Ken makes a U-turn by the Blackwall Tunnel

One-time and maybe next time’s mayor Ken Livingstone was in Plumstead yesterday, and my Scoop colleague Adam Bienkov grabbed a few words with him. Among other things, he came out against plans for a new river crossing at the Greenwich peninsula – the Silvertown Link.

Plans for a crossing have been around for years – with Livingstone himself wanting to build a bridge where Edmund Halley Way (pictured above) now sits. More recently, Boris Johnson has talked up these plans a bit more, promoting a tunnel across to Silvertown. The development masterplan for the peninsula has following the approval of the cable car scheme, which – if it actually gets built – will depart from what’s now a coach park to the east of Edmund Halley Way. The masterplan envisages two skyscrapers either side of Edmund Halley Way – again, if the cable car gets built – leaving room for a tunnel in the middle.

It’s this change to the vision for the peninsula that has prompted the U-turn from Livingstone.

The reason we went for the bridge and not the tunnel at Silvertown is because the bridge benefits a much wider area. If you look at the impacts of a bridge versus the tunnel you’re mad to do the tunnel, especially because a tunnel would be much more expensive. I’m also not sure you want to dump all that extra traffic in the area around the Greenwich Peninsula.

It’s a belated admission that the road network leading up to the peninsula simply couldn’t cope with the extra traffic that would be attracted by a third crossing coming off the A102, adding to the two Blackwall Tunnels. While the 42-year-old approach road is – effectively – a three-lane motorway, it soon drops down to two lanes in spells through Kidbrooke and Eltham, and homes right the way along the route would have been blighted by possible expansion plans.

Yet this didn’t stop there being support – or a lack of visible objections – from across the political spectrum. Conservatives were in favour, but the Silvertown Link was the local Labour party’s dirty secret too, with Eltham MP Clive Efford backing it in election material. Even the local Green Party – for whom I stood as a candidate in last year’s council elections – was reluctant to campaign against a development which would have catastrophic consequences for the quality of life in east Greenwich. Indeed, it’s as if a conspiracy of silence has surrounded the whole thing, with the local media ignoring comments last week from Boris Johnson that there was a “pressing need” for the crossing.

So, quietly, a political battle line has been drawn through the streets of SE10. Vote Boris if you want a third Blackwall Tunnel. Vote Ken if you don’t.

Further down the river, it’s less clear-cut. For Livingstone also reiterated his support for a Thames Gateway Bridge – the one Boris scrapped. But TfL still kept the plan on the drawing board, even floating the idea of a ferry at West Thamesmead until a bridge could be built. Ken wanted to build the TGB before the Silvertown Link – Boris wants to do it the other way around.

While some of the infrastructure to support the Thames Gateway Bridge is already there – half-finished junctions on dual carriageways either side of the river – the plan fell down thanks to fears of increased traffic through other neighbouring streets. As discussed before, some of the streets leading up to Thamesmead – such as Knee Hill in Abbey Wood – are no bigger than side roads. It’s suburban voters in the likes of Bexleyheath who demand extra river crossings for their cars – but the same suburban voters didn’t want the extra traffic around their areas, or to see green space built over to accommodate those cars.

It’s not quite clear how this problem gets solved without causing great disruption around areas like Abbey Wood and Bexleyheath. There’s no indication as to how Ken Livingstone would solve them, either.

I can’t help thinking he should offer a substantial public transport improvement alongside a road bridge – not just extra buses, but maybe an extension of a rail line across the bridge too.

Extend the London Overground from Barking across to Abbey Wood or Erith, creating new links deep into east and north London? Or bring the Hammersmith and City line across from Barking? Or maybe the DLR? If a bridge has to be built, it could be an opportunity to give Thamesmead the public transport it desperately needs. Anything less than that, and I suspect Ken will have another bitter fight on his hands – if he wins the fight to be elected next May, of course.


  1. The Thames Gateway bridge really is needed. I’ve lived around the area that would be affected by approach traffic buildup yet would have been willing to pay that price, as would most people I know who are desperate for better links.

