What has Boris Johnson got against Thamesmead?

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.


  1. I couldn’t agree with you more. I picked up some promotional literature for the GWT in Woolwich when there was an open day type thing for the DLR/Love Lane/etc. It seemed a solid proposal which had been carefully considered.

    I’ve spent a couple of days on the 380 through Thamesmead this week. I’ve lived in Charlton for 10 years and I think this is the first time I’ve been near Thamesmead – and what a palaver. Round the houses and a good 10 minute journey to get where you are going.

  2. Thamesmead is extraordinarily cut off from the rest of London – not just as a commuter destination but as a community. I can’t open the article the Standard wrote about the announcement yesterday but the headline is: “Mayor’s £9.2bn to keep transport projects on track”

    Do you know how the project’s cancellation was reported by them?

  3. Thamesmead deserves and needs better transport schemes than GWT, which was heavily flawed, delivered little and ended up as little more than a rerouted 472. At least they won’t be able to use that as a figleaf. I did wonder, if Crossrail ran onto Ebbsfleet, whether there was scope to divert some North Kent line trains onto a new line into Thamesmead. Pie in the sky I know, but I don’t think it’s been thought of.

    Valerie Wigfall’s ‘Thamesmead – A social history’ has recently been updated and reissued, and is well worth a read for anyone interested in its development. It surprises me that there’s so little out there about Thamesmead (that I’ve managed to find anyway).

    I also hear that Time 106.8, the descendent of the old Radio Thamesmead/RTM community station is on its last legs….

  4. It is not sobbery that led to the objection by residents to the routing of the GWT through the Royal Arsenal and up Number One Street, nor are we a sleepy community hiding behind high walls. The Royal Arsenal estate is freely accessible from the river and by foot down Number One Street or by foot/car by Arsenal Way or Duke of Wellington. It is not gated or closed. The walls which border (only) parts of it are historic. A bus does not open a community, especially not one which is meant to be high frequency. This is like saying we are opening up the village by putting a motorway through the middle. It is divisive. The Royal Arsenal is set to have 12 towers built on it in the next 10 years. It needs the open space. Bus access for this community is adequately provided by numerous buses existing on the Plumsted Road 2 minutes away and the DLR 5 minutes away. We know we are fortunate in this respect. Knowing this though should not mean we have to have our community decimated because another community is not so fortunate – especially where there are alternatives.

    Number One Street is in fact now a pedestrianised piazza area – no longer a street for cars and buses. It is used by residents from all over Greenwich, in fact on most weekend days the non – residents using the space would out number the residents. This open space is vital for us to help us in building a cohesive community. Come and visit.

    The choice of Number One Street is a hang-over from the 90s when Royal Arsenal was still an industrial zone. The route being considered when many of us moved here was actually up Arsenal Way. This was scrapped when Crossrail was brought back into the picture.

    The proposed route also would have sent buses every 2 minutes during the day and regularly all through the night down Duke of Wellington Avenue. This is now bordered by flats within meters of the kerb. This effectively means that flats on the lower ground, ground and first floors would have had a non stop stream of exhaust being directed into their only source of fresh air. The top of the building vibrates whenever heavy vehicles pass by. Infrequently this is bearable, every 2 minutes would be unlivable. This can not be right.

    The problem with the routing was that it did not evolve when a community was built around it. TFL kept trying to reuse old parts of their plan when changes were made (such as removing the tram option or axing the gateway bridge) and in the end had a bad plan at this end of the route. Further to try and secure their budget they attached the plan to the Olympics. The route has nothing to do with the Olympics and does not actually connect the venues. In some documents the Royal Arsenal and Royal Artillery Barracks are confused! Further now the DLR is open most people will use Jubilee to Canning Town and then DLR to Woolwich it takes 1/2 the time (and gets almost as close).

