Why Greenwich Peninsula is going in the wrong direction

One Direction fans, 5 April 2013

Last week, five lads who’d taken part in a television talent show managed to demonstrate something a generation of politicians, planners and developers are refusing to acknowledge.

One Direction performed a series of gigs at the O2 arena during the Easter school holiday, bringing hordes of young fans and their families to the Greenwich peninsula. Last Tuesday, they performed two shows – one in the afternoon, and one in the evening. You can’t say they aren’t working for their riches.

But chucking-out time at the matinee show coincided with the evening rush hour. North Greenwich bus station couldn’t cope, the signals favoured gig traffic over commuters, and getting home was a miserable experience for thousands of commuters.

With thousands of new homes planned for the peninsula over the next seven years, there are going to be many more miserable nights at North Greenwich – already the 10th busiest Tube station outside Zone 1 – to come.

Only 14 years after the Tube station opened, the infrastructure around the station just isn’t working. The only addition since 1999 has been the mayor’s gimmicky cable car, functioning solely as a tourist attraction. The only serious proposal to address this is the Silvertown Tunnel, which will simply make matters worse by piling more road traffic through the area.

Other plans – such as the now-axed Greenwich Waterfront Transit and Greenwich Council’s “DLR on stilts” proposal for Eltham, would put more pressure on North Greenwich.

Huge blunders have also been made. In time, it’ll be seen as criminal that the area was missed off the Crossrail project, which loops slightly north of the peninsula, passing under the fantastically-named Limmo Peninsula in Canning Town. The guided busway-which-never was, built on the wrong side of the road to ensure a pointless set of traffic lights outside the Pilot pub. And while the dual carriageways which carve the area up predate the redevelopment (the A102 opened in 1969, Bugsbys Way in 1984), there was no excuse for the mistake to be made again with Millennium Way and John Harrison Way.

For the peninsula to work, some of this infrastructure will need to be ripped up and started again. People will need a variety of ways to get to and from the area, and traffic which doesn’t need to be in the area needs to be kept out of it.

Greenwich peninsula

I like to use this website to tell you things you don’t already know. But here, I’m going to go through a load of points you probably know already. But what do we do about them? Hopefully, a conversation can start here.

Drawdock Road1. A crossing to Canary Wharf. Despite being one of Europe’s major employment centres, there remains only one direct way to get between the peninsula and Canary Wharf – the Jubilee Line. There’s also the river bus service – but that costs a fortune and goes to the west side of the Isle of Dogs. Yet the peninsula’s proximity to Canary Wharf should be its selling point. Office space on the peninsula isn’t exactly in demand – the only major tenants in the offices there are arms of government; Transport for London and Greenwich Council. 6 Mitre Passage is half-empty.

Creating a pedestrian and cycle bridge or tunnel – possibly including a bus lane – would transform the way the peninsula is seen, and properly connect it to the towers of Mammon over the water. The big problem will be where it would land on the other side, with development on the Isle of Dogs being 20 years ahead of the peninsula. Residents there objected to an early cable car scheme – and may not be impressed with a bridge. TfL’s cable car business case quoted an estimated cost of up to £90m for a bridge (compared with £59m for the cable car), and said “a better link between North Greenwich and Canary Wharf [is] likely to encourage investment”.

Emirates Air Line2. What shall we do with the dangleway? Sooner or later, some tough questions will have to be faced about the Emirates Air Line, successfully carrying fresh air between Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks seven days a week. Sold as a public transport connection but marketed as a tourist attraction, the long winter has stripped the cable car of its Olympics sheen – despite the spin about meeting absurdly low passenger targets. Could TfL get away with selling it? Or should it simply integrate it into the Travelcard scheme? Or just knock it down and replace it with a bridge similar to the one I’ve suggested for Canary Wharf? Me, I’d sell it, and use the funds to build a bridge.

If the cable car is to stay, then I’d argue that more should be done to market the North Greenwich area to tourists – and that means creating visitor attractions between the Dome and the cable car terminal, and getting rid of the grim car park which separates the two.

3. Rework North Greenwich bus station. It’s architecturally very nice, but North Greenwich bus station already isn’t coping very well, and the peninsula’s less than half-built.

Seven bus routes terminate there, one passes through, but getting any more in there looks a tough ask – despite the fact there’s huge demand for services to the station (witness the success of the 132 extension from Eltham, the severe overcrowding on the 108 from Lewisham, and demands to extend the B16 from Kidbrooke). Buses also struggle when events are on at the O2, and even block each other from leaving the station. The bus station, and access to it, need rethinking.

