The Saga of the Thames Gateway Bridge at Thamesmead







There are 16 river crossings of the Thames west of Tower Bridge up to the M25, yet just three to the east, including the tolled M25 crossing at Dartford. There are no bridges covering the distance of around 16 miles from Tower Bridge to the M25 Queen Elizabeth II bridge. That means no double decker buses across the river, as well as a severe lack of pedestrian crossings and pretty bleak conditions for cyclists. What the lack of bridges also means is that transport and employment opportunities are limited in SE London, and all traffic is mainly funnelled towards the Blackwall tunnel. Horrendous traffic is the result. And if there’s a problem complete gridlock for miles around is the result. Cyclists have limited crossings due to there being no bridges, and the ongoing sagas with foot tunnels shows the problems of limited crossings. Cross river buses are reduced to a small single decker 108. It’s pathetic and SE London deserves, and needs, so much better.

Ken Livingstone remarked when talking about a bridge at Thamesmead or a tunnel from North Greenwich to Silvertown (Boris’ favoured option) that –

‘The reason we went for the bridge and not the tunnel at Silvertown is because the bridge benefits a much wider area. If you look at the impacts of a bridge versus the tunnel you’re mad to do the tunnel, especially because a tunnel would be much more expensive. I’m also not sure you want to dump all that extra traffic in the area around the Greenwich Peninsula. The thing about the bridge being a bit further out is that it would be easier to cope with.’

The deprived outer South East London region including Thamesmead and surrounding areas are in big need of a lifeline. The positive impact of a bridge would be massive there. Not only because of the bridge, but the public transport possibilities that could utilise it.

The need for a crossing of the Thames at Thamesmead has been known for decades, and whilst reading about the town’s history recently I have been reminded of the numerous schemes proposed and then shamefully cancelled.

Boris cancelling the bridge plans after his election was the biggest mistake he has made under his tenure. Boris cancelled the bridge after pressure from the former leader of Bexley Council, Ian Clement. Boris had been helped by Ian Clement during campaigning for his first election run as mayor, and Boris won big in Bexley. After his victory he made Clement one of his deputy mayors. Clement then left in disgrace for fiddling and using City Hall credit cards for his own purchases, and afterwards it came out he was doing the same at Bexley council. He was subsequently convicted and sentenced to a suspended sentence and 100 hours community service. He also managed to get himself drugged and robbed in China by a ‘Chinese spy’ he took back home. But I digress. Apart from being a crook, he helped ruin a great chance for his borough to improve itself when leader.

When the bridge is built (it surely has to one day) it’s essential that high standard public transport options are in place from day one. Looking back at the plans for the bridge 5-10 years ago it was often stated that it should be designed to take DLR trains, though it was never planned they would run from day one. DLR trains to Beckton run just the other side of the bridge –

My knowledge of the DLR over there is lacking. If there was provision for it in the plans presumably it’s physically possible. A problem could be that it’s already very busy and if trains start in Thamesmead they could be too busy by the time they reach the existing line. Anyone know? Maybe a shuttle would be possible with a simple platform change?

If that is not possible then a high speed bus with only limited stops travelling to Barking station would be very useful. It could leave from Abbey Wood station, head north to Thamesmead town centre, then cross the river to Beckton DLR and onto Barking station with its quick trains to Fenchurch Street, and tube station on the District and Hammersmith and City lines. It’s a short distance. Think what that could do for SE London. In the long term it could even become a tram going extended south from Abbey Wood crossrail and north kent line station linking with the other rail lines to Dartford at Bexleyheath etc.

The original plans around the time of Thamesmead’s development in the 1960s and 1970s favoured a tunnel rather than a bridge after lobbying by Greenwich and Bexley Councils. This pushed the price up, and as cut backs kicked in the plans were dropped.

There were further plans in the 1980s yet run into problems with an approach road plowing through Oxleas Wood. After Livingstone was elected in 2000 plans for a bridge were resurrected without the road as road capacity had been improved from the M25 to Thamesmead, which is now fully dual carriagway. At the time I lived nearby and remember filling in a consultation which asked about what design I favoured.  There were four designs, of which three were pretty elegant.

So how would such a bridge be built in such a time of financial difficulties? The original plans were for it to be tolled, and at such a level to dissuade much of the long distance traffic and lorries who would use the cheaper QEII Dartford crossing. It could be 3x higher for example. The price would be set to also so as not to dissuade all users towards the free Blackwall Tunnel. Maybe the Blackwall could be tolled as well? Though that would be a logistical nightmare, and the headlines would be that all of South/East London has to pay to cross but not the wealthier west. It’s a fair point.

With tolls, and the massive demand, it would pay for itself over a number of years. And yet Boris still doesn’t consider it. It has edged it’s way back onto TfL’s agenda recently as the need is clear, yet Boris’ previous firm resistance under Ian Clement’s pressure seem to have made him reluctant to accept a u-turn.

The downsides of a bridge are that inevitably there will be much more traffic locally. Given the benefits it will bring to residents I think it’s a price worth paying. I lived in an area that would have seen much more traffic by a bridge yet I still support it. So did most of my neighbours. It’s wider benefits are massive. It would alleviate some of the snarl ups around Greenwich as well as traffic doesn’t all go there. The tolls should be high enough to stop lorries and too much M25 traffic entering suburban London. It’s a tough balancing act though to get enough traffic to fund the bridge yet not cause gridlock.

The roads in Thamesmead should be ok. They are hardly that busy as they were built to handle a far bigger town and population than that which eventually arrived.  Traffic from Bexley borough down to Thamesmead would cause traffic at Knee Hill. Maybe widening, or a diversion using quieter roads such as the parallel, yet quiet, New Road would work. It won’t be pleasant, but it’s a price worth paying.

