Port of London Authority

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Port of London Authority building on Charterhouse Street, EC1

The Port of London Authority (PLA) is a self-funding public trust established in 1908 by the Port of London Act to govern the Port of London. Its responsibility extends over the Tideway of the River Thames and its continuation (the Kent/Essex strait) including that of maintaining and supervising navigation and of protecting the river's environment.

The authority originally operated all enclosed dock systems on the river but these have been closed to commercial traffic, with the exception of Port of Tilbury which was privatised in 1992.


PLA boundary marker opposite Teddington

The PLA's responsibility is from a point marked by an obelisk just downstream of Teddington Lock (the upstream limit of the tidal river) to the end of the Kent/Essex strait of the North Sea (between Margate to the south and Gunfleet Lighthouse near Frinton-on-Sea to the north[1]), a total of around 95 miles (150 km). The Port Authority does not cover the Medway or the Swale.

From the City of London, via the Thames Conservancy, the PLA has inherited ownership of the bed of the river and foreshore from Teddington to the Yantlet Line (between Southend and Grain).[2] The PLA during much of the 20th Century owned and operated many of the docks and wharfs in the Port, however they have been privatised. Today the PLA acts mainly as a managing authority of the use of the tidal stretch of the River Thames, ensuring safe navigation and the well-being of the port and its activities. Comparable responsibilities for the river including, and upstream of, Teddington Lock fall to the Environment Agency.

The PLA today has a number of duties which it exercises, including responsibility for river traffic control, security, navigational safety (including buoys, beacons, bridge lights and channel surveys), the conserving of the river (including dredging and maintaining certain river banks), encouraging use of the river (for both commercial and leisure use) and protecting its marine environment. The PLA is responsible for the operation of Richmond Lock, but it is not responsible for the operation of the Thames Barrier which is managed by the Environment Agency in its flood management role.


Former Port of London Authority Building, Trinity Square Gardens, Tower Hill

The PLA originally had its headquarters on Tower Hill in the City of London, but today has its headquarters at London River House and Royal Terrace Pier in Gravesend. The PLA retains a presence in the City however, with offices at Bakers' Hall on Harp Lane, where the Chairman, Chief Executive and Secretary of the authority are based.

Control of ship traffic on the Thames within the Port is orchestrated from two Port Control centres:

  • The Thames Barrier Navigation Centre in Woolwich, for reaches upstream of Erith, London
  • Port Control Gravesend (the main facility) for reaches downstream of Erith.

Both Port Control centres operate the same system for coordinating traffic within the PLA's area of governance known as Vessel Traffic Services (VTS).[3] The system involves 16 radar stations[4] along the river and out in the estuary.

The PLA owns Denton Wharf and Jetty in Gravesend, which is the main base for the authority's vessels and where the PLA maintains its fleet of over 40 vessels, the team also provides lift-out and maintenance services for other River users. The PLA owns Barrier Gardens Pier and Unity House, located near to their control centre at the Thames Barrier which provides a convenient base for their Driftwood vessels. There are also two pilot stations at Harwich and Ramsgate, which are located beyond the estuary and the Port of London. From these stations, pilots are sent out and return from large vessels entering and leaving the port.

Around 360 people are employed by the Port of London Authority.[4]

Pier and jetty ownership[edit]

The PLA owns three piers and jetties on the River Thames as bases for their vessels and activities. They are also available for other river users to use.


A PLA harbour master craft at Woolwich

The PLA currently has three channel surveying vessels, eight launches for harbour and river patrols, and twenty other craft.[4] Five new patrol vessels are being procured by the Authority, which have been built by shipbuilder 'Alnmaritec' in Northumberland, for delivery in 2009.[5]

The Board[edit]

The PLA is controlled by a Board. The chief officials of the Authority are at present[when?] - The Chairman of the Board is Helen Alexander CBE. The Board Members are

William Everard CBE
Rodney Lenthall
John Mills CBE
Tony Quinlan
Pommy Sarwal
Scott Steedman
Richard Everitt
David Phillips
Brian Chapman, FCMA.


An historic honour is that the Lord Mayor of London, the chief dignitary of the City of London, is ex officio the Admiral of the Port of London.

Coat of arms of the Port of London Authority, granted in 1909

A defaced blue ensign exists for the PLA, displaying a gold sealion, who fly it on their own vessels. The Authority also have coat of arms and a house flag. Pennants exist for the Chairman and Vice Chairman.[6][7]

The authority's armorial bearings were granted in August 1909. The blazon or heraldic description is as follows:

Azure, issuing from a castle argent, a demi-man vested, holding in the dexter hand a drawn sword, and in the sinister a scroll Or, the one representing the Tower of London, the other the figure of St Paul, the patron saint of London.
Crest: On a wreath of the colours, an ancient ship Or, the main sail charged with the arms of the City of London.
Supporters: On either side a sea-lion argent, crined, finned and tufted or, issuing from waves of the sea proper, that to the sinister grasping the banner of King Edward II; the to the sinister the banner of King Edward VII[8]

The Latin motto on the is "Floreat Imperii Portvs", or "Let the imperial port flourish".[9]

Port of London Authority Police[edit]

For much of the 20th Century, the Port of London Authority Police existed to police the Port of London, but today the port is policed by a number of forces. These are the local Home Office forces of the areas the Thames passes through (the Metropolitan, City of London, Essex and Kent constabularies) and the Port of Tilbury Police (formed in 1992 and a remnant of the old PLA force). The Metropolitan police have a special Marine Support Unit, formerly known as the Thames Division, which patrol and police the Thames in the Greater London area. A sixth police force in the Port may be established with the creation of the London Gateway port.


In June 2010, the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson has proposed that the PLA be merged into the wider Greater London Authority to make it more accountable to Londoners.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Port of London Act 1968, Schedule 1". p. 108. Retrieved 2014-09-12. 
  2. ^ "Standard Letter re access to the River Thames" (PDF). London Assembly. Archived from the original on 2007-06-30. Retrieved 31 March 2009. 
  3. ^ "Vessel Traffic Services". Port of London Authority. Retrieved 31 March 2009. 
  4. ^ a b c "Short guide to the PLA" (pdf). Port of London Authority. Retrieved 31 March 2009. 
  5. ^ "New PLA Patrol Boats". Port of London Authority. Retrieved 31 March 2009. 
  6. ^ The Flag Institute Guide to flags flown at Thames Diamond Jubilee Pageant, by Graham Bartram (2012) - page 25
  7. ^ "Port of London Authority". Flags of the World. Retrieved 31 March 2009. 
  8. ^ Fox-Davies, A C (1915). The Book of Public Arms, 2nd edition. London: T C & E C Jack. p. 620. 
  9. ^ Scott-Giles, C Wilfrid (1953). Civic Heraldry of England and Wales, 2nd edition. London: J M Dent & Sons. p. 261. 
  10. ^ "The Mayor of London's Proposals for Devolution". Greater London Authority. June 2010. Retrieved 4 October 2010. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°26′41″N 0°22′28″E / 51.4448°N 0.3744°E / 51.4448; 0.3744