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Freight on the River Lea

In preparation for the 2012 games, the recently much maligned Defra agencies – BritishWaterways, the Environment Agency and Natural England – are working together to develop the most sustainable waterway restoration project possible.

One of the key proposals is to build a new lock and water control structure on the River Lee above Bow Tidal Locks to provide a means of allowing 350-tonne freight barges to deliver construction materials to the Olympic Park site, and in the reverse direction remove the ‘spoil’ created by the building work.

If British Waterways’ vision is allowed to come to fruition, something in the region of 8000 tonnes of bulk construction materials could be transported daily to and from the Olympic Park by water, taking at least 800 lorry journeys off the congested roads of east London. That single environmentally sound fact alone is reason enough for the project to be
given the green light.

The new lock would be in the region of 62mx8m with a waterway depth of around 2.4m and an air draft of some 3m beneath bridges. There isn’t too much dredging to do, report the surveying engineers, but there are lumps/debris that will need to be removed from some locations on the now derelict and somewhat polluted watercourse. The exact position of the proposed lock has not yet been announced, but the favoured location would seem to be at the southern end of the Prescott Channel, in the region of Three Mills Bridge.

If all goes well, British Waterways hopes to be on site by Feb/March 2007 with tidal ‘lock out’ achieved by the end of that year and the lock operational by mid 2008, when the main Olympic construction phase begins. Once the Olympics are over, as well as then being available as a centre for leisure boating, the newly invigorated waterways could be used to transport waste and recyclables from the new homes and businesses that will have been established in the area.

There are other schools of thought however. Some ‘Thames watchers’ would prefer a more ambitious scheme altogether, which envisages a much larger barrier (and lock) being erected across the tidal Bow Creek itself, below the Bow Locks and before the creek’s confluence with the Thames. Either way the future for freight on the river is encouraging.

From: The mighty Thames – a commercial highway, pages 8 & 9,Towpath Issue 14

Download PDF from: Towpath 14

For an informed article about the benefits and disbenefits of the Olympics on the Lower Lea Rivers see: Narrowboat World

In the early 1930s, significant investment was injected into the Bow Backs to improve their ability to accommodate both floodwaters and navigation. At this time two new locks were constructed at City Mills and Carpenters Road. In addition the Prescott Channel was constructed with a sluice gate at its southern end to retain water. In the 1950’s the Prescott Channel sluice was removed when the mills ceased working and retained water was no longer required. Commercial traffic ceased to use the Bow Backs after the Second World War, and they were largely left to silt up and deteriorate.

From: Bow Back Rivers


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