Greenwich Council is backing the eventual closure of the Woolwich Ferry in favour of a road bridge at Gallions Reach, according to its response to Transport for London’s consultation into Thames river crossings.
It’s also calling for tolls to be introduced at the Blackwall Tunnel before any other road crossings are built, according to the document, which was published last week.
While the response, as expected, calls for the construction of a road crossing at Gallions Reach, between Thamesmead and Belvedere, the tone of the document falls some way short of the “Bridge The Gap” rhetoric employed under former leader Chris Roberts.
The council’s support for Gallions comes with a number of caveats:
– that a bridge must be accompanied by public transport improvements, with the council calling for both an extension of London Overground from Barking (subject of a current No to Silvertown Tunnel petition) and the old chestnut of the Docklands Light Railway from the Royal Docks to Thamesmead.
– that a bridge must be “part of a package of river crossings”. Just what package the council would prefer, however, is not stated.
– all crossings must be tolled “to manage demand”.
– that TfL can demonstrate any new bridge will not affect air quality.
Essentially, the response – which was decided behind closed doors, without discussion in cabinet or council – looks like an unhappy compromise between Labour Party members’ angst (and in many cases, anger) over their council’s pro-road crossings stance, and Greenwich Council’s usual habit of deferring to the demands of developers and “business leaders”.
The council also expressed unhappiness that the Silvertown Tunnel proposal was now being dealt with separately from the Gallions and Belvedere plans.
However, all mention of Silvertown, along with the demand for tolling at Blackwall, has been cut from the version of the story that appears in this week’s edition of the council’s propaganda paper, Greenwich Time, possibly making Greenwich the only Labour council in the country to be trying to put a positive spin on Conservative proposals.
It’s a complicated document, and one which demands reading between the lines at several points.
Scrapping the Woolwich Ferry
In this complex and sometimes ambiguous response, it’s Greenwich Council’s simple desire to abandon the Woolwich Ferry that’s the clearest of all.
“The Council would support investment to improve the resilience of the ferry until such time as other additional capacity is provided but cannot support this option,” the response says in answer to whether the ferry should be refurbished in the next decade.
A ferry has operated at Woolwich for centuries – the remains of the 19th century railway-run ferry pier can still be seen at North Woolwich. The current free ferry was instigated by Joseph Bazalgette – best known for creating London’s sewer system – in 1889.
The current ferries, the third generation of ships to cross the Thames, are now over 50 years old and in need of replacement. TfL has been consulting on refurbishing the current ferry, moving it to Gallions Reach, replacing it with a bridge at Gallions Reach, and/or building a new bridge at Belvedere. All options would see the crossings tolled.
While road-building fans generally agree on a need for a bridge at Gallions Reach, it’s surprising that they want to see the closure of another traffic-friendly crossing to achieve it – despite all their talk of wanting “resilience”.
Perhaps the answer is in Woolwich’s regeneration plans. The Woolwich Ferry lorry park, approach, piers and associated land are all owned by Transport for London. Next door, Greenwich Council’s Waterfront Leisure Centre is already slated for redevelopment under the town centre masterplan. Maybe the value of selling this stretch of land for redevelopment trumps City Hall and Woolwich Town Hall’s usual instincts.
Tolling Blackwall and Silvertown Tunnel frustration
The bits they won’t mention in Greenwich Time. The council’s called for the Blackwall Tunnel to be tolled before any other crossings are built, citing worries about traffic congestion and air quality.
“Recognising the issues of resilience and capacity at Blackwall Tunnel and the impact these issues have on the local road network and air quality the Council requests that TfL gives serious consideration to the introduction of charges at Blackwall Tunnel in advance of the construction of any other crossings,” it says, also calling for charging at the Rotherhithe Tunnel to stop traffic diverting through Greenwich town centre to find a free crossing. This would leave Tower Bridge as the only free crossing east of the congestion charge zone.
Currently, TfL plans to charge for Blackwall and the proposed Silvertown Tunnel, but not the Rotherhithe Tunnel. These plans have been known about for nearly two years, but Greenwich Council has taken until now to express worries about them.
Indeed, reading between the lines, it appears Greenwich Council is unhappy that its unconditional support for the Silvertown Tunnel has not been rewarded with any data from TfL on how the Silvertown proposals would affect traffic and air quality in the area.
Nearly two years after the last Silvertown Tunnel consultation, only now does Greenwich express worries about air quality.
“At a time when (i) there remain concerns about the environmental impacts of that crossing and (ii) detailed assessments that may address those concerns have not been published it is disappointing that the consultation does not cover the full range of crossing options (including Silvertown).”
Perhaps Greenwich shouldn’t have tried to rig the 2012/2013 consultation into Silvertown in the first place. Greenwich’s support for Silvertown has been critical for the proposal’s progress so far – as the face of the Bridge the Gap campaign, the Labour council leader Denise Hyland is in no place to complain that she’s been tricked by the Conservatives at City Hall.
