Bridge East London: Come Labour bombs and fall on Plumstead?

London Chamber of Commerce - Bridge East London
The road lobby’s getting itchy. Monday saw the London Chamber of Commerce publish a new design for the road bridge it’s desperate to see built between Thamesmead and Beckton. The Evening Standard obligingly spun it as a “bicycle-friendly” bridge, because it has a pedestrian and cycle lane beneath the dual carriageway taking it across the windy Thames. Even the BBC fell for it, The Guardian’s architecture writer piled in with another sycophantic piece, proving that if you come up with a pretty picture of something and call it “bike-friendly”, you can flog any old crap in London.

Nobody bothered to ask any questions like how this bridge would fit into the road network, how it’d be paid for, what effect it’d have on the area, or whether there were any better ideas than digging up a road scheme that’s been around since the 1940s.

All the talk is of supposed benefits to “east London” – so let’s see the effect on south-east London…

Gallions Reach pollution/congestion map

Map created by Stewart Christie for May’s Greenwich Council election campaign.

This map shows the projected traffic impacts of a Gallions Reach bridge, based on a study commissioned for Newham Council last year. The thicker the yellow line, the more traffic. The numbers represent levels of nitrogen dioxide captured in January’s No To Silvertown Tunnel air pollution study. So, going anti-clockwise, there’s a fair chunk of traffic using the only existing infrastructure, the Thamesmead spine road. Then the horrors start – another chunk of traffic using Brampton Road, Bexleyheath, then crossing the A206 to enter a side street – Knee Hill in Abbey Wood, on the Greenwich/Bexley borough border. Here’s how it looks on Google Streetview.

Knee Hill, SE2, Google

It simply won’t cope. It gets worse, though, with another load of traffic using Wickham Lane in Welling, emerging into Plumstead Common – which is buried under a yellow line – and using the side streets there, principally Griffin Road, the last leg of the 53 bus route, to reach the one-way system at Plumstead station before heading towards Thamesmead.

Griffin Road- Google Streetview

Quite frankly, the road network simply won’t be able to cope. And that’s before you get to the known phenomena of “induced traffic”, where new roads encourage new journeys by car or existing journeys to be switched to cars, which is the main problem for the Silvertown Tunnel.

So, if the infrastructure doesn’t exist, does it have to be built instead? Much of Plumstead was blighted for years by the threat of the East London River Crossing, linking the North Circular Road with the A2, which would also have carved up Oxleas Woods and Woodlands Farm on its way to Falconwood.

Either way, Plumstead is squarely in the firing line. Greenwich Council claims to have moved its position slightly to acknowledge fears of congestion and pollution, both from here and the Silvertown Tunnel proposals. Here’s the Greenwich Labour group’s manifesto:

Greenwich Labour manifesto, 2014

Indeed, the Labour campaign in Shooters Hill was very proud of this, judging by this exchange with Stewart Christie, the Liberal Democrat candidate who created the map above.

Shooters Hill Labour Twitter exchange

Nobody seems to have told their colleagues at City Hall, though.

City Hall Labour Twitter feed

Some reward for the Labour voters of Plumstead, eh?

Then, one by one, Labour’s mayoral wannabes started coming out in favour. Sadiq Khan called it “exciting” and said it was “desperately needed”. David Lammy called it “interesting” and “new”. “22 road crossings to west of Tower Bridge and two to the east,” parroted Margaret Hodge, ignoring the Dartford crossing and five railway tunnels, two foot tunnels and a cable car. “Looks brilliant”, she added, although for who, she didn’t say.

I wonder what questions they asked about the scheme and their effects? But let’s face it, as for many of London’s politicians of all colours, Plumstead may as well be on Mars. Even assembly member Val Shawcross managed to undermine her pro-cycling credentials by backing a scheme that’s going to flood the streets with more motorised traffic.

So how did the London Labour Party end up falling for this, ending up taking a more extreme view than its Greenwich outpost? To be fair, a bridge at Thamesmead has been Labour policy for some years, but there’ll be many Labour members locally who’ll be furious to see the London Chamber of Commerce scheme – which contains less for public transport than Ken Livingstone’s Thames Gateway Bridge – backed by Labour at City Hall.

Nobody’s suggesting a “do nothing” option. There are many other ways to get Thamesmead properly connected to the rest of London. A DLR extension from Beckton. A rail link from Barking. Yet this isn’t about Thamesmead, this is about a belief that regenerating the Royal Docks requires a new road connection.

Should Plumstead be sacrificed for some imagined benefits north of the river? A fancy design may be enough to impress ambitious politicians, but it won’t disguise the congestion and blight that will be visited on the area. The 2016 mayoral election should have been an easy win for Labour in this part of SE London. Now they’re looking like they’re making things needlessly hard for themselves.

9.20am update: Today marks 138 years since the Plumstead Common riot to protect common land.

18 comments

  1. clare

    The thing is the whole plan is founded on a false premise – that a bridge is needed to regenerate the Royal Docks. It isn’t. The extra traffic generated will impact on both sides of the river, blighting East London as well as South East London. It simply won’t regenerate anything. Public transport is what will bring regeneration – but that means stations, not lines charging through run down areas on their way to somewhere better.

