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Prescott Lock project runs aground

Predictable practical problems with the Prescott Lock, compounded by financial conditions, are "making barge traffic unviable", it was reported at a November meeting of the Thames River Users Consultative Forum.

Disappointing news for those of us looking forward to watching barges full of Olympic construction materials beaching themselves in Bow Creek as they struggle to get through during the few hours a day the tide is high enough.

The construction of the £21.5 million lock and barrage (double the original estimate), were promoted as a great example of how green London's 2012 Games were, enabling "up to 170,000 lorry journeys" to be removed from local roads during the construction phase. It was supposed to "enable the delivery of construction materials to the site by sustainable means, helping to achieve the Olympic Delivery Authority’s aspiration for the first sustainable Olympic Games". Well it looks like another green Olympic claim has been blown way on the chilly winds of the recession - though whether the 'construction materials by barge' plan was ever a realistic possibility is exceedingly doubtful.

Barge operators Allen C Bennet & Sons were to be the prime users of the new lock facility, hoping optimistically to ship 250,000 tons of aggregate into the Olympic site - 25% of the total that Aggregate Industries are contracted to supply. David Allen delivered this bad news at the River Users Consultative Forum (Lower) meeting in November:

"Prescott lock is now complete including trials and had been looking forward to moving up to 4000 tons of material through the lock. However a problem has arisen in that when clearing lock inwards vessels ground as there is insufficient water. 2.5 million pounds dredging works needs to be carried out between the lock and wharf to make it useable for barge traffic. DA understands this investment is unlikely to occur in the present financial climate and not considered essential for development of the Olympic site by the developers. Additionally because of the credit crunch there has been a collapse in charge rates for moving material by road and the need to contain costs for development of the Olympic site are making barge traffic unviable. "

Very different from what the company were saying 5 months earlier:

"We are delighted to get freight traffic back on the river. This is a lovely reward for both ourselves and BW and is as a result of championing and promoting the idea of using the Bow Back Rivers and building Prescott Lock."

From its inception, there were inexplicable flaws in the project as a serious freight transport proposal, examined in depth in the Regents Network 'Are the Waterways of the Lea In Good Hands?' report. Additionally the project has gradually fallen behind schedule - it was originally due to be completed in summer 2008 and now won't be completed before March 2009 - apparently due to 'unexpected quantities of contaminated soil'. Didn't they do any surveying before embarking on the project? An extra £2m government funding was announced by Waterways Minister Huw Irranca-Davies in November in a desperate attempt to keep the project on track, but the predicted quantities of materials that could be transported always looked hopelessly optimistic.

The 'sustainable water transport' story was never credible; if they were serious about using the waterways, thousands of tons of materials could already have been shipped up the Limehouse Cut at any time of day using existing facilities with minimal investment needed. The Limehouse Cut was built in the 18C because "Navigating from the River Lee to the River Thames using nature's intended route necessitates traversing Bow Creek, a winding tidal waterway not best suited to inland vessels". Clever of them to attempt to revert to using this notoriously tricky route, only navigable a few hours a day, as a key part of the time-critical logistics of the Olympic construction program.

The truth behind the project is the drive by British Waterways, the ODA and developers to create a nice static pool of clean water, ideal for residential and leisure development. Big dirty barges full of rubble would be a nice bonus during the games construction, and would have served well in promoting the spurious sustainability agenda, but no-one would want them ploughing up and down a few feet from the front windows of their luxury waterside apartments or through flotillas of kayaking schoolkids. Residential/leisure and freight usage are simply not compatible.

As the Regents network report pointed out in 2005

"It is important to consider why British Waterways are suggesting this scheme and why they are making out that it is for freight when it appears to be flawed from the water freight perspective. We consider their motive is more likely to be encouragement and promotion of building development, and not for navigational purposes."

Update - February 2009
Tessa Jowell, questioned by Charlotte Atkins MP, admitted that only three 350 tonne barge loads of construction materials had been brought into the Olympic site through the Three Mills Lock in 2009 - which includes the first 6 months of operation.

A rather unimpressive single barge load of construction waste came out of the site, plus 5 barge loads of contaminated residue from soil treatment.

It had been claimed that the locks would be transporting up to 12,000 tonnes per week.

See Also: Prescott Channel Scam

And: Up the Creek

And: How British Waterways are destroying the annual natural spectacle of Bream spawning in the Old River Lea

Planning Decision Notice 253022.pdf409.04 KB

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No canal for the energy centre either

There is also the abandonment of the original proposal to use the canal to deliver materials to the Energy Centre. Yet another example of the march away from sustainability.

“The assessment shows that potentially increasing the contribution from small-scale wood fuelled biomass combustion to meet energy requirements in London under the London Energy Partnership scenarios may lead to a potentially substantial increase in nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter concentrations.”

No consideration of the impacts of emissions of ultrafine particulates (PM2.5) has been carried out, or the impacts of emissions from vehicles delivering fuels and removing wastes from the site.

