The leader of Bexley Council has criticised proposals for a DLR extension heading only to Thamesmead after TfL recently submitted a business case.
Transport for London, Newham Council and Greenwich Council have been working together for some time on planning an extension. Both boroughs allocated their own funding towards drawing up the business case.
Bexley Council have not been working alongside nor funded any study.
Council leader Teresa O’Neill stated: “These proposals do not go far enough. On behalf of Bexley residents and businesses I am extremely disappointed that the TfL announcement did not include the extension of the DLR into Belvedere.”
Bexley have drawn up a Growth Strategy proposing tens of thousands of homes across the north of the borough. They have called for any extension to head onto Belvedere where the strategy calls for 8,000 homes.
In the recent past some sizable developments have begun to emerge off the drawing board, including:
Proposals for 563 homes were revealed here in August 2022 and covered here.
This plan emerged in 2021 and includes 1,250 homes near Belvedere station.
In addition, areas such as the large Asda beside the station are earmarked for future development in the council’s Local Plan.
While Bexley complain, any DLR extension to Thamesmead let alone Belvedere looks extremely unlikely to be agreed anytime soon. For one, the cost is large compared to gains on offer at £1.6 bn to Thamesmead alone. It’ll be comfortably more to Belvedere.
In a world of “levelling up” where politicians are very wary of spending in London, who can see that level of funding being spent with a general aversion to infrastructure spending within the Treasury.
It’s pretty easy to imagine a short DLR extension of a few hundred metres to Beckton retail parks and gasworks. That’ll cost comfortably less than a new tunnel under the Thames and station in Thamesmead.
One suspects the new business case will end up in a pile at the Treasury collecting dust.
In terms of funding, local development levies can help but how much can be attained in Thamesmead and Belvedere? It’s not exactly Zone 2 which the Bakerloo line extension, for example, is located with higher potential revenue. I can’t see offices and the level of housing in remote Zone 4 and zone 5 offering what the Old Kent Road would, to give another project vying for scarce funds.
Then there’s journey time. How many will want the slow trundle on the DLR via Thamesmead and Beckton? It’s currently 27 minutes from Beckton to Tower Gateway (so not even the City). Add on 5-10 minutes for crossing the Thames on any extension. That compares poorly to other existing options.
It’s already quicker for most in central and north Thamesmead to get a bus to Abbey Wood or Woolwich then take the Elizabeth line to various areas of London. In Belvedere the same applies with rail to Abbey Wood. In south Thamesmead walking to Abbey Wood isn’t too far for many.
A far easier and cheaper way in the near to mid term to boost Belvedere would also ensuring Thameslink trains call at the station.
Reversing the removal of two Southeastern Metro trains per hour made in December 2022 – alongside higher capacity rolling stock which is planned – would also be an easier and far cheaper gain.
Reinstating SE services and enabling Thameslink stops would increase services from Belvedere to Abbey Wood by four trains per hour.
Express bus routes
If an express route was established in Thamesmead to local Elizabeth line stations, as has been mentioned alongside the DLR extension, that makes the DLR trundle even less appealing.
Under the current plan, north Thamesmead is where a solitary DLR station for Thamesmead would be built to unlock homes. An express route from that area could reach Elizabeth line stations in 5-10 minutes. It’s already under 10 minutes on a bus from north Thamesmead to Woolwich Elizabeth line station.
Woolwich to Canary Wharf is then six minutes on the Elizabeth line. Stratford around 20 minutes via DLR or Elizabeth line from Woolwich. The City is 15 minutes away.
That ensures it’s quicker to reach major areas of leisure and employment even via a bus than the DLR from Thamesmead.
But given planned housing in north Thamesmead any new route to Elizabeth lines would need to be frequent and high capacity. If one gets the crayons out, a tram would be advantageous.
Whether it be an express bus or even a tram, Thamesmead is fortunate in that it has the space for street level express transport. Numerous dual carriageways and wide streets abound dating from the 1960s and 1970s when Thamesmead was to see 100,000 residents and everyone would drive.
Of course, that didn’t happen.
Those dual carriageways with excess capacity also handily extend to Belvedere to the east and Woolwich to the west. Well, in fact all the way to North Greenwich in that direction given the width of roads through Charlton.
Creating various hubs
So rather than one DLR station which has to be grade-separated and in a tunnel or viaduct, there could be a number of station hubs for rapid transit in north Thamesmead, central Thamesmead, Belvedere and at the one-way system beside Plumstead garage where 2,200 are currently being built.
That’s still fewer stops than existing buses and would offer faster connections than currently exist on the 472 and other buses.
Any express route could also head to Erith which is another projected growth area under Bexley’s Growth strategy. To the west it could serve a potential 8,000 homes at Charlton Riverside.
That sort of network would be of far more area benefit than via a single DLR station that is estimated to cost extremely large sums.
If a cross-river link would have connected to other lines such as at Barking then it would make more sense, but the DLR extension links Thamesmead to much of nothing at Beckton before going west along an area with little in the way of connections.
And by not linking to Abbey Wood station it also offers little for radial links in east and south east London.
All in all, Bexley council may be angry but looking at the current political and economic situation we could see a network offering far more to far more people by not seeing a DLR extension.
It looks politically infeasible and other options can offer more links to more people.
Put it this way, an expensive DLR extension with one solitary station south of the Thames and no radial links or a truly high quality network serving various south east London towns linking to the Elizabeth line, DLR and National Rail that could truly offer model change. In a time of limited funds the latter offers much more.
And as someone who has long covered Thamesmead’s lack of transport over the decades and how it has long needed something new, that feels very odd to write, but the more one looks into it the less sense the DLR option makes.