I’ve mentioned this before, but North Greenwich station could also be a good hub for cyclists – if access to the peninsula can be improved…

West Parkside4. Look again at how people walk or cycle to and on the peninsula. The peninsula developments are effectively cut off by dual carriageways which prioritise cars and lorries above all else. Walking from Blackwall Lane to North Greenwich station demands a pointlessly lengthy route unless you put your life in your hands and leg it across Millennium Way and the A102 slip road.

I cycle to North Greenwich most mornings. It’s more reliable than taking the bus, and cheaper than taking the train from Charlton. But there’s no proper route onto the peninsula – I’m not counting the rubbish on-pavement Peartree Way cycle lane, which makes you stop in pedestrian refuges, which aren’t great to use on foot, either. It took months for me to build up the courage to tackle the Peartree Way/Bugsby’s Way roundabout, covered in stones from aggregates lorries from Angerstein Wharf. It’s not a pleasant experience.

Even dumber is the cycle lane on West Parkside, heading to North Greenwich – which get used by pedestrians because the actual “footpath”, to the right, is so poor, and stops dead at each end with no thought as to where cyclists go next. It’s amazing to think someone thought this a good idea. The whole peninsula road network needs rethinking to encourage walking and cycling.

Blackwall Tunnel Southern Approach5. Cut traffic on the A102. The biggest ask of the lot, and one that needs a decisive shift in policy across London, plus a block on any new peninsula development that will require a significant number of parking spaces.

Building a six-lane motorway to two two-lane tunnels seemed a good idea in the late 1960s, when it was envisaged to be part of a network of urban motorways. We’re paying the price now in pollution and congestion, and in the deep scar the A102 cuts through Greenwich, Blackheath and Charlton. As one American traffic engineer observed, “widening roads to solve traffic congestion is like loosening your belt to cure obesity”.

As we know, both City Hall and Greenwich Council favour compounding this error by building a Silvertown Tunnel. Yet measures should be taken to reduce demand on the A102 – some will favour building a new crossing further down the Thames, yet discouraging traffic which isn’t going to London from entering London seems to me a wiser idea; perhaps by dropping Dartford crossing tolls, perhaps by London-wide congestion charging. What isn’t wise is tolling the Blackwall Tunnel, which will just send the problem through Greenwich and Deptford to the Rotherhithe Tunnel and Tower Bridge.

The problem of a six-lane motorway can then become an opportunity to rebuild and do something different. Take it down to four lanes – which it is through the tunnel and on the A2 which feeds into it. TfL wants to take one lane off the A102’s sister route, the Westway, for a cycle route. Whether that could work on the Blackwall Tunnel Southern Approach is debatable, but it could certainly work as a bus lane, or even a route for a tram. Hey, there’s the DLR on stilts

Think this is all a bit out there? Last year, BBC London revealed the Woolwich Road flyover was in a “poor” condition, while the Blackwall Lane flyover had at least 34 different defects. After 2011’s closure of the Hammersmith Flyover, a sudden and nasty surprise can’t be ruled out.

Greenwich Millennium Village

Public bodies such as the GLA and Greenwich Council have great sway in what’ll happen on the peninsula, but it feels like residents have no more say than they did when the land was largely owned by Victorian industrialists.

The GLA now owns much of the land there, but it still sticks to a blueprint decided years ago, while the rushed consultation over new masterplans and the lack of any consultation over blocking affordable housing at the tip of the peninsula do nothing to dispel the impression that the council’s just a cypher for property developers.

Yet with work now starting on a new phase of Greenwich Millennium Village, and with more construction taking place elsewhere on the peninsula, we’re approaching the point where it may soon be too late to reverse the mistakes that have been made on the peninsula’s infrastructure. If City Hall and Greenwich Council want to achieve anything more from the “regeneration” than fat profits for developers, like creating a sustainable community, then it’s time to pause and think carefully about changing their plans.


  1. Darryl – thats very interesting and you’ve done a lot of homework – some of your details are not quite right, but I don’t want to go on about that. I’ve been with all this a long time and seen reports and discussions going right back to the 1970s as well as listening to transport planners when I was working for resident groups in the 1980s/90s let alone what has happened over my 13 years on the Council. All I wanted to say really now was that I will be interested in what people say – but, as you know, the whole thing is complicated by the number of organisations and authorities involved.

