During the summer, Transport for London launched a consultation into two possible new road bridges across the Thames at Gallions Reach and Belvedere, along with the possible scrapping of the Woolwich Ferry.
While this consultation did not directly involve the proposed Silvertown Tunnel, it did assume that the tunnel was going ahead – a reminder that the Silvertown Tunnel is no solution for east and south-east London’s traffic problems. We also believe Transport for London exaggerated the extent of recent improvements to public transport, and excluded from its assessments the effect of the M11 link road, which opened in the late 1990s, on demand for the Blackwall Tunnel.
We understand many of those who are opposed to the Silvertown Tunnel would prefer to see new road river crossings further down the Thames. However, we believe action should be taken to enhance public transport connections across the Thames, clearing road space for those who do need to drive, before any road-based links are considered.
Here’s how we responded to the consultation.
Option 1: A new ferry at Woolwich. – STRONGLY SUPPORT
A free ferry at Woolwich is part of the history and identity of the immediate area, one which is enshrined in legislation. The removal of the Woolwich Ferry and its replacement with fixed road crossings removes one of the already-limited options for cyclists and pedestrians in east and south-east London. Women in particular will be deterred from making short journeys across the river at the point as the only other free option is the unattractive and unstaffed foot tunnel. It also reduces the flexibility of the local road network in Woolwich and the Royal Docks, including the ability to carry the restricted freight materials that cannot travel through the Blackwall Tunnel. Furthermore, we believe the possibility of closing or charging for a river crossing that is held in much affection by its neighbours has been deliberately downplayed by this scheme. As Woolwich is a key regeneration area which has recently attracted many new residents, and Greenwich Council plans to replace small business accommodation at Charlton riverside with new housing, we believe scrapping the Woolwich Ferry would be folly.
Option 2: A new ferry at Gallions by the early 2020s – OPPOSE
Under the terms of this consultation, the establishment of a ferry at Gallions Reach would mean the removal of a ferry at Woolwich. While we are in favour of free passage across the river, if there is to be a single service which caters for pedestrians and cyclists, then it should be at Woolwich. It appears to us that a ferry at Gallions would simply be an interim measure before a fixed crossing was introduced.
We would be more inclined to support a ferry at Gallions if it operated without charge, if the free ferry at Woolwich was to continue, and a fixed road-based crossing was permanently ruled out.
Option 3: Gallions Reach Bridge – OPPOSE
We object to the Silvertown Tunnel on the basis that it will increase traffic and pollution in south-east and east London. We believe the same failing applies to the Gallions Reach Bridge proposal, and so would not wish to see our neighbours suffer this fate. A study prepared for Newham Council last year shows huge increases in traffic generated by the Gallions proposals through Woolwich, Plumstead, Abbey Wood and Bexleyheath – particularly along side streets such as Knee Hill, Abbey Wood and Griffin Road, Plumstead. Such congestion may tempt future administrations to link a bridge to the A2 at Falconwood, threatening homes in Plumstead and natural habitats at Oxleas Woods. These site-specific proposals mean a bridge at Gallions Reach would threaten the future sustainability of the immediate area. Providing a road-based crossing as a replacement for the Woolwich Ferry would remove a realistic crossing for pedestrians and cyclists – nobody will want to walk or cycle across a long, high bridge on a wet, windy day. Indeed, the consultation documents admit this.
Option 4: A bridge at Belvedere – OPPOSE
As with the Gallions Reach Bridge proposal, we believe this will bring congestion and pollution to Belvedere, Erith and Crayford. A recent study into the widening of the A206 through Crayford shows it led to higher levels traffic and a degradation in air quality in the area; while a road-based crossing here would be even less attractive to pedestrians and cyclists than a bridge at Gallions Reach. The public would also need to be reassured about any impact on Rainham Marshes.