If Livingstone wins and brings the plan back alive, and can secure a bond and permission from central government to fund it with the promise that it will pay for itself in time with tolls, then maybe, just maybe, Thamesmead will get what it needs and deserves. Otherwise much of the town could linger in the doldrums for decades more.

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J Smith

I've lived in south east London most of my life growing up in Greenwich borough and working in the area for many years. The site has contributors on occasion and we cover many different topics. Living and working in the area offers an insight into what is happening locally.

0 thoughts on “The Saga of the Thames Gateway Bridge at Thamesmead

  • As you say, an age-old argument with plenty of fors and againsts. If it was simply a question of redistributing the existing traffic, then I would be all for it. However it’s inevitable that building a new link would generate extra road traffic. No matter how good the public transport options, the majority of car owners will largely regard them as being for others. Perhaps the answer would be a bridge for public transport and cyclists only?
    Or on the other hand, perhaps you should be lobbying Boris to build another cable car 😉

  • Cable cars for all! Bless Boris and his silly headline grabbing schemes.

    I would be all for a bridge for public transport and cyclists only. But neither the labour or tory parties have shown much desire to invest in infrastructure and transport over the past few decades. The only way much gets done is if it shows a massively positive business case, and only then after ridiculous time lengths and arguing as costs rise. It’s all rather depressing after seeing the situation in many European cities. Shoudn’t complain too much though. London is still far far better than every other UK city where the situation is often dire.

    So being pragmatic with the fact that governments of all colours don’t invest in infrastructure and public transport like they should, then it’s only a tolled bridge, that pays for itself, that will get the nod from government. The alternative is nothing and that would be terrible. Given that poor choice I think Livingstone realises cars on the bridge is better than no bridge at all for the wider SE London region.

    If there is a massive influx of cars then it would be easy to adjust the toll to disuade some.

    And then after this bridge we can get cracking with a pedestrian only bridge by Greenwich peninsula 🙂

  • To say that we have to throw up our hands and accept the fact that the powerful roads lobby will bend all governments towards infrastructure spending on lorry/car movements anyway is, in the view of many of us who have opposed this bridge for years, a mistake.

    A bridge, by all means, but a public transport bridge. Don’t forget that the approach road through Oxleas Wood also would have gone through almost every piece of green space in the area, polluting and deafening as the traffic thundered through. Building roads creates traffic, it does not remove it. As roads are built, new problems arise and new solutions, ie new roads are demanded. The only way that people will accept that public transport is a better solution than using a car is when the transport is actually there.

    It is not only the Blackwall Tunnel which creates traffic jams. Hold-ups on the A2 further down frequently block up south-east London too.

    I write as a long term south east Londoner, who has lived both in Abbey Wood (next to Thamesmead as it was built) and now lives not too far from the Blackwall Tunnel.

  • “a price worth paying” you say, hmph!

    i’m writing this as pollution monitoring near the rochester ‘relief’ road reveals what appears to be the highest pollution in London during a week of shameful air quality in the metropolis.

    in the last 20 years, traffic scientists have converged on the realisation that road building induces traffic – rochester relief road, and indeed the blackwall southern approach being two cases in point, fine in the short-term, but now the sources of some of the poorest air quality in London (and congestion too – the A2 is borked again today).

    building orbitals/radials/bypasses/relief roads only advantages long-distance commuters who have to cross the green-belt to get to work in London…abercrombie’s new towns failed to generate any work outside the capital, resulting in the need for people to travel in from the far-flung areas in the south east: e.g. the stockbroker belt or the medway towns.

    with London about to face pollution fines from the environmentally enlightened european air quality regulators, do you still think that the ‘traffic induction’ and the associated health costs caused by building more roads is still a price worth paying? it could get quite expensive – all so that people can work and shop in east London (not a great source of jobs at the best of times, although with the coming megamall there’ll be more retail).

    in a city as congested as ours a feasible solution is to reduce traffic, and tolling road use simply advantages the rich. the democratisation of car use is however, a problem, but i’m not convinced that building more roads is the solution. I say press ahead with SE London Mass Rapid Transport (jubilee line, DLR, crossrail), and facilitate sustainable transport solutions (walking, cycling, car sharing). By all means build a ‘local bridge’ at gallions reach, but make sure it’s sustainable in the long term, otherwise someone at the ministry of transport will blow the dust of the dreaded A2 bypass plan, and for the fourth time since the 60’s, local homes and 8000 year old woodlands will be under threat from the bulldozers.

  • what we need to do is take Boris to Madeira Island where the roads, bridges and infrastructure is amazing and nothing is impossible to build, plus the Madeiran’s build it much quicker!
    thank you for your views in this. The bridge would be a big step for south east, many people bought property’s in the hope of this to happen, many people would benefit from it and the local economy.
    Hope someone with good sense sees this.

  • Obviously I’m a NIMBY – but the estimated traffic count between the end of my road and Knee Hill was horrific. We have massive pollution around here – increased traffic, burning sewage (the soon to start fully functioning rubbish burning incinerator) The London city Airport- which has increased the size of its planes and dramatically increased its flight numbers and the never ending building projects.There is a very high number of asthmatics around here – of which I am one. We do have to use the Blackwall tunnel to get to London hospitals – and that is a nightmare due to the closures but even so we DON’T want a new crossing linking into a road structure which joins to Harrow Manorway. Also, what about our poor woods – they would definitely widen Knee Hill (and traffic struggles with the incline anyway) and if I was well off enough to live in New Road I doubt I would want lorries trundling up the road en route to the A2. This is probably an age thing – if you are young you want amazing transport links – if you are old you want peace!

  • Pingback: The Proposed Greenwich to Silvertown Tunnel | fromthemurkydepths

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