Bridge of sighs

Dome by night
Everyone knows that the biggest problem which blights Greenwich, and its surrounding areas, is traffic. It has always been the case. Here’s some pictures from a bus enthusiasts’ site of some meaty jams in 1968, shortly before the opening of the Blackwall Tunnel Southern Approach. What used to be the A102(M) cut a deep swathe through east Greenwich, Charlton and Blackheath, with whole communities – by the tunnel itself, and close to Westcombe Park station – finding homes and shops flattened, as documented in Christopher Fowler’s novel, Paperboy. Little signs of the destruction remain – the stub of the old Westcombe Hill, now Farmdale Road, in east Greenwich. A stray bit of pavement from what used to be the end of Siebert Road, Blackheath – and the long, lonely, overgrown end to Bramshot Avenue, Charlton, which formed another part of it.

The loss of these communities, though, was seen as a necessary evil at the time. Indeed, residents’ associations made a special presentation to the Greater London Council’s representative when the road opened in 1969. They were lucky – the A102M was meant to be part of a network of urban motorways. In the end, only the BTSA, the East Cross Route – its north-of-the-Thames sister road at Hackney Wick – the Westway and the West Cross Route were built before public opinion turned on road-building.

That’s not to say that no new roads were built – the Rochester Way Relief Road appeared in the 1980s, and north of the Thames, the A102(M) is now the A12, linking it neatly with the controversial extension of that road which connects it up to the M11. Anyone who can’t be bothered to pay the Dartford Crossing toll can simply go via the Blackwall Tunnel instead, it’s a dual carriageway all the way. We just have to deal with the pollution and jams – the area close to the Blackwall Tunnel is one of London’s most polluted spots. (Naturally, Greenwich Council wants to move a school there.)

Since then, though, the pressure has been on politicians to build yet more roads to acommodate the demand caused by the new roads they built in the 1980s and 1990s; that themselves helped satisfy expectations caused by roads built in the 1960s and 1970s. Nobody seems willing to break this dangerous cycle.

Margaret Thatcher’s government finally binned plans for the East London River Crossing, that would have torn up Oxleas Woods, in the late 1980s, but even Ken Livingstone partially resurrected the scheme as the Thames Gateway Bridge, crossing underneath the London City Airport flightpath to link blighted west Thamesmead with Beckton. It would have been easy to see it as a benign local bridge for local people, but we all know it wouldn’t have been that way – traffic would have suddenly flooded through Thamesmead, Abbey Wood, Belvedere and Bexleyheath to find a way to avoid both the Blackwall Tunnel and the Dartford Crossing, clogging up roads that are, in some cases, no more substantial than side streets.

Looking towards the TGB siteBoris canned the Thames Gateway Bridge last year – but London’s politicians still feel the need to stick another river crossing somewhere between Blackwall and Dartford. So, at the end of last week, Transport for London issued a report into what it thought was worth pursuing. (Download the full thing here – 6.6MB PDF) It discounts an eye-catching but probably impractical plan for a cable car between the Dome and Canary Wharf – but suggests a passenger ferry may be a good idea. It also discounts a potty idea for a road tunnel close to the Thames Barrier, between Charlton and Silvertown.

But worryingly, it backs more work on the Silvertown Link – a proposal for either a bridge or a tunnel which would run from Edmund Halley Way (between the Dome and the David Beckham Academy) across to roughly where the Azko Nobel plant is on the north bank of the Thames. Land is already safeguarded for such a scheme.

The Silvertown Link would be a disaster for Greenwich – merely giving people more reasons to drive up the A102, creating more congestion and pollution. How could you build a third crossing on the peninsula (after the two Blackwall Tunnels) without expanding the 40-year-old dual carriageway that struggles with the two that are there already? It’s insane, and threatens to blight the lives of hundreds of people in Greenwich and Blackheath. It’s bad enough they have motorways at the bottom of their gardens – the last thing they need is the threat of that motorway expanding.

Another recommendation – revamping the Woolwich Ferry and introducing tolls – would also only send more traffic through the Blackwall Tunnel.

Building a new road crossing is justified, according to TfL, because of a lack of “redundancy” in the current network – if the tunnel is blocked, then all traffic is halted because there is no alternative place for it to go. But the same logic does not apply to public transport – we’re not building a second Jubilee Line because there’s nowhere else to go if that line is blocked, for example. When cars are involved, though, we’re expected to roll over and let it happen. We cannot go on building more and more roads.

