Operating a statutory body in a commercial environment
A Port of London Authority case study

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Page 5: Meeting stakeholder needs

Port Of London Authority 4 Image 4It is unacceptable for a modern organisation to ignore the impact of its activities on the wider community. People living in the society in which an organisation operates are also stakeholders. The PLA is confronted by a wide array of issues and has to try to balance the interests of all the stakeholders.

These concerns can range from encouraging international shipping companies to use the port, thereby generating millions of pounds worth of business, to dealing with minor complaints over houseboat licences and conserving the river environment. It has to consider the interests of the 20,000 people directly employed in port-related business and a further 16,000 with jobs indirectly dependent on the port, with those wishing to protect and conserve the indigenous wildlife. The needs of the national economy have to be set against, and reconciled with, the needs of the local community and environment.


  • One area of potential conflict amongst the PLA’s stakeholders which requires careful mediation is the demand for land for riverside housing and for industrial use. There have been a number of instances where people have moved into new residential developments which have been built near to well-established working wharves or docks and have then called on the local government to impose restrictions on those sites, in terms of hours of operation, noise and lighting.
  • The terminal operators are subject to the tides and because the owners earn nothing with the ships tied up, they want their ships loaded or unloaded as quickly as possible. The local authorities are becoming more aware of the importance of the port and all the economic benefits it brings to the local community, but they also have to consider the ever increasing demand for housing in the capital, particularly on brown field sites. Nonetheless, these sorts of restrictions have the potential to put the terminal operators out of business. This would create more land for residential developments and so the problem spreads.

The demand for housing and the continued industrial use creates environmental concerns. The PLA has to consider the wider social costs and benefits. Restrictions along the sensitive mud flats and the foreshore of the tidal Thames inevitably cause friction between operators, developers and the environmentalists. The fact that large sums collected from developers are used to protect the local wildlife is often insufficient to placate the conservation lobby.

The PLA has been successful in protecting some of the working wharves for their original intended use. When proposals are put forward for disused wharf sites upstream of the Thames barrier, each case is considered on its merits, using cost benefit analysis and looking, in particular, at the access to the wharf from both the river and by road. However, further downstream, where much of the heavy industrial terminals are sited, the PLA has been even more determined to preserve riverside sites for river related uses. Whilst always aware of the environmental considerations, it believes that the infrastructure is already in place for an effective, efficient and profitable port. Once these sites are lost to non-river related uses, they are lost for ever.

The PLA has to work closely with all levels of government ensuring that policies relating to planning and development enable the port to continue to thrive. The PLA expends considerable effort in explaining the port’s needs to the planning authorities and Government Ministers.

The PLA also works with the European Commission and is actively lobbying to try to achieve a level playing field and common accounting standards amongst all European seaports. Different central and local governments in each of the member countries have very different cultural attitudes towards their ports and have in the past offered varying degrees of support to their ports, which have had a considerable effect on their competitiveness. Any subsidy gives a cost advantage which can be passed on to the customers and make a crucial difference in a highly competitive market.

Port of London Authority | Operating a statutory body in a commercial environment