was an insufficient assessment of the impact on local air quality, and say that the scheme needs a clean onshore power supply for docked vessels.
The latest move is a further delay to a project that aims to make Greenwich a stop-off point for cruise ships, and was originally planned to be open for the 2012 Olympics.
Local residents suggest the borough should be calling on the developer to install an onshore power supply for visiting ships, enabling them to switch off their diesel engines.
“The cruise liner terminal in its current form is a polluting health hazard to the population of London,” said Dan Hayes, chair of the East Greenwich Residents’ Association. “It is still our hope that RGB and Morgan Stanley will do the right thing by the community and deliver a clean Cruise Terminal”. Their stance has been supported by the Greenwich Society.
In December, Greenwich planners approved the riverside development at Enderby Wharf, to include 477 homes, and a cruise liner terminal that would accommodate 55 visiting ships per year. The terminal could accommodate vessels up to 230 metres long, with a passenger capacity of up to 1,600.
The scheme had been modified from an earlier version in 2012, which proposed a terminal accommodating 100 ships a year, alongside a 251 bed hotel, and 770 homes. Some of the housing has, in the interim, been developed.
Revisions in the later scheme noted changes in the cruise industry such that ships are now more likely to start out from the terminal, rather than simply stop off.
The problem for campaigners is that cruise ships could dock at the terminal all through the summer months. And according to figures from the scheme’s promoter, a docked ship could burn through 700 litres of diesel fuel per hour, an equivlent to 688 lorries idling. This would emit from the liner’s chimney, dispersing into the local environment, and potentially wafting across nearby residential areas.
The scheme received mayoral approval despite Boris Johnson acknowledging the polluting effect of river traffic: “One of the great illusions is that river traffic or boat transport is in some way more environmentally friendly than others. It simply is not. These boats use colossal diesel engines. We have got to make sure that we mitigate the impact of cruise ships arriving at Enderby Wharf in Greenwich.”
“Although the funnels will be very high – they will not be, as some people have said, at street level – they will unquestionably be, in my view, adding to mono-nitrogen oxides (Nox) and to other pollution in the area.”
Despite the local opposition, which has been clear for many months, Greenwich insists it has followed appropriate protocols. It defended its process in court, and in a statement after the decision, noted: “The Royal Borough is fully committed to improving air quality in the borough and before approving the cruise liner terminal commissioned independent consultants to carry out detailed air dispersion modelling. The Council considers that the air quality assessments were robust and suitable and sufficient to inform the planning decision. Our air quality measures were subjected to independent scrutiny by the Mayor of London before he gave final approval to the scheme.”
“The Council is therefore disappointed at yesterday’s decision, which will create delays to the project and delays to the benefits that it offers both for Greenwich and the capital, through new homes, jobs, retail space, improved public realm and a new skills centre. Above all, the scheme offers an important boost for tourism, which is one of the largest sectors in the local economy.”
Speaking to the local paper in 2015, David Margason, managing director of developer Westcourt Real Estate commented: “The cruise industry is hugely enthusiastic about the London City Cruise Port, and we are confident that London will become a key cruise destination.
“Longer stays will mean more employment and ship provisioning, resulting in cruise operators, visitors and crew spending more time and money in the locality – a move which is welcomed by London authorities together with business and tourist organisations.”
Ian Blore, who established the crowdfunding campaign and is a member of the East Greenwich Residents’ Association, commented: “Cruise ships are planned to dock for the six summer months, when pollution in London is at its worst, and dirty diesel emissions will affect large populations on both banks of the river.”
Greenwich councillor Danny Thorpe said the issue had been properly investigated, telling the local newspaper that the mayoral candidates were “scaremongering and spreading misinformation for political gain”. He added: “We know that air quality is a concern for residents. We’re working really hard to make sure Greenwich is the greenest place it can be.” He said the real air pollution problem in London is caused by the city’s buses, of which less than a third of those operating in the borough are newer low emission vehicles.
Mayoral candidates Zac Goldsmith, Sadiq Khan, Caroline Pidgeon and Sian Berry have all backed the campaign by residents, against the project. Khan commented: “I praise the dogged campaigning of local residents in East Greenwich who are right to be fighting for cleaner air.
“Too many lives in London are blighted by filthy, polluted air and we should be doing more to clean it up, not risk making it worse.”
“I back bringing everyone involved around the table to discuss how a clean solution to this can be found involving an onshore energy supply, and as Mayor I’ll work with residents, the developers, the council and the local MP, Matthew Pennycook, to make this happen.”
While Berry added: “If I’m elected to City Hall in May, I will endeavour to rectify this mess so that local people – not to mention the occupants of the new homes being built next to the terminal – are not put in danger.”
LPA Perspective: You can see why Greenwich councillors would be keen to establish a cruise terminal. It would present a captive market of visitors – most of whom would disembark for a trip around the borough’s historic attractions, as part of their visit to London.
However, having seen the Thames cleaned up, few are keen to see it once more being responsible for greater pollution. And the fact is, cruise ships largely run on diesel fuel – lots of it.
The issue of emissions from cruise ships is raised in many cities around the world, not least those outside Europe where, currently, dirtier diesel fuel with higher sulphur levels are still permitted. Australia, for example, is poised to reduce permitted sulphur levels to bring them in line with those in European cities. Major cruise line Carnival is said to be fitting some of its ships to suit shore-to-power connections.
Perhaps Greenwich needs to follow the lead of Hamburg. There the port is spending on developing shore power supplies, to encourage vessels docking at the city’s Altona cruise terminal to switch off their engines.
At a time when considerable sums are being spent to promote cleaner air in London – from greener buses to hybrid taxis – it seems odd that the opportunity to create a cleaner terminal, as protestors are demanding, was not taken much earlier in the development process. In the time it has taken for the cruise terminal proposal to progress through planning, a raft of these other measures has advanced. It’s time the cruise terminal caught up.