Harbouring hopes of restored river life
PUBLISHED: 11:53 13 December 2012
It was once a bustling hub of river life but, as the cement industry took over much of Northfleet, the town's harbour fell into disuse.
Later, when a flood wall was built along the banks of the River Thames in the 1980s, the ancient port was left for undergrowth to bury it in history.
However, a group of volunteers is hoping to reverse the years of neglect at Northfleet Harbour and bring it back into use.
A feasibility study into its restoration is planned and, if the results are positive, it could lead to a marina, a place to refurbish old ships and a community space.
Making people aware of the harbour is the first step. Conrad Broadley, of Northfleet Harbour Restoration Trust, has lost count of the number of times local people have told him they were unaware of its existence.
“The biggest challenge has been raising public awareness, but we now have a big group of volunteers who are on board,” he said.
Now the trust, formed in 2011 to realise dreams of a revived harbour, is raising funds for the feasibility study, costing in the realm of £15,000 to £20,000.
The harbour could become home to hundreds of yachts and powerboats, and provide an alternative location for boats to moor along the Thames.
The idea is also to have a slipway that is accessible to the public which would be the only one of its kind on the Thames.
This, Conrad says, would make boating affordable and accessible for local people, allowing anyone with a boat to get out and make use of the river, which is the whole idea driving the project.
“Northfleet has had the river taken away from it and has been dominated by heavy industry. It now has a unique opportunity for the locals to have something they can actually use. We have already got historic ships in talks with us, from steam boats to sailing ships.”
The main barrier to using the harbour, besides financing it, is the flood defence wall built across the entrance.
Once this has been cut through, behind it the harbour itself is virtually intact with its walls preserved in time.
Recent excavation work has dug up the old public slipway, and an archaeological dig will continue to unearth the rest.
There is no timeline yet on this project, but once a feasibility study has been made it will become clearer if and when it might be possible.
If it does go ahead, it will become a centre for boat restoration and heritage education, and offer the Lower Thames a marina that it greatly lacks today.
n For more information see www.northfleetharbour.org.uk