Tuesday’s cancellation of the Greenwich Waterfront Transit scheme was, naturally, buried under old news about Crossrail, the Jubilee Line and the East London Line extension and adoring guff about the biggest investment to be made since… zzz…. – that’s right, announce some old stuff all over again and nobody will notice you scrapping things which could be really important. The capital’s main media outlets fell for it again.
Because the GWT only served Thamesmead, and nobody likes or cares about Thamesmead, do they? I’d be stunned if Boris Johnson has ever set foot in the place. So he can quite merrily drop a scheme which has been eight years in the planning, has had many millions of pounds spent on its planning because why should he care? It’s only a runt of a new town in south-east London which barely gets noticed by anyone who lives more than a mile or so away from it.
The GWT wasn’t perfect. Thamesmead should really have its own mainline connection by now, or be on the Tube, or the DLR. In the 1970s, the embryonic Jubilee Line was due to run there. But the plans – ironically, promoted by London’s last Tory leader, GLC head honcho Horace Cutler – were scuppered thanks to a lack of government investment. So Thamesmead was left to rot. The GWT was a modest attempt to address that.
It was only a bus – not a tram as first hoped for – but one that would have its own lanes and that would break new ground by opening up the cut-off Royal Arsenal development in Woolwich, and would help join up several other riverside developments there and in Thamesmead. It’d link those places with the Crossrail stations at Woolwich and Abbey Wood; the new DLR at Woolwich Arsenal; and the Jubilee Line at North Greenwich.
Of course, Greenwich Council were mad for it. Even neighbouring true-blue Bexley Council was dead keen – it launched a campaign, Jump On Board!, to get the GWT extended through the borough and out to Dartford, where it’d connect with north Kent’s similar Fastrack, which has been running for a couple of years. A smart idea. I bet they feel stupid now. (And wasn’t Boris meant to be all about the suburbs?)
But the omens for GWT weren’t good. Early plans for it to run on a dedicated path through Charlton’s retail parks were dropped – a empty plot of land dominated by a huge mound of rubble at the Woolwich Road/Victoria Way junction is that plan’s legacy. An early proposal saw it also serving Greenwich town centre – giving a public transport connection to the bloated Greenwich Wharf (Lovell’s Wharf to locals) scheme. But that went shortly after Boris got in. And finally, the rest of it got knocked on the head ahead of April Fool’s Day, the £40 million cost being considered too much when Boris could be spending that money on scrapping bendy buses to please the chattering classes and building his own Routemaster.
Ah, yes. Snobbery. Check the comments on the Evening Standard story – “Lauren Smith, Woolwich,UK” clearly didn’t want a bus route in her Royal Arsenal back yard, even though everybody who bought a place in the development knew a bus scheme was planned for its oddly wide boulevards. “This was vehemently opposed by Royal Arsenal residents as it added no value to the residents but involved the destruction of their quality of life by creating a high frequency bus route inside a residential area.” Don’t worry, Lauren, the Royal Arsenal development can stay as sleepy as you like it now – the rest of south-east London can stay outside those high walls around your place. Just don’t complain when people find it hard to visit you. (See Lauren’s response below in the comment section.)
Because this is what it boils down to. Many people who live in Thamesmead are poor. It’s a rotten area which desperately needs help. Its transport connections are appalling, limiting job and educational opportunities for its residents. Want to be profoundly depressed? Walk along the river to the Gallions Reach Urban Village, decaying only a couple of years after it opened. And it’s a huge, sprawling mess – poorly co-ordinated, difficult to get around even by car. It’s no surprise that in the 1990s part of the area was a hunting ground for racist thugs – encouraged by the kind of cynical, wicked people who thrive in areas that get screwed over by mainstream politicians. It’s the legacy of decades of rotten planning decisions taken by people who’d never choose to live there in a million years. And another rotten decision – by a man who probably thinks Thamesmead sounds like a nice place for a picnic at Henley – has just condemned the place to more years of isolation.
Of course, he’s happy to build his new vanity buses that’ll glide through Islington highways and leafy Kensington avenues; and he’ll change traffic lights in central London because that’s the world he lives in. Thamesmead isn’t part of that world, and isn’t part of Boris’s London. Forget his new Routemaster for a moment. Whatever mess Thamesmead is in by 2012 after years of recession and blight on property values – that’ll be Boris’s legacy. It’s just a shame he’s clearly too narrow-minded to see it.