    The residents did not seek to get the plan cancelled, they sought to have it re-routed. We proposed several alternatives, the best of which was Skeffington Road. This would also have dovetailed with the new Crossrail station. This would have provided all the benefits to the residents of Thamesmead without any of the detriment to the residents of the Royal Arsenal. What it required was that the majority of the plan be implemented by 2011 as scheduled and the part of the route through the the Royal Arsenal be delayed until the Crossrail box was completed around 2016 as the road will be hampered by construction. This would have meant that over 1/2 the benefit would have been realised on schedule and the remainder would have been delayed but still realised in line with the increase in passenger numbers in the upcoming years – central to the benefits case. This was in our view an option where everybody won. It may even have been cheaper as there would be no need to conform to conservation area standards.

    The key stumbling block was the nonsensical link to the Olympic Deliverable, which when challenged even TFL back pedalled on – it became their commitment not a requirement for Olympic delivery. By linking to the Olympics they forced the whole delivery to be by 2012.

    It can not be right that in order to give benefit to one community you have to provide a severe negative impact to another. It is even more outrageous when there is an alternative but the budget process stands in its way.

    There is a re-evaluation of the needs of the residents of Thamesmead and Abbey Wood being carried out by TFL. Let’s hope a sensible and sensitive solution for all is the outcome.

  5. Thanks for responding in such depth, Lauren, it’s much appreciated. We’ll have to agree to disagree, because I simply can’t imagine that such a scheme would be run using crappy old polluting buses – take a look at Fastrack in Dartford and Gravesend – and that No 1 Street was always intended to be virtually a pedestrian precinct; developments like the RA and Greenwich Millennium Village will evolve over time and may not end up the oases of peace and quiet their early residents may have liked. I also don’t think any London bus route is scheduled to run every two minutes, either. But hey-ho.

    I do hope, though, that the Royal Arsenal residents’ objections haven’t led to a panic cancellation of GWT – which will, in the long run, have a terrible impact on Thamesmead.

    nec – I’ve always said there should be a link between Abbey Wood and the c2c line at Dagenham, myself. Fenchurch Street to Thamesmead, anyone? GWT would have been a start, mind, even if only a modest one, and I liked the idea of linking it to Dartford’s Fastrack, which would have boosted it from being the souped-up 472 you rightly say it would have been. Thought Time had gone a month or so ago! (And thanks for the book tip, have just ordered.)

  6. Check TFL’s planning application for the running times and their own evaluation on pollution. Looking at the whole of the road they concede there will be a degradation of air quality. At road level this will be concentrated. As for the buses used – newer buses are less polluting but not pollution free.

    Communities evolve and No One Street is now a community space. What it was in 1999 when the original plans were put forward is irrelevant. We have for instance had at least 2 major master plan revisions since then. No One Street is now planned to have major residential development on either side of it.

    There are better places for the buses to be routed which meet everyone’s needs.

    If TFL had done a proper planning job in the first place and revising in line with the change in residential use and taking some short term pain it may not have come to this. In reality though the GWT lost its way when it ceased to be a tram link and was even further degraded when the gateway bridge was cancelled.

  7. Quoting from Lauren – “… Knowing this though should not mean we have to have our community decimated …”

    Bus services do not decimate communities, plagues disease and famine “decimate” communities. What sensationalist nonsense.

    Unfortunately, I think this project has been doomed for years as it was downgraded from tramway to bus service, and after short-sighted opposition from residents of West Thamesmead, which resulted in the route being pushed out from serving the heart of the vast new build area and on to Western Way, and followed by opposition from the Royal Arsenal residents. Maybe if the scheme had been able to proceed earlier in decade as originally planned, the West Thamesmead and Gallions Reach Urban Village areas would have been saved from their national notoriety as a fraud hotspot and their current state of instant decay.

    With the DLR in place now and Crossrail to come, the Royal Arsenal residents probably do not appreciate the benefits for the wider community of new and improved bus services.

    However, TfL and Greenwich Council probably failed all communities on this project. Provision for the GWT service should have been integral to the planning for the Royal Arsenal and West Thamesmead developments instead of trying to squeeze it in as an afterthought. All areas of Thamesmead seem destined to continue to suffer their problems due in no small part to their isolation from good transport links. It is another missed opportunity for Thamesmead.