    Val Shawcross stated yesterday that increased road capacity is needed. There is absolutely no evidence of that.

  2. Larry Poulton

    Perhaps the question that should be addressed is: Do we need to move vehicles of people? Putting aside the pedestrian/bicycle aspect which is obviously a diversion or vote winner, then if vehicles, this scheme is bound to reorganise an already overloaded road system. If the later, than as Sue says: Public Transport.

  3. Plumstead Resident

    Do we know how the opening of the Silverton tunnel would change that congestion map? Would it make congestion better or worse for Plumstead and the area in general? I’m think if their was a choice of crossings would that lessen the pressure on Plumstead?

    PS: I discovered that the Woolwich Foot Tunnel has re-opened at last and the lifts work! Miracles do happen! :-)

  4. Andrew C

    Just looking at that map fills me with dread. So much of the yellow in Welling is on roads that are already running over capacity. For example, Wickham Lane & Upper Wickham Lane already queues from Welling Corner to Kings Highway every AM peak. Bellgrove road is also subject to massive queuing due to Bexley Council’s very poor attempts at traffic management. Knee Hill? As the picture shows Its barely wide enough for anything wider than 2 transit vans to pass each other. Its another road that queues end to end at peak times. Danson Road past the park? Again that is already well beyond capacity. The widest bit of yellow is along Swingate Lane, starting at the “35” on the map. This is what the road looks like. https://www.google.co.uk/maps/@51.475208,0.093369,3a,75y,202.75h,69.4t/data=!3m4!1e1!3m2!1s19mtyXbrATtOHKg-f4ELvg!2e0 . All very well building a new crossing but without the traffic carrying infrastructure on the south side to handle the volume it will only serve to choke off a primarily residential area. You can pretty much guarantee that once the bridge it built a major north/south road will have to be built. Oxleas Wood v2.0?

    In full nimby mode: this will blight my home and neighbourhood. The only upside will be hopefully some £££ in compensation for the loss of property value and the reduction in boy racers when our street becomes a solid traffic queue 24/7.

  5. Martin

    As pointed out in the comments on the Road.cc site, the pedestrian/cycling element is completely false. Bridges east of the Tower have to have 50m clearance for shipping. I personally wouldn’t fancy walking or cycling up the required gradient not to mention being knocked about by a gale at the top.

  6. Deborah

    The Woolwich Masterplan is very revealing, concerning the creation of a bridge at Gallions. It contemplates the removal of the ferry to free up valuable river frontage. It contemplates further the downgrading of the A205 and A206 (John Wilson Street and Plumstead Road, respectively), relocation of the the South Circular and re-routing of heavy-goods traffic. Plumstead is being sacrificed for Woolwich. Curiously, it also suggests strengthening links between Woolwich and the south eastern section of the Green Chain Walk. I’m not sure how much of this will remain when a massive trunk road has been shoved through it.

  7. Deborah

    I’ve just received a response from Danny Thorpe, to an email I sent regarding his own stance on river crossings (sent 26.6.14):

    ‘Dear Mr Thorpe,

    Bearing in mind your new responsibility for regeneration, on the one hand, and your representation of Shooters Hill, on the other, what is your stance on river crossings that may affect this borough and their connections to the A2?

    I look forward to your reply.’

    He doesn’t appear to have a personal opinion on the matter, which may be of interest to those he represents in Plumstead Common and Shooters Hill.

    ‘Hi Deborah,

    Thanks for your email. Our position locally, which was published in our manifesto, is as follows:

    “Whilst we have supported the Mayor of London’s proposals for river crossings thus far, we will consider our position further based upon our view of the economic and environmental impact assessments. We take the same approach in examining proposals for crossings between Kent and Essex.”

    I hope this is clear.

    Many thanks

    Danny,

    Cllr Danny Thorpe
    Shooters Hill Ward

  8. Stewart

    Much the same response as I received last week, Deborah. Pity I’d asked a slightly different question.

    Michele Dix, TfL’s Managing Director of Planning, said yesterday that the new consultation opening on Monday would include “detailed information on the benefits that new river crossings could provide, as well as the traffic, environmental and economic impacts”.

    It won’t be too long until we find where both Thorpe and his council stand.

  9. Deborah

    Indeed. I’m still awaiting replies to slightly different questions from two other councillors.

  10. Mr H

    I’m on the fence on this if truth be told. I’ve always thought that it’s ridiculous there is only the dartford crossing on the far east side of london. Whenever there’s an accident on the rotherhithe of blackwall tunnel, the knock on effects or horrendous as there is no slick/spare capacity on the roads.

    However on the other side building a bridge will effect the local area negatively and traffic will just increase to take up the spare capacity.

    The councils and national government are just merely rearranging the deck chairs on the titanic. We need a more holistic, long term sustainable approach.
    The problem’s:

    The road network is not suitable for the number of users.
    Public transport is far too expensive, unreliable and not pleasant to use (especially at peak hours).
    You can’t keep putting up these high density housing estates which puts a massive stress on local infrastructure. Many of these people will have a car and visitors who will visit them by car.
    This causes an increase in traffic and whenever personal space if reduced, there is an increase anti social behaviour and road rage on the roads.