The Council objects to the abandonment of the canal as the primary mode of transporting biomass to the facility. By not using the canal, there would be adverse effects on the London Borough of Hackney’s road networks and increase in emissions through increased lorry movements.

3. When considering the proposal, the ODA should consider comments from several of the Council’s internal consultees stating that there is insufficient information in some parts of the submission to fully understand the impacts the Energy Centre is likely to have. Should the ODA be minded to grant permission to the energy centre, these matters should be addressed via an appropriate condition to ensure all actual and potential effects have been considered. Specifically, this relates to the following matters raised:

1. No traffic impact assessment was submitted with the application. A full traffic assessment should be produced to predict the traffic generated by the site including measures to mitigate any impacts;
2. Consideration of the impacts of emissions of ultrafine particulates (PM2.5) will have to be undertaken including the impacts of emissions from vehicles delivering fuels and removing wastes from the site;
3. Details of treatments to the public realm surrounding the proposal and site accesses to ensure a high quality of design and connecting the proposal to the surrounding environment;
4. The provision of a noise assessment to clearly depict criteria used when calculating the maximum noise limits and how the proposed flue will affect noise generated by the Energy Centre.

See: Hackney Planning Decision Notice 253022 Attached above

False figures

It is stated that the cost has doubled to £21.5m, which means the original cost was £10.75m. From where was this latter figure obtained?

False figures

"Brief analysis reveals that the £10.6M budget is a serious under-estimation. The Atkins Report says their costings are to ‘outline the budget level’ and the costs ‘will become more refined’. This is very suspect. For British Waterways to provide incomplete and weak costings for a scheme such as this is not a responsible way to proceed."

Extract from: Are the Waterways of the Lower Lea Valley in Good Hands ? by Del Brenner, High costs not revealed, page 9, see link in original story above.

So the £10.6 million comes

So the £10.6 million comes from Del Brenner. Must be correct then.

Or maybe not? A quick Google sohws "The joint funding of the C.£19m Prescott Lock with £4m from TfL represents a significant contribution to maximise freight transport on London’s waterways" from March 2008 from a GLA meeting.

BW's site says £18.9m.

Sea Vision's website describes it as a £20m project.

Murad Qureshi's evidence to a select committee in February 2007 says £16.9 million for the impoundment, but not including dredging and other costs.

Sorry to spoil the story with some facts.

bubble burst?

The story first referred to costs set out in 2005. The later figures are from later dates. Perhaps a well known phenomenon called inflation accounts for the alteration? As for spoiling a 'a good story with facts' the story was about the failure of the project to deliver barge traffic on the Lea. That remains the case. So which story is bubble burster bursting?

Fudging the budget

"The [Olympic] site and infrastructure budget breaks down (with VAT added) as utilities £255m, enabling works £364m, roads and structures £830m, Prescott Lock upgrade £5m and other infrastructure including landscaping £206m. “While it is a relief that the budget has not breached the benchmark of £9.3bn, this has to mark the end of handouts from lottery good causes being used to pay for cost overruns,” said Liberal Democrat Olympic spokesman, Tom Brake."

From: 'Olympic budget breakdown confirmed', page 3, (Download) Brownfield briefing, Issue 81, Dec 2007

In the often used phrase of that paragon of the truthful political statement, our own dear Olympics Minister, Tessa Jowell, 'Let us be perfectly clear about this'.

Amazing inflating Three Mills Lock

'interested party' and Bubble Burster, these figures are genuine and carefully researched

BW were either incompetent or deliberately underestimated the cost in order to get backing for the Prescott aka 3 Mills Locks.

The project shows the classic Olympic symptoms of excessively optimistic early cost estimates combined with wildly exagerrated and misleading purported benefits. Having got the backing of the quangocrats and politicians, the cost then mysteriously rises while the claimed benefits gradually evaporate.

You don't have to believe me or Del Brenner, check the sources -

British Waterways Board Briefing Paper - Sep 2005
"Early indications are that the lock and structure would cost c£10.6m"


British Waterways "Olympic Waterways Opportunities" 15 Nov 2005
States a bargain-basement cost of £8.8m + contingency on P3.

(Also listed as a Disbenefit are "Loss of tidal influence and ‘flushing’ of the river system on Waterworks River". Such negative terms as 'Disbenefit' have of course never been heard since in relation to this project)

House of Commons Transport Committee "Going for Gold: Transport for London's 2012 Olympic Games" -
Third Report of Session 2005–06, published 16 Mar 2006
on P 50 "Impounding the river involves constructing a double lock which would cost between £10-13 million"

Daily Telegraph £15m sluice system is Prescott's watergate 8 Jul 2006
- it's now £15m .

British Waterways New Life for East End rivers" 28 February 2007
- Construction starts and it's £18.9m

British Waterways Milestone achieved at Prescott Lock July 2008
Tidal lockout and it's now a £20m project.

BW's Annual Report & Accounts 2008-9 Proclaims the "completion of the £23m Three Mills Lock and water control
structure on Prescott Channel"