The capital could have up to 13 new and improved river crossings, if the visions laid out in a new Connecting the Capital document are delivered.
Concurrently a consultation has been launched to garner more responses from those interested in new river crossings in south east London, where there has been precious little progress in decades.
Connecting the Capital, which has been put together by Transport for London, “sets out the case for these new river crossings to better connect the capital and cater for future growth.”
Mayor Boris Johnson says the new connections are vital: “Building a series of new bridges and tunnels across the Thames is essential for the future prosperity of our rapidly-growing city. By creating more links between the north and south of the river, we won’t just improve day-to-day travelling across the capital, we’ll unlock areas for development and create thousands of jobs and homes.”
“From Fulham in the west to Dartford in the east, this is a vital package of crossings that will drive economic growth and get more people walking, cycling and on to public transport.”
And Richard de Cani, managing director for planning at TfL, added: “With the capital’s population rising rapidly and more much-needed housing being built, crossing the river will become ever more important.”
“New cross-river connections can unlock opportunities for local people and help transform an area, supporting regeneration and development. We must progress plans for this package of crossings if we are to support London’s growth and galvanise the economic potential it presents.”
The proposals listed start in the west with the Diamond Jubilee pedestrian bridge, near Imperial Wharf and one of three pedestrian bridge ideas. And they roll downstream all the way to the Lower Thames Crossing, a proposal that would sit alongside the Dartford crossing, which carries the M25 and is already at capacity. Ideas around using ferry services to cross the river, for pedestrians and cyclists, are explored.
Among road schemes mentioned in the document are a new Silvertown Tunnel, which would burrow from near the Blackwall Tunnel on the Greenwich Peninsula, to the western end of the Royal Victoria Dock. This would, it is suggested, be funded by a toll that would also be charged to users of the Blackwell Tunnel.
The impact of poor river crossings is graphically illustrated in the document by two visuals, showing workforce catchment. One image, of Richmond town centre, shows how the workforce is evenly drawn from across both sides of the river. In contrast, the same heat map for the Royal Docks shows how very poor cross-river transits have a substantial impact – very few people struggle to the area from south of the Thames.
The report notes that knock-on effects of few river crossings include less inward investment, lower land values and employment growth, and the growth of the river as a psychological barrier.
Meanwhile, in south east London, TfL’s consultation on two potential new crossings builds on work done in the last year at the behest of the mayor. New crossings at Gallions Reach and Belvedere are proposed – and they are also mentioned in the Connecting the Capital report. Gallions Reach is a potential road crossing linking the east end of the Royal Docks with the road between Woolwich and Thamesmead, while the Belvedere Crossing would link Belvedere with the A13 close to Rainham.
Either could be a bridge or a tunnel, with the less expensive bridge preferred in previous public consultations. Even with positive support, any link could take a decade before it is open.
Among those less than impressed by the mayor’s commitment to river crossings is Newham mayor Sir Robin Wales, who told local media: “Finally the mayor of London has listened to our calls that a crossing at Gallions Reach is much needed by our residents and businesses and vital to the regeneration of East London.”
“We have been fighting for years for a river crossing for different modes of transport to help tackle congestion and open up the economic growth in this part of London. It is bitterly disappointing that we could have to wait another decade before any crossing is finished.”
Architect and masterplanner Sir Terry Farrell believes there are other alternatives, including low level bridges with lifting or swinging elements to allow the necessary passage for shipping. He insists these are lower cost, and have other benefits around their immediate landing points. “They would act as instant catalysts for mixed-use development on either side of the river and turbocharge existing plans for areas like the Royal Docks and Thamesmead.”
And another innovative approach has been contributed by architects reForm, who have come up with a design for the Rotherhithe bridge, a lifting bridge with the longest bascule span in the world. Commissioned by cycling charity Sustans, the bridge would provide a pedestrian and cycling link from Milwall on the Isle of Dogs, to Rotherhithe. The project has been costed at £88 million, with a five year delivery.
LPA Perspective: River crossing projects in London have a mercurial track record. Some gather unusual momentum, such as the completed Jubilee Bridge, the proposed Garden Bridge, and the jolly, but practically insignificant, Emirates cable car. The proposed Rotherhithe bascule could also head this way.
Others – usually, it has to be said, involving roads – seem as mired in political bog as the decision about where to choose Heathrow or Gatwick for a new airport runway. For those of you without grey hair, Gallions Reach is but the latest incarnation of the East London River Crossing – aka the Thames Gateway Bridge. Approved at public inquiries in the 1970s and 1990s, and turned down by a public inquiry in 2007, the crossing has effectively been kicked down the road at various times by the Department of Transport, and by an effective campaign from south London environmentalists. More recently, there have been consultations in 2012, 2013 and 2014 over possible tunnels, feries, or bridges – in much the same way as there have been plentiful reports on airport capacity.
The lack of any positive progress on the concept of this crossing has continued to blight the regeneration of the Royal Docks, where large swathes have stood undeveloped for 20 years – while Canary Wharf has transformed the somewhat better connected Isle of Dogs over the same period. Sure, there have been improvements in rail infrastructure via the Docklands Light Railway extensions, but these don’t solve all the connectivity issues.
Is the case well made for better road links across the Thames to the east? Absolutely. Will it ever happen? Even if the environmentalists are now pushing up daisies, we cannot rely on the Department of Transport to find the cash for the project, and anything with a toll is hardly the right solution.
Boris has been hopeless on this one, so let’s hope the new mayor will make this a priority. And maybe he can borrow one of Boris’s ideas, that of sponsored river crossings. A sponsored bridge, backed by one of the major Chinese investors looking to make a profit from developing in the Royal Docks, would make a great gateway project. And it would be almost guaranteed a daily mention on radio traffic reports in the capital.