More trains & more homes. How to help achieve this?

I’ve been prompted to write this after reading one of Bexley is Bonkers latest posts. It reports that Southeastern trains told a Bexley Council committee that they lack trains as the Department for Transport didn’t deem them worthy of additional stock, as we already know. They also claim that there is insufficient space to store any additional stock.

So then, a bit of idle speculation. Assuming this is true (and I have no idea about space in other areas like Slade Green) then there seems to be a fair bit of space to expand the sidings at Plumstead. This is right beside a site Crossrail where are currently building a substantial maintenance and stabling yard for 11 trains. Southeastern already have sidings in Plumstead that can accommodate four trains, and they were recently extended to take full length 12 car trains, however Southeastern lack the stock to run anymore than a handful at that length, which shows the need for more stock.

The area to the north of the existing Southeastern sidings has been used by Crossrail in recent years whilst they dig the tunnels under the Thames. This is separate to crossrails forthcoming permanent site. It’s a sizable area and looks like it could hold a fair few 12-car trains, and provide a facility to deal with growth in coming decades. The site is awkwardly positioned and it’s difficult to see any other uses for it. It’s the entire area that appears white below:

8 car train stabled in existing siding shows scale of area that will be vacant

Crossrail will vacate this area soon now tunnelling is complete and consolidate at their large facility under construction just to the east. That major facility was not in original Crossrail plans but subsequently developed, firstly as a ‘temporary’ measure and now to be permanent. The plans to store and maintain at Plumstead came about as other yards would be too remote from the south east branch terminus, and other possible sites such as Old Oak Common deemed more valuable for residential and commercial development. Thus Plumstead as a facility to store and maintain 11 trains makes a lot of sense and will provide much local employment. Below you can see the individual areas on an aerial image helpfully outlined using expert MS paint skills – the forthcoming permanent Crossrail sidings in purple, the existing Southeastern sidings in orange and a hypothetical expanded SE sidings in red:

Plumstead sidings with Crossrail and Southeastern

So yes, all this is a bit pie in the sky right now, but an expanded Southeastern facility would provide needed storage space within London and be located alongside Crossrail’s yard. Would that be of benefit in the coming decades in reducing costs if TfL do gain control of Southeastern? There’d be a hell of a lot of bureaucracy and issues to overcome first, such as TfL awarding the Crossrail operating contract to Hong Kong’s MTR Corporation for 8 years. If they take over SE in 2018 could it be slotted into that franchise? Would any new stock ordered be similar to Crossrail’s thus allowing engineers to easily work on both railways for cost savings?

Throw in the bus garage

Getting even further carried away, and just to the west of both Southeastern’s sidings and the forthcoming Crossrail facility is Plumstead bus garage, located very close to Plumstead station and surrounded by a terrible one-way system. Could this garage could move east to a large plot of empty land facing onto White Hart Avenue, opposite the forthcoming Crossrail yard, thereby freeing up a large amount of land for housing very close to Plumstead station? See below for a larger overview of the site:

PLumstead transport sites overview

The empty area in pink is the site and its lain empty for many years, despite Greenwich council pitching it as an industrial area. White Hart Avenue is a restricted access road built around a decade ago providing a through-route for the planned industrial hub, but it has never really taken off and a fair of land has remained empty for years. The road leads north to the dual carriageways of Thamesmead (just out of image) and would offer ideal, easy access for buses. Of course, in the fragmented transport system we have none of this is easy to plan centrally. TfL can’t order it I believe but I wonder if Greenwich Council could push for it and include this in any wider Plumstead masterplan?

If the bus garage vacated its current site it would free up a substantial amount of land for residential use. It’s an ideal site for many, desperately needed new homes. Plumstead station would be just minutes away. Moving the existing bus garage a couple of hundred metres east to a site that seems to have few takers, and is unsuitable for housing, and then building housing close to a station is what London will have to do far more of. But it requires authorities taking the lead to do so. With rumours in previous months that the garage could be moving, hopefully Greenwich realises the existing site is far better suited for housing and work towards that end.

As a bonus the horrible one-way system there could be re-worked. It’s a mess, made worse by ‘bus friendly improvements’ 10 years ago that doubled my bus trip time to work. The three/four lane one way system cuts off Thamesmead from Plumstead station as well as hampering users of the Ridgeway cycle lane and footpath. It’s a huge physical divide whose substantial alteration would greatly improve walking routes. An ideal site for a future housing zone?

London is seeing record population growth, and though all avenues including the green belt will have to be looked at, there’s a huge amount of brownfield land that is either derelict or used very inefficiently within the M25. A large stretch running west of the Plumstead one-way system to Woolwich alone could accommodate thousands of new homes, and much sooner than planned under the glacial progress big developers move at. An aerial pan of the town shows swaths of under-utilised, semi derelict or empty land (much of it land-banked for years by developers). Unless power is devolved to councils and city regions it’s very hard to see much changing soon.

The ideas above are a bit fanciful but there is a pressing need to relocate certain current land users to areas where no housing is feasible, to free up that land for new homes. Thamesmead and Erith have a fair bit of land unsuitable for housing and where industrial businesses show little interest. Moving a bus garage to those makes perfect sense. The only way London will solve its growing problems is to have strong local government that can take control and push this. This is sorely lacking, but though they are lacking much power, will Greenwich Council step up to at least get things moving through a comprehensive plan for Plumstead?

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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.

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