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.