TfL cash crisis: Action needed to save DLR to Thamesmead, Greenwich councillor says

DLR train
There have been demands for the DLR to run to Thamesmead since the system opened in 1987 (Photo John Ray via Creative Commons)

Greenwich Council’s cabinet member for transport has called for “concrete action” to secure the future of a Docklands Light Railway extension to Thamesmead, which is in doubt because of Transport for London’s financial crisis.

Sizwe James, who represents Thamesmead Moorings on the council, also accused the government of playing “political football” with TfL’s finances, which have been shattered by the coronavirus pandemic.

“As a Thamesmead councillor, I know first hand just how vital the DLR extension will be in regenerating the community I represent,” the Labour member told the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

“For too long, Thamesmead has been cut off, and my residents have not had the same opportunities as other Londoners.”

The comments come after TfL warned last month it faced “very difficult choices” over which of its major development projects could be funded and completed, as it unveiled a revised budget appealing for an extra £2 billion in emergency Government funds to get it through 2020.

It warned that some projects would require “further certainty over government support before they could be progressed”.

Among the projects mentioned were the Crossrail 2 rail link in northeast and southwest London, the Bakerloo Line extension to Lewisham, and the DLR extension to Thamesmead.

Cancelling the DLR extension to Thamesmead would ensure the area remains one of London’s most poorly-connected in regards to public transport. Plans to extend the DLR from Gallions Reach were featured in a major regeneration plan for the area which went out to consultation last year.

James confirmed that, pefore the funding crisis, Greenwich Council figures “were working loosely” with TfL on potential route alignments for the proposal.

He accused the government of showing “no real commitment” to funding the project, which he said would “create thousands of homes and access to thousands of jobs”.

“I’m deeply concerned that as the pandemic has continued, the Government have chosen to play political football with TFL, and their actions have now meant projects like the DLR extension are at risk,” the Labour councillor said.

‘Promote economic recovery’

“We’ve been pushing for a DLR extension to serve this area for many years, so for its future to be in jeopardy is very disappointing. It is about time their hollow promises turned into concrete actions and my community receives the investment it needs.”

His thoughts were echoed by the MP for Erith and Thamesmead, Abena Oppong-Asare, who said the proposal would provide a “huge uplift” to thousands of residents.

She said government hard-balling over the TfL budget was “counter-productive to creating economic growth which is what we should be focussing on if we want to secure jobs and rebuild the economy post-Covid”.

 “If the Government wants to promote an economic recovery from the pandemic it should not be looking at ditching the DLR extension which would connect Erith and Thamesmead with the centre of the capital,” she said.

Bexley Council’s Conservative leader Teresa O’Neill, whose authority runs the eastern side of Thamesmead, was ambiguous when asked about the council’s stance on the issue.

“Covid-19 has had an immeasurable impact on services up and down the country. The way people travel and use public transport has changed and no one knows when we may return to the previous level of use,” she said.

“We will all learn from this difficult period and we will continue to lobby to make sure our residents and businesses have the best possible transport infrastructure to help build a better Bexley.”

TfL relies on fare income after the scrapping of its government grant under the mayoralty of Boris Johnson, now prime minister, while George Osborne, now editor-in-chief of the Evening Standard, was chancellor. The collapse in travel because of the crisis has blown a £789 million hole in its finances, and it has had to rely on a government bailout, giving the Westminster government a key role in deciding what the devolved body spends money on.

LDRS logoLachlan Leeming is the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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