A consultation has been launched into extending the DLR to Thamesmead and Beckton Riverside.
It’s the latest in many rounds of reports, studies and consultations into plans over the years with the latest costing put at £1.4 billion.
As reported previously, the newest proposal does not link north Thamesmead to the Elizabeth line, Thameslink and Southeastern services at Abbey Wood.
For those in north Thamesmead the link would provide a bit of a slow trundle over the Thames via Beckton before heading to Canning Town and beyond. Slower in fact than heading to Abbey Wood on existing buses (10 minutes) and then catching existing rail services all over the capital or into Kent.
Factor in that a new express bus is launching in weeks between north Thamesmead and Abbey Wood station that could take as little as five minutes and one wonders how much demand they’d actually be?
Then factor in £24 million has been allocated for another express route from north Thamesmead to Woolwich with its Elizabeth line, DLR and National Rail station and well, would many really use the Thamesmead DLR branch south of the river?
It hardly serves many areas in demand on the Beckton route and crucially doesn’t link to Barking with its numerous London Overground, tube and c2c rail links.
This plan thus offers no link south to a major rail head nor a link north to similar at Barking.
TfL though seem adamant that extending the London Overground (which would link to ample travel options at Barking station) or trams (with greater flexibility to serve other growth areas plus high capacity vehicles) isn’t the way to go: “We believe that an extension of the DLR is the right long-term solution because the alternative options do not offer the same value for money or improvements to capacity and efficiency that is needed for the area.”
London Overground’s Barking riverside route is limited in the ability to run more than four trains per hour so that makes sense but trams offer high capacity and Thamesmead certainly has capacity for them.
A tram though? They are far higher capacity than existing buses and a high frequency could compete with the DLR.
Still, TfL seem focused on crossing the river. Yet how many people in north Thamesmead would want to cross the Thames when the planned route via Beckton offers little. A barely used business park?
Far more people would want the connections offered through the Elizabeth line to Heathrow/the City/West End/Stratford/Paddington/west London (and more), Southeastern to London Bridge/the City/West End/Lewisham plus Thameslink with its stations through central London such as St Pancras and then north of the capital.
Thamesmead’s road network can certainly take frequent high capacity buses and trams in future given it was built for a town of 100,000 which has yet to see more than 60k. Dual carriageways lead all the way from north Thamesmead to both Abbey Wood and Woolwich stations.
Trams at street-level rather than the grade-separated DLR would also permit onward extension to major north Bexley growth areas such as Belvedere and Erith where Bexley’s Growth Strategy foresees up to 10k homes as well as extension west to 8,000 homes planned at Charlton riverside and then up to 20k homes at Greenwich Peninsula.
It’d be the precursor so a wider strategic network serving areas earmarked for some of the biggest housing growth in the UK. The DLR to Thamesmead doesn’t offer that.
But that would all be some way off following the introduction of express, high capacity bus rapid transit routes.
Of course one advantage the DLR does have is capacity over buses (though less so with trams) and Thamesmead could see over 10,000+ homes in an unbuilt area in the north of the town as well as higher density on retail parks.
Whether that’s enough to justify extension at the expected cost over the Thames remains to be seen.
What I could easily see is a DLR extension beyond its existing route in Beckton but still terminate north of the Thames to permit thousands of homes at Beckton retail parks and underutilised land.
Crossing the Thames at high cost without it even connecting to Abbey Wood station nor much scope for onward extension give the need to be separate from road traffic? In the current financial climate I cannot see either major party going for it and it’d require central government funding.
TfL state they’ve considered it but still don’t think an extension to Beckton Riverside alone will happen so are seeking to cross the Thames. We shall see.
The increased cost of a river crossing would also amplify the “more spending in London” argument from across the country.
And in a financially constrained time wouldn’t the Bakerloo line extension be a better bet? That could see 20k new homes along the Old Kent Road and alleviate Lewisham station.
It’s also benefit from developer contributions in zones 1-2 areas rather than out in north Thamesmead where development-related revenue would be lower.
Arguing against the current DLR proposal to Thamesmead does feel very odd having grown up and worked in the area for many years. I’ve shopped there, socialised there, worked there and know it like the back of my hand. I would buy groceries back when Morrisons was Safeway. We’re going back a bit. Visited Thamesmere leisure centre and library frequently. I’ve had a personal connection to north Thamesmead for decades.
I’ve also been reading and writing about the need for better transport for Thamesmead for years. Whether it be the Jubilee line or a new railway station. Thamesmead is always of interest.
It must also be said though a lot the isolation of Thamesmead in the present day is exaggerated. Thamesmead hasn’t been the isolated outpost of myth some think it is. At least not for 20-30 years. Much of south Thamesmead never was. The north was a different story but is now much better. I worked there and commuted in.
But it does need something more and will do to unlock many much-needed homes.
Yet this plan doesn’t stack up for me. Knowing the area well I cannot work out why people would use it rather than the forthcoming express routes to either Abbey Wood or Woolwich (which will take five minutes!) for far faster rail routes connecting across London. That should be where funding is focused to boost capacity as more housing comes on stream in years to come so an initial bus can become a tram, ensuring high frequency, high speed express routes from new homes to those stations.
It’s not as if the DLR won’t almost certainly require a change anyway for users to reach many parts of London, so why not take an express route to use Thameslink, Southeastern, or the Elizabeth line?
If this was a time of ample infrastructure investment and the new extension connected to Abbey Wood I’d be more supportive but it isn’t and it doesn’t.
And maybe it doesn’t need to anyway if high capacity, frequent routes become available link north Thamesmead to Abbey Wood and Woolwich. That ball is already rolling. It could be scaled up accordingly as more homes are built.
One thing we hopefully won’t see if little movement on new housing while this rumbles on one way or another for another 10+ years.
With express buses starting imminently set to take five minutes to major stations which then offer regular rail services to Canary Wharf in less than 10 minutes, the City and Stratford in 15 minutes and West End in 20, there’s already a pressing need for masterplans in north Thamesmead to replace retail parks.
Given Peabody are a key part of north Thamesmead’s proposed development we probably shouldn’t expect much anyway even if major public funds were spent. Abbey Wood saw the £18 billion Elizabeth line and what have Peabody built in 10 years even after the line opened? Next to nothing with numerous vacant plots just minutes from Abbey Wood station.
Even if the stars align and somehow money from central government is awarded, it wouldn’t open until the 2030s. You never know, Peabody may have even built a dozen homes by then.
The consultation can be seen here.