Boris Johnson has long backed the Silvertown Link – and it’s the Labour party in Greenwich borough’s dirty little secret too; Eltham MP Clive Efford is keen on the idea of sending more traffic through neighbouring Greenwich. But nobody seems to have thought about asking the people of Greenwich and Blackheath whose homes and livelihoods would be threatened.

People aren’t stupid. They drive because it’s a pain in the arse to cross the river any other way, unless you live near the DLR, the Jubilee Line or the 108 bus route. They drive because they feel they have no other choice. Yet there’s nothing in this report which suggests giving people the choice – why no suggestions for rail links between east and south-east London? I’ve long suggested that Thamesmead would benefit from being plugged into the rail lines from Fenchurch Street, linking it to both the City and east London. It’d be of greater value than a new, pollution-generating road bridge.

Other proposals include a ferry or smaller bridge where the Thames Gateway Bridge would have been – the latter idea would surely be overwhelmed with traffic the moment something gets stuck in the Blackwall Tunnel. (The Thamesmead area did have a little-known ferry until 2004 – a link between Belvedere and Dagenham to serve the Ford plant. Unfortunately, despite the efforts of local MP John Austin, its 300 daily passengers were forced onto the roads.)

But this report largely just deals with cars. Yes, a lot of road transport is urgent and vital to keep the capital and the country going. But more work needs to be done to give people the option of not jumping in their cars. Until policy-makers face up to this, this report will just be the product of lazy thinking.

And if you live in Greenwich, Charlton or Blackheath – you should be thinking of acting now to make sure the Silvertown Link, the laziest and most damaging idea of them all, never happens.

(More coverage:, London Reconnections, Boris Watch. Unsurprisingly, the News Shopper and Mercury websites have missed this, I wonder if Greenwich Time will too?)


  1. Excellent analysis Darryl. I can’t believe News Shopper and Mercury have missed this. It’s only potentially the biggest SE London news story of the next decade…

  2. Thanks, Adam. Sadly, I can believe it – despite the massive, massive implications this has right across south-east London. The Standard missed it too, didn’t it?

  3. Great pick-up, Darryl. The history of disastrous road schemes for Greenwich has only one hopeful point – most of them fall by the wayside. Let’s, once again, hope that this latest piece of idiocy does the same. As you point out, more, bigger, wider roads is not the answer to congestion and is proven only to increase traffic. Get out of your cars folks.

    My favourite mad scheme dates back to the 1980s when there was a serious proposal to build a Greenwich by-pass using a cut-and-cover tunnel which would have run along the riverbank in front of the Old Royal Naval college etc…Brilliantly awful on so many levels. And by the way, it’s the O2 now, not the Dome.

  4. I do like Frank’s comment at the foot of that. He really thought hard about that one.

  5. Agreed re Boris’s plans. I think you’re being harsh on Ken’s Thames Gateway bridge, though – the idea was that it’d link the two high-frequency segregated bus plans for Thamesmead and Greenwich (which Boris has, obviously, cancelled), would have 2x segregated bus lanes, and would have had hefty tolls for non-local drivers.

  6. Wolfe – I remember the Greenwich by-pass scheme – even remember the drawings made with a big pedestrian walkway in front of the Naval College. Seems crazy now. There was also the plan to tunnel the A2 under Blackheath.

    (It’ll *always* be the Dome to me, at the risk of search engine optimisation problems – when it becomes the Telefonica Tent in 10 years’ time I ain’t going back and changing everything :-))

    John B – Take your point on the TGB, but would the toll scheme on the TGB have really worked, though? And once in place, tolls are easily removed, as we’ve found with Boris’s cancellation of the congestion charge western extension. It’s just storing up problems for the future.

  7. “But this report largely just deals with cars. ”

    That’s unfair. There’s quite a lot about lorries too.

  8. I’m afraid I’m one of those who regarded the Thames Gateway Bridge as the East London River Crossing by stealth. Once built, the pressure to link it to the A2 wouldn’t have been far behind.

    A couple of years back, I spent a rainy afternoon going through the photos of Blackheath & Charlton in the Heritage Centre. The photos of building the A102 were remarkable, an enormous scar carved through the area with no-one batting an eyelid. I came away wondering how on earth they’d got away with it.