    I would only support it though with tolls for all motor transport, restrictions on lorries, and with it having a dedicated transport lane. This could initially be a rapid bus route serving Thamesmead and Abbey Wood station to the south, and north to DLR/C2C Trains/Tube stops north. The original plan had this with the option to upgrade to DLR. It would have done so much for Thamesmead and wider connectivity until Boris came along aided by his crooked mate Ian Clement – the then leader of Bexley council – campaigning against it (subsequently jailed wasn’t he for fraud?) Top work for the region there.

  2. South East London would arguably benefit most from a public transport network that has a similar capacity of that seen in the rest of London. I think that’s why people from this area are so good at fighting private transport schemes; and they have been doing so since 1944!

    The DLR in Woolwich has been a massive success, with twice as many users as had been predicted – so the demand for sustainable solutions is there. I see commenters on the brockleycentral blog are very keen on the east london line extension too, so again, communities here seem to have warmed to the expansion of public transport.

    In contrast, road building plans meet with robust opposition round here. The idea of messing with blackwall tunnel seems unsustainable, the current southern approach was originally built as `relief road,’ now look at it! Clive Efford’s lobbying for a third bore at Blackwall is a bit worrying. At a guess I’d say he’s hoping to foster cooperation with the road lobby to help the prospects of a DLR line to Eltham; he is an ex cabby though, so he must have some affinity with motorists.

    Historically, Ken has helped public transport, and had previously been part of the successful campaign against ELRC, so his plans for the TGB mystified many. I hope he’s sufficiently burnt his fingers on that to stay focused on genuinely beneficial plans such as helping Crossrail.

  3. I wouldn’t be so sure, Hilly – people fought *for* the Rochester Way Relief Road in the 1970s…

    The trouble is with Crossrail is that it stops at Abbey Wood – ideally, you’d take it onto Ebbsfleet. But that’s not progressed off the drawing board, for fears of shiny Crossrail trains getting stuck at points failures at Slade Green. (And from a selfish, and very local SE London perspective, the other issue is that the route via the Royal Docks was chosen over one via Charlton.)

    fromthemurkydepths – I really don’t think a bus scheme is good enough. People get excited by new trains, and want to get places quickly and without changing. Even the DLR would be a bit of a cop-out in that respect, which is why I suggest bringing one of the lines that end at Barking south (not too sure on how much of Barking we’d have to demolish, though…)

  4. apparently the rochester relief road did indeed provide some relief for shooters hill… by cutting through the woods, i guess the trees could absorb some of the emissions. the sop to the green lobby (not everyone was in favour) was the `green-link’ footbridge, which enabled the south east london green chain to continue on its merry way, unhindered by the new blockade.

    One problem with relief roads in general is that they are often done on the cheap: Tunneling is possibly the only balanced community/commuter solution, although it’s prohibitively expensive; so we end up with these hideous cuttings and flyovers, or at best, cut and cover.

  5. on crossrail, continuing it to ebbsfleet would be a very elegant solution, although i’m not sure whether heathrow airport would be too keen!

  6. You can see Ebbsfleet station from the platforms at Northfleet but there is no attempt to have a convenient link between the two. I think the land in the middle belongs to a property developer which would like to build houses there one day.

  7. Once a dweller of West Thamesmead I have to say I would have welcomed with open arms the introduction of the TGB. At the time I was commuting to Streatham via my car and every time there was a problem at Blackwall I couldn’t leave my estate and had to use public transport (more my transport of choice but the car was far quicker across south London).

    I’m not sure how much more traffic a crossing at Thamesmead would create but clearly there is a demand/need and it would be nice for Thamesmead to actually have some transport infrastructure.

    Darryl I agree that some form of rail connection should be brought across and I was all for the DLR connection if just to give Thamesmead some form of rail connection to the North but the Overground now definitely seems a much better option (I am now in Rotherhithe and the overground there is a god send).

    The silvertown option seems a bit unnecessary or perhaps less urgent than TGB. Either way any pressure that can be taken off Blackwall and Rotherhithe would be great news for those who live near them.

  8. […] Let’s face it – we haven’t got the cash. He cancelled a bridge – which costs a hell of a lot less than a tunnel, ostensibly on financial grounds (though it’s not hard to guess the real reason) – and nigh on four years after that fiasco, we have even less money. Ken disapproves of the idea. So – Boris can’t afford it and Ken would cancel it. […]

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