If one seeks office in this country, it is as well to sharpen up one’s bargaining techniques because these people are no patsies. I fear that a life in the wilderness has left the hon. Gentleman with his customary good nature, but without that instinct for the jugular which so defines the Government, whom it is probably best to leave to do these sort of deals while the hon. Gentleman remains happy to chide me
Steve Norris, 18th November 1994
Back in the bad old days of communist newt fancying Ken, the problem of east London’s fixed river crossings was to be solved by three projects:
- Woolwich DLR extension (2009)
- Thames Gateway Bridge at Gallions Reach (2016)
- Silvertown Link bridge or tunnel between North Greenwich and Silvertown (2020)
Also thrown in the mix were some possible smaller projects such as:
- Rotherhithe – Canary Wharf pedestrian/cycle bridge
Now, obviously Boris had to sort out this mess, so he’s commissioned a study, and now we can all read it [PDF]. What new, thrusting, bold, innovative proposals, therefore, has it come up with, given that the Woolwich DLR extension was opened earlier this year and the TGB was cancelled in November? Projects given lukewarm to enthusiastic support include:
- Rotherhithe – Canary Wharf pedestrian/cycle bridge
- Silvertown Link bridge or tunnel between North Greenwich and Silvertown
- A bridge at Gallions Reach
Eh? What was the point of all that then? Red Boris rides again?
Digging deeper we find a number of fixed links being considered:
Rotherhithe – Canary Wharf pedestrian/cycle bridge.
This, you may recall, was also cancelled, or at least told it wasn’t getting funded, back in February. Unlike the TGB, it had support from the Greens as well as both boroughs connected, but this hasn’t swayed TfL or borough-friendly Boris too much – the basic view is ‘what’s wrong with paying an extortionate price on the non-integrated with Oyster PAYG capping ferry?’. Likelihood 3/10
North Greenwich – Canary Wharf pedestrian/cycle bridge
This is, as far as I can see, a genuinely new idea – I can’t find or recall any reference to it previously, although it apparently has strong support from the boroughs concerned. However, on the face of it it’s not that great an idea – it’s longer, more awkwardly located (for shipping) and less obviously on a useful route, given the shape and use pattern of the north end of the Greenwich peninsula. The only bits that are nearer the bridge than to the tube station appear to have the Blackwall Tunnel approaches on, so the target market would be people who live in North Greenwich, work in Canary Wharf who don’t want to use the tube for one stop. I’m not convinced they’re worth £50-70m. Likelihood 2/10
North Greenwich – Canary Wharf cable car
The idea of stringing a cable car across the river has been thrown into the mix by, amongst others, the Greens and Harry Phibbs of Hammersmith and Fulham council. Since Phibbs is one of London’s premier idiots I was already highly dubious about it, and the report predictably pours cold water on the idea for the same reasons I dismissed it then – you can’t put it near people’s residences because of privacy issues and it’s inadequate as a crowd shifter, which is the whole point of a river crossing aimed at commuter traffic or event based flows like at the O2. Boris’s report agrees. Likelihood 1/10
Blackwall Tunnel third bore
Bit of history here – I remember our A-Z when I was growing up showing the Third Bore to the Blackwall, because it was in the Tories’ road plans until quite late. However, one sandal wearing muesli munching leftie called Ken did say this back in 1981, contrasting it with a bridge at Gallions Reach:
In my view, a new Blackwall tunnel and the major road improvements that would need to be associated with it would not serve the same strategic purposes as the East London river crossing.
OK, it was Ken Clarke, then a Transport Minister. The East London River Crossing is, of course, the Thames Gateway Bridge in its previous Ringway incarnation as a trunk road via Oxleas Wood, famous anti-roads protest site.
On the history of the third bore and indeed quite a lot of other transport matters, I thoroughly recommend this particular Hansard transcript, featuring quite a cast list – Cecil Parkinson showing that Boris and Kulveer have no idea about what’s happened in the last 20 years, a highly impressive John Prescott, Steve Norris, Diane Abbott, Sir George Young, Chris Smith, Sir Barney Heyhoe, Simon Hughes pressing for a congestion charge, Rosie Barnes complaining about lack of tubes in SE London and Dennis Skinner being rude. Here’s the relevant bit from von Porkinson:
One of the most notorious bottlenecks is the Blackwall tunnel, so I am announcing today my decision to add to the programme a scheme for a third tunnel. There will also be a review to see whether another crossing is needed between the Blackwall tunnel and Tower bridge.