  9. The TGB was never going to happen as it would have affected London City Airports flight path. The bridge was going to be in the PSZ (public safety zone). The airport would have never got it’s expansion plans approved. Boris was not going to let that happen, he’s to much a good friend with their CEO.

  10. i cross posted this on…

    although speculative, it has been argued that boris shelved the TGB due to his reliance on the support of bexley (his electoral majority in that part of london was equalled only in kensington and chelsea) – this leads to the assumption that he would have no qualms about carving up a red zone…

    concentrating on reality – greenwich borough has loads of crossings – just not many for cars!! two foot tunnels, a river ferry, a river bus, two dlr crossings, blackwall, and is getting crossrail 🙂 clive efford is campaigning for another DLR crossing (sadly on the back of the blackwall extension proposal) and this has a far better image than the silverlink idea.

    if clive efford was to ditch the road building part of his lobby, and stick by his DLR hopes, silverlink wouldn’t stand a chance 🙂

  11. Cross Post – I have posted this on as well.

    I am at a loss to understand what Boris is trying to do to Silvertown and what he has against it and the residents living there.
    One thing is for sure – Boris does not understand East London and sees it as a problem rather than an opportunity.

    A bridge between Silvertown and Greenwich would be catastrophic for the residents of Silvertown and Royal Docks. Already living under the blight of London City Airport, the air quality is 50% above acceptable EU levels. A bridge opening up Silvertown would only add to this.

    I am surprised that this is back on the table and being mooted as a possible solution. We had been lead to believe that it was completely abandoned.

    In July 2008 Boris wrote to the Newham Planning committee to ask them to delay a decision on the expansion plans of London City Airport, as he wanted to wait for research from the National Air Traffic Services on the possible impact of increased flights on the proposed Thames Gateway Bridge.

    He then did a U-Turn on London City Airport and gave them his support – Even though he should never have got involved as the planning predated his mayor ship and there was nothing he could do. Days later he announced the scrapping of the Thames Gateway Bridge and that the Silvertown Crossing was again being looked at. Did he give his blessing to London City Airport in return for its support for a Silvertown Crossing? After all they would be one of the major obstacles to a Silvertown Crossing. A day after the planning for expansion is given the go ahead we have the Silvertown crossing mooted. Coincidence?

    Richard Gooding is Chief Executive of London City Airport which owns substantial land in Royal Docks / Silvertown.
    Richard Gooding is also the chair of Newham Homes – The Housing division on Newham Council. Many residents in Silvertown live in a “Newham Home” and would be subject to consultation. Newham Homes would have carte blanche over any objection and could move people out of the area.
    Richard Gooding at time of LCA Expansion was a director of Newham primary Care trust giving him access to sensitive health information around Silvertown.
    Richard Gooding is on the Royal Docks Trust.
    He is also a member of Elba, Docklands Business etc

    In October Boris Johnson announced the appointment of nine new members to the London Skills and Employment Board (LSEB). One of them being Richard Gooding OBE, Chief Executive, London City Airport!

    So did Boris get a blessing from Gooding that the Silvertown crossing would be supported?

    It’s also worth noting that Boris never declared that London City Airport had received £1.6 million to help build a holding bay from the London Development Agency.

    London City Airport was Boris Johnson’s first foray into Silvertown. Then recently he got involved in Thames Barrier Park. One of London’s greatest parks is based in Silvertown at the Thames Barrier. It is a beautiful park albeit under a constant noise assault from LCA. Developers applied to build around the park. Under huge local opposition the planning was approved by Newham Council and ended up going to Boris. Boris supported the application.

    And now the Silvertown Crossing. Boris is now at the point where he is more in sync with the Labour run Newham Council than his predecessor Ken Livingston. While Ken also wanted a Silvertown Crossing he recognised the harm this would do to the community and was fiercely opposed to London City Airport expansion so much so the CE Richard Gooding launched an attack on Ken saying he was planning a land grab at the airport.

    I am at a loss to why Boris is turning Silvertown into an industrial wasteland. It could be an amazing place – The potential is huge but that would need a visionary mayor. I guess he wants to push all London’s pollution to east London so the whole of London’s average balances out.

    And what about Greenwich and Newham working together? Well it shouldn’t be too hard. After all Greenwich MP Nick Raynesford is a director of Rockpools. Rockpools are the company who hired the Newham Chief Executive Joe Duckworth at a salary of over £250,000. No loyalties there then.

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