Quite how genuine the council’s new-found concerns about Silvertown are, we shall have to find out, although a call for “a wider package [of river crossings] that would be progressed from west to east” presumably means that Greenwich still backs some kind of mythical Silvertown Tunnel that doesn’t increase traffic levels or increase lethal air pollution.
They’d be better off believing in the tooth fairy, frankly.
Gallions – with caveats
Shiny new bridge! But it looks as if Greenwich has been boxed into a corner on the Gallions Reach crossing, seen as unfinished business by Labour administrations across London since the Livingstone-era Thames Gateway Bridge was canned by Boris Johnson in 2008.
“A bridge must be accompanied by public transport improvements.” At least this is consistent with the last consultation’s response, although at least the weird idea of a circular bus route using the Silvertown Tunnel and Gallions Reach Bridge has vanished. Unfortunately, an extension to the DLR into Thamesmead currently remains as likely to happen as an extension to Eltham, as neither appears in City Hall’s 2050 wishlist of public transport schemes.
That said, it’s good to see Greenwich backing an Overground link to Thamesmead and Abbey Wood – which does appear in the 2050 document. But it’s a shame they didn’t come out and say it when the News Shopper covered the N2ST petition last month.
“On the understanding that any vehicular crossing would be charged to manage demand and have dedicated and accessible public transport provision.” Those tolls again. Wonder if Greenwich will press for the likes of Putney or Chelsea Bridge to be tolled?
“Subject to clear evidence demonstrating that they would not cause local congestion or a reduction in air quality.” Not going to happen – this Newham Council study already points to huge traffic impacts in Woolwich, Plumstead and Abbey Wood. The 2007 Thames Gateway Bridge planning inquiry also concluded a bridge would make traffic and pollution worse. Is Greenwich waiting for a study that says what it wants it to say?
“The Council would not support any widening of the A2 and TfL should finance measures to prevent rat-running between the bridge site and the A2 and also to prevent congestion on roads to and from the bridge.” Strange Greenwich brings up the widening of the A2 here when it’s actually the Silvertown Tunnel that would be more likely to result in a widening of the A2 (or A102). As for rat-running – it’s hard to see quite how you’d prevent that without further isolating Thamesmead or chopping Plumstead into half.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the Council is opposed to any future proposal that would impact on Oxleas Wood or any other of the Royal Borough’s green spaces.” But this is the endgame of a Gallions Reach Bridge – build that, and there’ll be a permanent threat hanging over Oxleas and a chunk of Plumstead.
Bexley backing a crossing at Belvedere, Greenwich not keen
Bexley Council’s response favours a crossing at Belvedere, with the Tory council now “neutral” over Gallions Reach – a climbdown that hasn’t gone unnoticed. It’s curious, though, that Greenwich is much more hesitant over backing a bridge at Belvedere – since, by using its previous logic, it would relieve congestion at Gallions, bring new opportunities, etc, etc. It doesn’t seem particularly consistent.
Messing up by the river – council confusion?
“Moreover the Council was disappointed by the quality of engagement at the Thamesmead ‘road show’ – an event that only took place at the Council’s
suggestion. The quality of the arrangements compromised the extent and quality of local engagement on an issue that is critical for the well-being of south and south east London.”
I’m not really sure the people behind the Bridge The Gap campaign – where Greenwich Council’s activities included handing out cards in Woolwich uncritically backing the Silvertown Tunnel (they didn’t dare try this trick in Greenwich, Blackheath or Charlton) have really got any right to criticise. But we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for a minute.
The problem is that Greenwich is currently hamstrung by its deference to City Hall. In 2012 and 2013, it complained about Conservative consultations into fire and police cuts, calling them flawed. But because the Labour council wanted the same new roads as City Hall wanted, it was happy to go along with equally iffy consultations into the Silvertown Tunnel and other crossings.
Now Greenwich realises it’s been caught out – promised environmental assessments have not been carried out, and residents are furious that their council is putting their neighbourhoods at risk. And all it’s got to justify its past stance are the scribbled notes that Chris Roberts used to pass Denise Hyland in council meetings.
Back in 2013, Denise Hyland made a virtue of the fact that Greenwich wasn’t spending taxpayers’ money on its own studies. Now that stance looks even more foolish.
If it’d been more sceptical in the first place, and took a leading position rather than placing its residents under threat from the City Hall roadbuilders, it might not be in this position now.
If Greenwich Council wants new roads – that’s it’s decision. But it has to be honest about the impact those new roads will have. Because new roads will have an impact on all our lives. But by crossing its fingers and hoping for mythical roads that won’t pollute, or won’t bring added traffic, it doesn’t seem to be being honest with itself, never mind its residents.
And soon could now be in an even stickier position. There’s No to Silvertown Tunnel, and No to Gallions. How long until Save the Woolwich Ferry starts up?
See also responses from No to Silvertown Tunnel, a forensic demolition from Green Party assembly member Darren Johnson, and Liberal Democrat assembly member Caroline Pidgeon.