  2. Darryl – the problem, I believe, lies in the increasing housing densification of London. During the early consultation on the Thames Gateway, I asked whether the over simplistic travel plans would apply to the western edge of the area, to Greenwich/Deptford. When told that they would, I asked whether they had the same plan for developing transport infrastructure, in order to allow for further housing development – and got the predictable answer. When I observed that this would require demolishing homes in order to make land available for new road and rail capacity to meet the needs of new homes, the conversation stopped.

    If one was designing London, from the start, one would do it differently. Future growth would be built in, road and rail would be designed with allowance for transport capacity growth and it would probably not be built across a major river. However, it was not done this way and we have very little capacity for new or extended transport corridors. There is an equal infrastructure problem that, in Britain, is outside of the planning process, the provision of water and sewerage services. These, too, are overstretched and changing rainfall, more sudden and extreme precipitation, is not going to help.

    This is all compounded by the absence of a working London wide policy. We have the London Plan but it is more honoured in the breach rather than the observance. I asked Boris, a couple of years ago, to tell me which London Boroughs actually followed the Plan and his answer was that he was sure that one or two did!

    Inner city housing densification requires a substantial increase in infrastructure; health services, educational provision as well as transport and water. Both housing and commercial/industrial densification also create a need for local goods and services and this impacts on the land available for housing. Every office building in the City and in Canary Wharf requires food for its staff, and that requires reasonably local food distribution centres. A multicultural city, like London, requires a diverse variety of such centres. Offices still use paper, cleaning products, office machinery parts and supplies; a host of different products that, for sustainability as well as fast delivery, have to come from somewhere relatively nearby. For example, Viking, the office stationery supplier, has a warehouse close to Erith and that can enable same day delivery when an unplanned or unexpected need arises. Similarly, in the Charlton Riverside, we have a cluster of lift repairers and, closeby, steel stockholders and electrical suppliers. If a City lift breaks down or a lift in a housing block, these are the guys that can do a same day repair – not the manufacturers who are probably located a long way away.

    I raised this at a New London Architecture seminar, last year, and was informed that all these services should be located outside of London, somewhere else, but no one could tell me where this should be! London’s already creaking roads require that goods and services, that require quick replacement, have to be located near to the end user – but we have to use every bit of available land, including that set aside for ’employment’ for housing, don’t we? But, do we?

    I would suggest that increasing inner city densification has not met local housing need, in any case. Planning permission granted on brownfield land greatly increases the cost of that land – not it’s real value. That has the effect of pushing developers into even denser building; even then, most of this development will be unaffordable to low to middle income families. That also impacts on the local provision of goods and services when workers cannot afford to live close to their work or afford the fare from a home a long distance away.

    We need a housing plan that integrates with an employment plan that integrates with one for goods and services. We also need a plan for energy and one for water but, nationally as well as locally, we have developed none of these in a sensibly integrated manner.

    If we are serious about establishing sustainable inner city communities then we need this integration and we need more homes that are truly affordable. Many people will not like a garage located down the road, nor mechanics living next door but, if they use a car, they won’t want to drive to Dartford to get their car serviced. They may also object to more supermarkets, preferring the local shop but local shops require a lot more distribution centres and even more lorries adding to already existing congestion.

    Densification is not an answer to housing problems but a whole new series of questions.

    A final point on transport: you will know, Darryl, that trying to catch a bust to North Greenwich, from Charlton, in the morning rush hour, is not a rewarding experience. That is not aided by watching empty buses trundling off to Lewisham. Bus privatisation was another ‘good idea’ that was not thought through. When bus services are owned by a variety of companies, there is little flexibility for changing routes.

  3. The “Dangleway” – I agree that some serious questions need to be asked about the cable car, it was never going to present a serious river crossing solution for commuters as TfL have tried to justify in its current form. It is however an interesting tourist attraction (I agree with Daryl that more needs to be made of this by improving the offer between the Dome and the Cable Car station) and the connection from North Greenwich may serve some long term purpose when further development on both sides of the river comes forward. I disagree that it should therefore be removed.

    Here’s an idea – why not make it really useful by making the North Greenwich a mid-station and extending it in the opposite direction to Canary Wharf – thus providing the alternative connection to the Jubilee line for North Greenwich commuters and offering longer term purpose to the existing section by extending that alternative route to the Excel and Silvertown. Seems pretty obvious to me.

