The Thames Path Manifesto

A proposal for London

An initiative from Abundance London and London Car Free Day

This document is open for comment for the month of May.

The Manifesto seeks to celebrate decades of work that have gone into creating the Path and to revive the Thames Path’s potential as a world-class walking and cycling link, and biodiversity corridor for London. We will launch it publicly as part of the London Architecture Festival on 1 June. In September we will be asking the GLA, riverside councils and MPs to indicate political support for a Thames Path Renaissance.

Please send comments, suggestions (and hopefully support) to Abundance London: karen@abundancelondon.com and/or London Car Free Day: celebrate@carfreeday.org.uk

The Thames Path Manifesto

We believe that the Thames Path should be a connected landscaped walking and cycling route through London and that it should be accessible to all.

We believe that the Thames Path should be the longest connected linear public park in the world, seamlessly connecting Londoners to the River Thames.

The Thames Path should be one of the world’s most inspiring public green spaces and a unique biodiversity corridor. Achieving this would benefit all Londoners.

We believe that a unified and inspiring vision and political consensus are required to fulfil the Thames Path’s potential as one of London’s greatest public assets.

We believe that the Thames Path should serve as a model of world-class landscape design and pedestrian and cycling infrastructure and be celebrated as a unique public asset.

We believe the Thames Path should become a major attraction for visitors from both home and abroad and should take its place as one of the world’s finest city river walks.

The Thames Path should continue to provide a platform for educational and community activities, enabling greater ecological understanding of the river, as well as providing a springboard for encouraging use of the River for leisure and fun.

Four Proposals to achieve the Thames Path Manifesto

Currently the Thames Path is an incomplete vision. The Path is managed by a multitude of different organisations, each working to secure different aims. At present there is no single entity or individual dedicated to ensuring the Path achieves its potential as a world-class linear park and walking and cycling connection across London. This means there is a great opportunity to improve the administration of the Path as part of progress towards achieving the Manifesto.

To accomplish the Manifesto we propose a Thames Path that is accessible, connected and clearly identified from end-to-end. This will require:

1. Planning rules that prioritise a continuous Thames Path and the completion of gaps
There must be a planning condition to create or restore the Thames Path in all developments and new building projects. Wherever a new development is to be built, a public riverside path must be included with minimum standards relating to path width, accessibility and connectivity. It is not enough to permit a glimpse of the river on request at reception, as has been agreed in some places. There must be authentic continuous riverside access. This must be the sine qua non for planning permission, rather than a condition to be negotiated.

2. Signage along the river and towards the Path
Currently the signage presents a confusion of names, fonts and descriptions that perfectly represents the confusion of authorities and identities of the Thames Path. The name Thames Path is clear, descriptive, historic, and the result of decades of work by many groups and individuals. We must use it. We must update the design, then use it from end to end. The name of the borough, corporation or organisation paying for the upkeep can be added, but must remain subordinate.*

Getting to the Thames Path from inland areas across London must be made easier. Many visitors and even local residents do not realise how close they are to the spectacular vistas and recreational opportunities of the riverside. There is a great opportunity to enhance signage and access routes, with a focus on encouraging active travel opportunities within 200 metres of the riverside, and drawing attention to the Thames Path.

3. A biodiversity strategy that runs the length of the Path
An ambitious unified biodiversity strategy could create a wildlife corridor on both sides of the river. The Path’s biodiversity role should be the preeminent factor in decision-making and should guide a more unified planting scheme or pallette of native plants along the length of the Path. As insect and bird populations crash it is incumbent on all of us, especially those of us with the power to improve, such as developers, landscape architects, local councils and other municipal authorities to put the preservation of biodiversity at the forefront of decisions. Every opportunity must be taken to design a landscape for the length of the Thames Path that provides insect habitats, nesting possibilities, hedgehog paths, bat roosts, etc. Action on a Thames Path biodiversity strategy would demonstrate this commitment.

4. An ambitious landscape design
Planting and hardscaping along the length of the Path should reflect London’s role as a global centre of design, horticultural and landscape architecture expertise. The Thames Path could be a celebration of British horticultural history and expertise. While a unified design strategy for benches, lights, bins etc would be impossible and inappropriate along the entire length of the Thames Path, nevertheless, there should be a stylistic coherence. Often there are three different types of bench within a space of 20 metres. A ‘design idiom’ similar to that deployed by the London Underground 2 would create room for innovation and great design within a coherent framework that provides for a unified hardscaping and furniture design strategy that could run the entire length of the Thames Path.

Dr Karen Liebreich MBE, Hamish Stuart


* Within a few hundred yards the Thames Path can be called Thames Cycle Route 4, London Cycle Network, Barnes Extension, Riverside Walk or something completely different. Designated logos include a little man walking, an acorn, a family going to the river, or something completely different, depending on the local authority or the mood of the person designing or paying for a particular signpost.

** http://content.tfl.gov.uk/station-design-idiom-2.pdf