The latest plan for solving the perennial problem of river crossings to the east of Tower Bridge is the flawed Silvertown tunnel scheme next to the Blackwall Tunnel, heavily backed by Boris Johnson. Greenwich Council have recently launched a big campaign pushing for it, along with a bridge at Thamesmead (which seems to be taking second billing). They have splashed the campaign across their weekly propaganda ‘Greenwich Time’ newspaper, their website, as well as displays in local libraries. Below is a map of the proposals.
There are many flaws with the Silvertown idea, and a petition has been launched to stop the plans. You can see it here. The tunnel would cost £600 million, yet would add to the already long queues approaching the tunnel area each rush hour. There may be a new tunnel but the approach roads would not change. It would be tolled, with users possibly being asked to pay £2 each journey, and fees would be introduced on the existing tunnel. This would no doubt have the effect of making the Rotherhithe tunnel gridlocked, and do nothing to ease congestion as queues build up at toll booths on the crowded approach. The plans would be pretty much useless for buses, pedestrians and cyclists. It would increase pollution in Greenwich where thousands of homes are planned in the coming years.
The plan is being pushed by Boris Johnson. He cancelled the planned Thames Gateway bridge shortly after his election in 2008, which would have run between Thamesmead and Beckton. He also ignored his election promise to re-introduce the Blackwall tunnel contraflow which Ken Livingstone had removed.
Bexley Council were strongly against the Thames Gateway bridge plan, which would have done much to regenerate the deprived and run down north of the borough. They were, and are, closely aligned with the Mayor, and have been heavily involved in campaigning for him. They were strongly against and helped kill off the plan. The other three boroughs in the area that would be affected (Greenwich, Newham, and Barking and Dagenham) supported the bridge, but none were as close as Bexley is to Boris. Bexley Councils leader at the time was made Boris’ Deputy Mayor after he was elected, until he was forced to resign for fraud.
I wrote a post a while ago about the benefits of a bridge. The plans would have seen a dedicated bus lane, which could possibly have been upgraded to trams or the DLR in future, which would have been a massive boost for Thamesmead as well as Erith, Slade Green and Abbey Wood. It could also have included a cycle lane and pedestrian access. It would have been tolled, but the level could have been set to manage demand, and spread the load along the Thames. For example HGVs could have been banned at certain times. With the rising population in the area the need for crossings only gets stronger, and has already been recognised for 50 years. The bridge should be the first of a number of crossings as it offers the most immediate benefits. More bridges, or extending the life of the Woolwich ferry, should be planned in addition to a proper crossing.
Instead of the bridge plan, Boris and TfL have come up with a proposed ferry at Thamesmead to replace the Woolwich one. This would come at a ridiculous cost of £150 million, and would also likely be tolled. West London has many free crossings whilst SE and E London would end up with none if Rotherhithe follows, as it probably would as more head there. Like the Silvertown tunnel, a ferry is no good for public transport, and is a poor form of transport. They need heavy maintenance, and are hampered by fog and limited capacity. Me and a friend recently had to get to a shop quickly, and the only one nearby to SE London with the product was at Beckton shopping park. Not far from SE London as the crow flies. But even using the ferry at midday it took an age to get there. A huge amount of business and job opportunities must be lost with the poor crossings. No one who lives in Thamesmead would be able to get to work there reliably, though if there was a bridge they would be able to get to work in 10 minutes.
A bridge could have an express bus route linking major public transport interchanges north and south of the river, which would massively help out Thamesmead and surrounding areas. It could quickly run from the new Abbey Wood Crossrail station heading north, with limited stops, through Thamesmead and across the bridge, then onto Barking with it’s Tube lines (District Line and Hammersmith and City Line), fast c2c trains to Fenchurch Street, and London Overground line. Both Abbey Wood and Barking would be accessible in minutes, and it would run along existing dual carriageways for almost the entirety of the route. Different routes through Thamesmead could be used for speed or proximity to housing estates. Here’s a map to show the idea.
A bridge can offer this. A tunnel can’t. A ferry can’t. The tunnel plan is expensive, offers limited scope, and still funnels all traffic down the crowded A2 and A102. The ferry only replaces the flawed existing one, will be expensive to build and also tolled, yet offering few improvements. The newest TfL consultation can be viewed here