  4. Roy, thanks for your thoughts and experiences. One thing I should point out is that bus services remain firmly in TfL’s hands, even though the operators were privatised in the 90s. If TfL wants it, it gets it.

    Andy – even better, how about making Canary Wharf another mid-stop and running a cable car from Rotherhithe all the way through to the Royal Docks? The business case is a very interesting read, especially in light of the dangleway’s very poor usage.

    Incidentally, local group Stream Arts is running an interesting survey on the peninsula: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/LR25GBP

  5. Very interesting points raised and shows how much planning for an acceptable urban environment usually ends up being a muddle with far too many short-term compromises (virtually always to do with money) for any host community’s good (those who live and work thereabouts). Yes, sustainable density is a key issue for cities as is a holistic view of what services are needed for a helicoptered in new community to begin and then thrive without too huge an impact on surrounding neighbourhoods (people and environment-wise).

  6. To be fair the bus station coped much better than the underground to the one direction onslaught. I’d hate to have been trying to catch a tube from Canary Wharf west though.

    Apart from that I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said. Good job.

  7. It’s irresponsible of me, I know, but I enjoy having the dangleway here, even though it carries hardly anyone. It’s a fun item to have and Greenwich would be lessened if it were scrapped or sold. I do agree about the timing of the lights at North Greenwich. I’m sure they don’t have to be timed so differently for the two main streams of traffic. A few minutes spent changing the timings would save a lot of annoyed commuters.

  8. Lots of important stuff here which I can’t add to, but I can’t help but wonder if some of the traffic problems getting out of the bus station could be solved by sorting out the traffic lights and tweaking the road layout. Shouldn’t be too difficult.

  9. Darryl, I understand where you’re coming from.

    It’s frustrating. I am no urban planner, but I can’t help but think an incredible opportunity is in the process of being wasted. There just seems to be hotch-potch of individual things going on with no connectivity.

    The cable car is a good example. After being told it would cost us nothing, it’s costing us millions.

  10. This week’s Greenwich Time claims that Ravensbourne College is becoming a magnet for digital businesses to set up in the area. Is that right?

  11. It’s always had space to “incubate” businesses, and it’s done that since it opened in 2010 – http://8https://853london.com/2010/10/25/ravensbourne-college-opens-its-doors-in-greenwich/ – the idea of Greenwich Council having space in Mitre Passage was to give them somewhere to move to afterwards.

    The Ravensbourne scheme’s been successful, and there’s still firms based in it, but whether it’s any more thriving than it was, say, two years ago is not clear.

  12. There does seem to be an awful lot of different agencies with their fingers in the Peninsular Pie….

  13. The most important thing is to increase transport capacity off the Peninsula.

    The cheapest option would be to expand the bus station and run more routes to it.

    The next option is to build that pedestrian bridge or cable car to the Isle of Dogs and be prepared for a Nimby battle. You won’t be able to build a bus tunnel to the Dogs without some major demolition on the Island, and so is a non starter.

    If there is bridge then at least people can line on the Peninsula and cycle to the Wharf without worrying about the Tube.

    After that, you’re really talking about a new rail line. If I had £500 million to spare I’d have a branch coming off the DLR branch to Woolwich around Minocco wharf to the South of the Existing Station on the Peninsula and then across to the Isle of Dogs, under Marsh Wall, with two stations on either side of the Island and then across again to Surrey Quays Station on the Overground.

    You’d have direct passenger flows from both ends and good rail connections, pus a direct train from the airport to the Dogs.


  14. The phrase ‘half baked’ does rather come to mind:

    More routes means more buses, where is the road capacity? Further, buses are cheap only if they, and their drivers, are in use throughout the day.

    Pedestrian bridge? Not that simple, not a matter of Nimbys but a real problem with the Port of London Authority. The Thames is a navigable river so the bridge has to be at sufficient height to allow all users access on the tides – air draught. And, where do you site the bases of the bridge: to have sufficient height, these have to be some distance from the River and there just isn’t space available, specially on the north side. Similarly with another futile cable car; the northern terminus was not placed some distance from Excel because the area in which they planted it was pretty. It was placed where there was space; have a look on the Island. Just as there is no room for a bus terminus there is none for a cable car terminus either.

    As for a new DLR branch, join the queue: there are several proposals for extensions already, most of which make more economic sense.

    Increasing densification simply gives rise to less and less resolvable problems. Great for developers, but not much use to anyone else.

Comments are closed.