South Dock Marina Boat Yard – Problem Solved?

8th February 2024

Reading time: 10 minutes (without clicking all the links!)

I seem to have been documenting the boatyard saga for quite a few years now, so I thought I had better post an update.

If you are unfamiliar with the history of the yard, then here are a few of my previous posts:

September 2015 October 2015 February 2016 February 2016 May 2016 July 2016 October 2016 January 2023

I am a boatowner who has periodically used the marina and the boatyard since 1983. I have also owned businesses in the local area which have supplied South Dock boat owners and I enjoy living in a house overlooking the busy boatyard. I am a firm believer that communities need industry.

At first glance it would appear to be wonderful news. The old proposals of building skyscraper flats on top of the working boat yard seem to have disappeared, at least for now.

You would find it hard to believe some of the crass proposals for the boat yard – this is just one of them!
…and just look at the scale of it!

Southwark Council appears to have changed tack, and are now proposing to invest considerable sums to refurbish the existing working yard.

As a local resident, you would imagine there would be three cheers and beers all round, but sadly something appears to be amiss.

Here is the working model for the revised plan. Not the greatest bit of model making, and it is a tad inaccurate,
but at least there are no tower blocks

Strangely there have been over a 100 letters of objection sent to the Council. Nearly all of them are from boat owners and yard users. Hardly any objections were received from the local residents. So at least the local residents must be pleased?

From a Local Residents Point of View

This is the artists impression of the new boatyard.
These boards were hung up on the railings for all the residents to see.
A working yard, all low level buildings, what’s not to like?

Let’s ignore the people who actually use the yard just for a moment. Consider a local resident casually browsing the display boards. It looks rather nice, lots of trees, some jolly looking low buildings, certainly nothing much to raise the hackles. Definitely a massive improvement from the crazy skyscraper idea.

But hold the horses, there is a fair dollop of artistic licence in the sketch which was put on broad public display. If you make the effort to log in to Southwark’s planning website and delve deep into the 54 documents which support the planning application, you will find another rather more hidden sketch, one which more accurately reflects the architects elevations.

Whoops a daisy, that building on the corner has doubled in height!

Just compare the two images above. The second image (above) which is tucked away in the documents, includes a rather monolithic, stripey and very tall shed in the upstream corner. This building does not appear on the model or the public display boards. The building is in a corner of the yard with views up and down the river and overshadows a popular spot on the Thames Path where people often sit in the sun and watch the boats ply up and down the Thames. To me, it seems incongruous to situate the largest building in the yard in this prominent corner. Furthermore, it blocks the view of a large chunk of river from the Lock Office so they will be unable to see vessels making their way upstream. Not that there will be many vessels heading to the marina now that it has been approved for 100% residential use.

There may be a good reason why this stripey lump is situated there and not further inshore, but the public display boards and the presentation model certainly play down the size and impact of this shed. It makes you wonder what else lurks in the details?

But enough about the architectural merits, or lack of them.

Why are the boat yard users so miffed?

The majority of the complaints, at this stage, come from the boat owners and those who actually use the boat yard to make a living. Please bear in mind that I am speaking as a bit of an outsider because it is a few years since my boat, Sumara, was in the yard.

These seem to be the main reasons that the yard users are disgruntled

Number One – Lack of Consultation

The boatyard has become run down and is in need revitalisation. I think most of the boat owners and yard users would agree that the yard could be improved. This is backed up by the fact that the South Dock Marina Berth Holders’ Association (SDMBHA) had assembled a group of enthusiastic and talented members who offered to help with the design proposal, for FREE!

They were keen that the refurbishment should not be at the risk of destroying the vibrant business and residential community that already exists.

In fact the SDBHA wanted to go further and create a Marine Centre of Excellence

An early model from the SDMBA showing a possible alternative to the Architects’ proposal

In 2021, the Association apparently achieved a firm commitment and acknowledgement that they could act as co-designers for all plans for improvements to the boatyard. Head of Southwark council, Kieron Williams, also expressed his support for their proposals to create a Marine Centre of Excellence. 

So they went to work. Here is an early days proposal. And here is another! I think you will agree that these are no amateurs. These are people who use the marina and are bursting with ideas but I am given to believe that Association’s proposals have been completely snubbed by the Council.

Southwark Council has a track record for poor consultation. They use the usual tactics of poorly advertised meetings, meetings held at short notice, meetings where the plans are presented as a fait au complet and meetings held during normal working hours.

They have certainly got everyone’s backs up on this one.

Number Two – High Rent Hikes

For a boatyard to thrive it needs to provide what the boatowners need. A boat owner may require an Engineer to service an engine, a Carpenter to make a small repair, a Canvas Worker to fabricate a cover, a Welder to repair a rudder pintle. The more services available, the more useful the yard becomes. All the businesses benefit from these interactions. These may be single traders or small companies. For these small businesses, rent can be a high proportion of their overheads, and there is a top limit where they would be unable to pass on the costs to the clients. The SDMBHA are indicating that the rents under the Council’s proposal could increase four-fold. If some of these businesses decide to relocate, or just give up, then the yard will begin to lose its critical mass. Local businesses in the surrounding area will be impacted too.

It is a very real possibility that some, or many, of the current Tradespeople will be forced to move out of the yard leaving the planned industrial units empty.

Number Three – Unable to stay on their boats whilst they are in the yard

As the marina has now been made 100% residential, it seems perverse that boat owners will not be allowed to stay on their boats while they are in the yard. Where will they go? Boat work is unlike most types of work because the extent of the work cannot be judged until the boat has been lifted. Corrosion or rot may be discovered after the haul out which may turn a two-week paint job into a two-month repair job. That is the nature of the work.

Number Four – Uncertainty over the suitability of the facilities and working spaces

The Architects seem like a nice bunch who have designed some good looking buildings. However the appointment of Architects with no previous experience of building workshops, or knowledge of boatyards, could be risky. It would surely be the ideal opportunity for good liaison between them and the yard users. Without consultation with the users the result could be a beautiful looking boatyard but a far from ideal working environment.

I once visited an Architect designed boat museum on Lake Windermere with a boat shed described thus:

‘The most beautiful boat shed in Britain.’ by Jonathan Morrison of The Times.

All well and good, but the first thing the staff needed to do, was to buy a lifting gantry from Big Dug because there was no facility for overhead hoists in their workshop. Crazy for a boatyard needing to service engines.

I’ve seen boatyards build huge workshops with the entrance 300 mm to low for the Travel crane to get inside.

I’ve worked in boatyards with no facility to clean paint brushes. I could go on.

I hope I am wrong and the Architects think of everything, but surely listening to those who use the yard would help.

From what I understand the SDMBHA submitted alternative proposals but received no response. Amongst the Members of the Association are some highly knowledgeable people possessing a wealth of experience of working with boats. Some Members have architectural skills. It seems a shame that a group of enthusiastic experts, working voluntarily, have been totally snubbed.

I would be fascinated to know how much Southwark Council have already spent on consultation for the various aborted ill-conceived plans for the boatyard.

Where next?

The Council’s proposals have now gone to the planning stage. I understand that it will be reviewed in April. Let’s hope that in the period between now and then, there is an opportunity for the boat yard users worries to be addressed.

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