    But the usual response is it hit the motorist as it’s an easy cash cow, and more traffic regulations. This really can’t go on and doesn’t deal with the root problem.

  11. Mark Ward

    I live in West Thamesmead right next to the sight of where the bridge will go if it is ever built, lots of locals seems to really think its a good idea but personally I think it will be a major mistake for the residents.

    Firstly, yes we have lovely dual carriageways all around us here leading towards the Dartford Bridge and surrounding areas but then you hit single dual lane roads or roads that are already over congested. All the traffic will cross the bridge, join the Western Way dual carriageway then hit the Plumtead road and it will b a 24/7 road block, it can’t handle the traffic currently that well or they will head in towards Crayford and the A2, again dropping down to single lane roads that can just about cope now and are snarled up sometimes during rush hour.

    From here we can be at the Dartford Bridge in about 12-15 minutes, Woolwich Ferry in about 2-3 or Blackwall Tunnel in about 10, I don’t see the need personally for another crossing here, right where they have just build loads of new homes, now they want to blight it with more traffic.

    If they do build it, it will be a toll (more money for them to waste), so that will also give them an excuse to make the Blackwall and Woolwich Ferry (if they keep it which I assume they wont) tolls as well costing the motorist yet more money, we all remember the promise of a free Dartford crossing once it was paid for.

    The tolls at the Dartford crossing are one if not the biggest causes of congestion and pollution on the M25, queues virtually all day and night caused by them, funny how they can charge a congestion charge to go in to London to cure congestion and pollution then charge on the M25 to cause it ?!

    And why a bridge not a tunnel if you are going to do it, it must be easier and cheaper, we seem to have been digging loads of holes under the Thames in the past few years (DLR, Super Sewer and Cross Rail) they have caused very little disruption while going on, a bridge construction will be a nightmare with all the traffic it will cause.

  12. Eeyore

    Not really surprising Mr. Thorpe has nothing original to say on the matter. For the most part Councillors can’t afford to voice personal opinions, even if they have any. They would be kicked out of their Party if they did…

  13. Deborah

    Well, it took a month, but Cllr Hyland eventually replied. I had referred to her interview in the NS upon her installation as Leader. Plumstead, being notable by its absence in the list of areas to receive investment, I postulated that this might be due to plans for a thumping great road to go through it. Ms Hyland’s reply listed past spending – yes, past spending – on Plumstead Manor and Bannockburn schools; Olympic Legacy money (yes, Olympic money and in the past) on sports equipment in Plumstead Gardens (a cricket net apparently) and St Nicholas Gardens (er, no, it’s a former churchyard, which had it’s walls removed three or more years ago to deter prostitutes and drug dealers) and green spaces in an area which, historically, fell within the boundaries of Plumstead but these days would very much be considered as Abbey Wood; some replacement paving and purposeless steps outside Plumstead Station (in the past). Future spending will be on maintenance and cleansing of the public realm (ie. statutory spending) and a temporary team to deal with dumped mattresses and the like (ie. statutory spending). No mention of my reference to the thumping great road. In a more recent article, Cllr Hyland made much of her intention to listen to constituents and to act on their wishes. “We are a listening council,” she explained.

  14. SE18

    I don’t see what the big issue is. By making it easier for people to travel North and South of the river you open up employment opportunities for the local population and create increased opportunities for businesses. The proposed bridge will be open 24/7 unlike the inadequate Woolwich ferry. This scheme will be in addition to the proposed Silvertown tunnel, so much of the traffic going over the bridge will be local.

    If you have ever used the Blackwall tunnel during rush hour or waited 30-60 minutes to get a ferry on a Sunday afternoon you will all be acutely aware of the need for increased road capacity. If you have ever had to turn down a job because the poor North-South public transport/road connections made it unfeasible, you might also understand the need for better links.

    I live locally and expect to see increased traffic through my area as a result of the bridge. I would like to see firmer proposals on how they intend to manage traffic flows through Wickham Lane, Plumstead Common, Plumstead High Street and Abbey Wood. But I feel the overall the benefits outweigh my own Nimbyism. The sooner the Thamesmead/Gallions Reach bridge gets built, the better.

  15. Deborah

    According to TfL, the traffic disappears once it is off the dual carriageways in Thamesmead, which us clearly nonsense. According to the report published by Newham Council (also pro-bridge), congestion and pollution will be far worse south of the river (particularly in Plumstead) after the bridge is built, and the benefits low compared to those in E London. Furthermore, if you read the background information, the aim of the bridge is to benefit long distance and heavy goods traffic, not local. You will also see that tolls on the Dartford crossings will be raised when traffic is heavy there, to encourage drivers to use the Gallions Bridge, bringing yet more traffic into the area. The traffic models are based on the assumption that the Silvertown Link is built, no Woolwich Ferry, a Bridge at Galllions and a Lower Thames Bridge just beyond Dartford. Additional and improved public transport, linking both sides of the river, will benefit local people, particularly for work, and will free up capacity on the roads.

  16. Pingback: Fear and Loathing in Woolwich

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