Which of these options should we proceed with? WOOLWICH FERRY
We note this consultation assumes the Silvertown Tunnel will be built. This hardly gives the public confidence that issues surrounding the construction of a road-based connection between Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks are being dealt with in a sensible manner.
We also note that the previous Silvertown consultation was misleading because – unlike this consultation – it downplayed the plan to toll both the Silvertown and Blackwall tunnels, while the Bridge The Gap campaign, which was heavily promoted by both Greenwich and Newham councils, did not mention tolling at all.
Indeed, question 9 is a leading question. We would prefer to have been able to tick a box that supported further river crossings – but ones for public transport, pedestrians and cyclists, rather than boxes that supported further road-building.
If improving public transport infrastructure is leading to growth in the east sub-region, it seems clear that further investment in public transport would provide greater returns. Public transport appears to be a blind spot in the consultation document. The traffic impact report does not address modal shift in detail as no bus routes are planned to be added. Neither is it clear that the increased capacity from Crossrail has been taken into account.
We are instead presented with a futile set of choices. Because of the historic lack of public transport connectivity across the Thames, many people choose to drive. Instead of improving public transport to give drivers different options and to ease pressure on the road network, TfL is instead proposing to build new roads, which will make driving a more attractive option, eventually compounding the problem of congestion.
Indeed, recent improvements to public transport are not as impressive as the consultation documents make out. While the benefits in areas such as Brockley and Shoreditch cannot be denied, it is laughable to suggest the East London Railway is a new development – trains between Rotherhithe and Wapping have run since 1869. The Emirates Air Line is little more than a tourist attraction. It is not strategically positioned, charges premium fares and last October was found to carry no more than four regular users.
While the Docklands Light Railway extension to Woolwich is welcome, it is limited in reach and lacks the capacity for further extension. The huge popularity of this route is proof of the demand for better public transport links across the Thames.
It is insulting to suggest that “there has been a period of sustained investment in public transport capacity across the whole of east London over the past 20 years”. There remains a greater density of public transport provision in west London that cannot be merely explained by the radial nature of London’s transport network.
Even when Crossrail opens, there will remain no local public transport connection across the Thames between Woolwich and the limited X80 bus service at the Dartford Crossing. The HS2 rail service is not an option for residents in south-east London, and charges premium fares for those travelling from Kent. Indeed, driving to North Greenwich and using the Jubilee Line from there is a cheaper alternative.
In fact, the loss of two public transport crossings have been ignored – the 395 bus through the Rotherhithe Tunnel was axed in 2006, while the Ford Motor Company’s ferry service between Belvedere and Dagenham ended in 2003.
With the exception of London Overground and the tourist attraction that is the Emirates Air Line, all the public transport improvements have been focused on trips that eventually start and finish in central London, or Canary Wharf. It remains difficult to make purely cross-river trips. Even when the option’s built in, it remains unavailable – the Woolwich DLR service does not normally run to Stratford International, forcing passengers to make an awkward and unattractive change at Canning Town.
Instead of encouraging people to take to their cars, TfL should be increasing the density of public transport connections between east and south-east London, giving people a choice and clearing road space for those who do need to make journeys by car, van, truck or lorry.
We would also question the exclusion of the boroughs of Hackney, Waltham Forest and Redbridge from this study. These boroughs had massive road investment in the 1990s with the construction of the M11 link road. This new road has had long-term consequences, as it has made the Blackwall Tunnel more attractive to drivers heading north than the tolled Dartford Crossing.
We note that demand for a fixed crossing comes from medium-sized firms in the construction industry. Their needs could be accommodated if east and south-east London had a public transport network dense enough to release new capacity on the roads. We also note that firms involved in road-dependent sectors were over-sampled at the expense of those who are less reliant on highways. This indicates to us that the business survey is not representative of the true nature true of east and south-east London’s businesses – especially as land becomes more expensive following regeneration (for example, Greenwich Council’s Charlton Riverside masterplan envisages replacing industry with housing).