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Waterways could take the heat out of London

My office is in the Marylebone area of London directly opposite the studios of BBC Greater London Radio, so it’s not uncommon to see celebrities popping in and out to be interviewed.

One I often see is London mayor Boris Johnson, and I can assure you he does arrive on his bicycle complete with cycle clips and cycling gloves.

Now love him or loathe him, you have to concede that the mayor at least stimulates debate and in this respect I have to say I find his plan to revive London’s lost waterways attractive.

Johnson’s idea is to open up stretches of hidden rivers to create ornamental areas of parkland, complete with towpaths and walkways.

Critics have called it an unworkable idea but they are missing the point. Johnson isn’t trying to transform London into a Canaletto-style vision of Venice with boatmen wearing stripey jumpers.

In fact, what he’s aiming for is quite the opposite. His proposal is simply to open up and make the most of the capital’s hidden rivers when the opportunity presents itself. I think the plan holds water, if you’ll pardon the pun.

In fact, the idea is already beginning to take shape in south-east London. In Lewisham, a new development of flats has uncovered the junction of the wonderfully named Quaggy and Ravensbourne rivers, neither of which have seen the light of day for years.

The development’s design has been altered to take account of the fact it is at the junction of the rivers, which demonstrates perfectly how Johnson’s idea can be implemented in practice.

And there shouldn’t be any shortage of opportunities, as in total there are upwards of 16 hidden rivers under London, including the Wandle. It runs between Croydon and Wandsworth, the Brent through Wembley and the Bourne is located in south-east London.

Meanwhile, in the centre of the city we have the rivers Tyburn and Fleet, the latter passing beneath Fleet Street.

Johnson’s idea is not new. The idea was first mooted in 1730 when Queen Caroline, the wife of King George II, decided to dam the Westbourne River to form the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park to beautify the area.

As a matter of interest, a part of this forgotten river can still be seen in a way as it is carried by a metal pipe visible above both platforms in Sloane Square London Underground station.

The pipe is the original one dating from when the station was built, despite the area being heavily bombed during the Blitz.

Johnson says exposing and making features of our hidden rivers will not only make London a more pleasant place to live and work but will also make the capital cooler during the summer months.

To be fair, he did make those comments prior to the awful pseudo-summer we have just experienced.

For years London has had a hugely underused river resource – the Thames. Until recently the river was largely neglected, in contrast to the Seine in Paris.

Perhaps at long last London’s waterways will be more appreciated thanks to Johnson.


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