It’s interesting to find out how it subsequently ended up today being the proposal that stands out as being particularly well kicked into the long grass – ‘not recommended for further work’ in fact. Let’s refer to one of these old dinosaurs, a certain Steve Norris, in 1993:
Mr. Norris The national trunk road programme contains two schemes. These are the A 102 third crossing at Blackwall—where tunnel and bridge proposals are being considered—and the A406 East London river crossing.
In this incarnation of the project they went for a highly intrusive four lane bridge in the end, faffed about for a while and it was killed when Labour (and John Prescott) came in in 1997. Likelihood: 0/10
This is lifted straight from the existing plan, and there’s discussion around a tunnel (good for ships, not good for pedestrians and cyclists) or a bridge (not good for ships and very expensive). Nevertheless they recommend it for further study, which leaves us back where we were last May, I reckon, with a safeguarded alignment and a view to building it in the long term. Likelihood: 5/10
Silly idea, not recommended. Likelihood: 0/10
Combined Crossrail/road tunnel
Silly idea, not recommended. Likelihood: 0/10
[these last two ideas founder partly because there's nowhere to bring the roads up on either side. This is highly relevant, because the only two sites really protected from the recent development boom with an eye to building a crossing are, in fact, the Silvertown Crossing and the Gallions Reach bridge. This, to my mind, rather constrains the choice of solution]
Thames Gateway Bridge Local Gallions Reach Crossing
Now we enter the twilight zone. Back from the dead comes not-the-Thames Gateway Bridge. Now, the main objections to the previous TGB project were the Greens, who quite reasonably didn’t see the point of allowing 4000 more cars across the river, residents groups in Bexley and Bexley Council under their illustrious leader Ian Clement. Whatever happened to him? Ah yes, from November:
He criticized the abandoned Thames Gateway bridge proposal as driven by “arrogance and misconception” and said that it was not affordable.
“The Thames Gateway [bridge] scheme is dead but we are looking at other options,” he said.
Some of his concerns about the TGB are helpfully stored here. The main concerns, apart from just generally being oppositional, were around how TfL would stop the bridge being used as an alternative to the Dartford Crossing, plus noise, pollution, accidents and the quite proper view that you shouldn’t build new roads because they only add to congestion. On that note, actually, Boris is proposing making it easier to build new roads in London by removing the existing constraint that they have to be directly linked to regeneration, so one wouldn’t have thought it would matter. But why not ask a local expert, a Mr. Gilligan:
‘…worthless Greenwich-area extravagances, such as the new £500 million Thames Gateway bridge…’ – greenwich.co.uk
I can’t see him or the Bexley campaigners being too happy about the bridge being resurrected – particularly since one of the other proposals in Boris’s paper is that the Woolwich Ferry become tolled, thus presumably increasing traffic on the bridge. However, they may just have been a bunch of Tory stooges for all I know, in which case they’ll no doubt cheer Boris on, or something, and applaud his common sense. Let’s keep an open mind about that. At least Boris won’t have Clement around muttering and glowering about betrayal next week.
So, what’s new? Well, it’s a four-lane bridge rather than a six lane bridge. However, the TGB was, if memory serves, a four-lane road bridge with two reserved bus/taxi lanes plus cycling, so does this mean they’re keeping the car provision and ditching the bus? No, it does appear that they’re proposing a two lane bridge plus two reserved lanes plus presumably stinging tolls for anyone who isn’t local. In other words, it’s a version of the TGB scaled down to try and pacify Bexleyites. I’m not sure, given the tone of Mr. Clement back in November, that this will be enough to shake off the suspicion that it’s the same old project back again. They recommend it for further work, however.
Likelihood: 7/10 – let’s not forget that throughout all this idiocy the bridge has had substantial support, but since that was from boroughs that weren’t running Boris’s Mayoral campaign they didn’t count. It’s still the only obvious solution however you cut it, and Boris is investing political capital in a link.
All in all, after a vast amount of hot air and delay, we’re back to where we were with a smaller bridge at Gallions Reach. Prediction? They’ll do something with ferries. The Silvertown Link will languish after someone realises how much traffic it will add to the peninsula. The Gallions Reach bridge will be built, smaller, later and more expensive. Gilligan will blame Ken.
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