TfL have requested £800 million to construct a DLR extension to Thamesmead, though they list 2030 as the earliest possible opening date.
While welcome to many, even if that date is met, frequency would be limited to five trains per hour crossing from Beckton and the line would not connect to Abbey Wood station and interchange with Southeastern and Crossrail services. The frequency proposed is a downgrade from that proposed two years ago.
Dates are also being pushed back. In 2018, the opening date was pegged as 2026.
The document states “up to five trains an hour” offering an insight into how the Beckton DLR branch will operate if split into two – and possibly three – branches. There have been previous proposals to create a branch running to Beckton Retail Park for new housing.
That could result in three eastern destinations – Thamesmead, Beckton Riverside and the existing Beckton terminus. However a map within the TfL report looks as though they may now try to link both Beckton retail park and Thamesmead on a single branch. If so, this will slow journeys from Thamesmead as the route meanders.
To gain approval for a 2030 opening, the Treasury needs to agree funding. Quite the hurdle.
Even in “good” times, major transport infrastructure is only part-funded by central Government. Crossrail is 50-50 between TfL and Government, with TfL applying a levy across the city on business rates and development over the past decade to fund its share. Woolwich Station was a late addition and gets no support from either TfL or central Government. Local people and Greenwich Council had to fund the station box.
In the current situation with the country’s annual deficit heading for a record high, disrupted travel patterns and a desire to limit investment in London via claims to “level up” the country, gaining capital investment is a tall order. “Levelling up” – the favoured phrase of Ministers – appears to mean dragging London down to the level of other areas rather than improve other areas to the standard of London. We aren’t becoming France, Spain or Germany with high quality transport systems in various large towns and cities.
Cutting transport funding in London is not going to see a tram network in Bristol, for example. Examples abound nationwide, from Manchester still trying to gain approval for local funds from central Government and even Norwich this week being awarded less than half the modest sum sought for improvements.
A DLR spur over the Thames will enable thousands of homes to be built in Thamesmead. Last week I looked at Greenwich Council allocating £150,000 on a new transport study alongside Berkeley Homes, Peabody and Lendlease.
A new link will enable over 10,000 new homes to be built and there are hopes for a proper town centre in Thamesmead instead of retail parks, realising plans from the 1960s.
However, failing to connect the DLR to Abbey Wood will substantially limit transport options for those moving to new homes as well as existing residents. For many Thamesmead residents it will still be quicker to take a bus to Abbey Wood for onward connections via Crossrail rather than the slower DLR with frequent stops along the Beckton branch. The 472 bus is due to be extended to Abbey Wood station to create improved connection easier to Abbey Wood.
If the Greenwich Waterfront Transit is built, that becomes another option.
Ultimately the question is whether the Treasury agree to this proposal? For them, a DLR extension to Barking retail park may looksan easier and cheaper win. There’s vast plots in the area that do not require crossing the Thames and resulting expense.
Thamesmead has some heavy hitters on side with large developers pushing for an extension – though enough to sway the Treasury? Government may approve link to Beckton retail park and nearby industrial areas and be content for Thamesmead to see a bus transit scheme.
Afterall, if it doesn’t reach Abbey Wood many potential benefits are arguably unrealised. And with the 472 still not extended, it could be tempting to state extended existing buses and a new bus transit linking to Crossrail will suffice. We’ll find out in 2021/2022.