  8. With the Expansion of London City Airport vast parts of Thamesmead are or soon will be under a Public Safety Zone. For Example Tripcock point will not be able to be developed to its full extent and plans..A Public Safety Zone is an area at either end of the runways at airports. In these areas, new development is controlled to restrict the number of people who may be exposed to risk if there is an aircraft accident on take-off or landing.

    The Gateway Bridge and other transport objectives that Boris has binned were all problomatic to the expansion falling into and around PSZs. Boris infact originally asked for the expansion to be held up while he investigated the impact it would have on the Thanmes Gateway Bridge. He then said he had no objections to the expansion and scrapped the Thames Gateway Bridge. Weeks later Boris hired Richard Gooding CE of London City Airport to his skills and education board.

    Parts of Gallions Reach Urban Vilage are within the Public Safety Zone.Many lives are made a misery because of this and families do not stay long.Hence the high turnaround in rentals which contribute to the fly tipping etc.

  9. It’s good that Lauren is happy with the Royal Arsenal continuing to receive publically subsidised development and services but all contained in a controlled environment.

    Greenwich Council and the LDA seem to spend a lot of money and time on the Royal Arsenal Berkeley Homes site, whilst the rest of the surrounding areas council tax payers are completely ignored. The Royal Arsenal may be a private development – but it is no way 100% privately funded! So Lauren gets the benefits whilst we all pay towards it. Nice.

    I have waited for 4 years for a night bus where I live -which just happens to be a Thames Gateway development in West Thamesmead, one which the government were all keen to shout about until it all went down the pan as quickly as the homes were built.

    At night, unless I pay for a taxi, I have the option of a 40 minute walk home along the riverside, or along a dual carriageway from the mainline stations. I spend 3 hours a day commuting in and out of zone 1, still I won’t be disturbing Lauren on any night bus will I? Thanks Boris, why not share a glass of champers with the nimbys down at The Royal Arsenal?

    And if Lauren is so unhappy about the noise of buses we’ll be looking forward to her complaints about 120,000 jets a year from London City Airports expansion plans.

  10. […] remained in the scheme. During the election, I spoke to a Conservative who was spitting blood over Boris Johnson’s cancellation of the Greenwich Waterfront Transit scheme. A second transport cancellation in the Abbey Wood/Thamesmead area wouldn’t exactly reflect […]

  11. Dear Lauren,

    Try living in Greenwich town centre. Then you’d know what it was like to be busy! I suspect you are a NIMBY of the highest order. I apologise if this seems rude. BTW the residents of Greenwich (part of the same borough) don’t often venture down to SE18…


  12. The degree of suffering Lauren is willing to impose on others just for the sake of avoiding a minor inconvenience is mind boggling. What a selfish person she is! She should move to the country. Everyone would be better off for it.

  13. […] at Boris Watch, where the blessed Kulveer is talking up the award-winning East Thames Transit bus, the Thamesmead version of which was axed 18 months ago after being branded a “vanity project” by one of the mayor’s supporters. […]

  14. Sorry Lauren I disagree with your views, I moved with my husband and daughters to West Thamesmead

    from lovely North Wales 28 years ago and worked in the Woolwich Arsenal as a Civil Servant my Husband

    had a good job in local Government.

    We bought our house off plan from a stand in the Ideal home exhibition, I was born in West Kensington but could not afford to move back to West London I love my house It overlooks a Lake, we have thought of moving but would not have this anywhere else, only 30 minutes from London. Also I have worked hard and have no Mortgage

    We have seen many changes in West Thamesmead some for the better and some not, people making comments when they have never seen the good parts let this area down all the time. This is London, maybe a spell of living in the real countryside would change your outlook on bus routes.You are no posher than many of the decent people that do not get mentioned in West Thamesmead we are your closest neighbours don’t forget I know the History behind them walls and agree with Lee’s comment Also you need to check your spelling!!!


Comments are closed.