River crossings: Greenwich Council backs Woolwich Ferry closure

Woolwich Ferry

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.

Greenwich Time, 7 October 2014Essentially, 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.

Woolwich Ferry, spring 2011

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.

A102, from Charlton Road, taken in 2008

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.

London Chamber of Commerce - Bridge East London

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?

bridge_the_gap“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.

16 comments

  1. Ken Welsby

    If you regard the old TV series “The Good Life” as a blueprint for 21st century living, then keeping and modernising the Woolwich Ferry sounds like a good idea. But to the rest of us, a bridge is common sense.

    Only the other day I was talking to a director of a local company which is keen to expand. The market is there, and so is the finance. But the big worry is transport: many of their customers are in central London – and journey times from here are getting longer. His delivery team used to start work at 07:30, now they have loaded the vans and are on the road before 07:00 – which means they have left home before 06:00, so no time with their families in the mornings.

    BUT, and it is a BIG BUT, the new bridge MUST provide high-quality public transport links with key locations including: Woolwich town centre, Plumstead, Gallions, Thamesmead, Abbey Wood, Belvedere on this side of the river; Beckton (residential area and the retail park), LCY and the Royals, Stratford, Canary Wharf and Barking Riverside on the other.

    Extending the DLR would probably prove too expensive, although I have not seen a cost/benefit analysis. But there is no reason why low-emission or zero-emission buses operating in dedicated bus lanes – and segregated cycle routes, of course – would not do the job.

    Controlling rat runs is not problematic, as part of a comprehensive traffic management programme, which would probably best be undertaken as a joint effort by Bexley and Greenwich. Width, weight and speed limits, traffic calming, access and turn restrictions can all be put in place to deter motorists who venture off the designated routes. That in turn would allow the quieter side roads to be networked together for cyclists. Who knows, we could even see more pedestrian routes.

    The Woolwich Ferry one of Bazalgette’s great achievements. But it’s time to acknowledge that it’s no longer fit for purpose. We need a bridge – and we need it now.

  2. Darryl

    Why don’t “we” want both, Ken?

    And how would you control traffic to prevent rat runs but retain access to Plumstead, Abbey Wood and Thamesmead?

  3. maryorelse

    Last night was the FOGWOFT AGM – Friends of Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels. There were calls from the audience for both tunnels to be duplicated – one tunnel to provide a fast cycle route and the other for pedestrians.

  4. Darryl

    This is the frustrating thing about “a package of river crossings” – it’s so vague. What’s stopping Greenwich from calling for, say, a cycle/pedestrian crossing from Canary Wharf to North Greenwich? Instead, they seem to be blinded by their desire for this mythical, non-polluting, non-contesting Gallions road bridge.

    And at least with the Woolwich Ferry’s continued existence, cyclists have an alternative to the foot tunnel.

  5. Ken Welsby

    Are we convinced that with no large daily movements of goods and labour to and from the docks and riverside wharves and the Arsenal – for which the ferry was built – that the current location is the best one? Replacing it with a new crossing, whether ferry or bridge, further downstream would reduce traffic congestion in Woolwich – particularly on Plumstead Road – and allow better integration of the Arsenal site and river frontage with the rest of the town centre.

    Keeping and upgrading the ferry will need both new vessels and new terminals on the river banks. The linkspans are already life-expired and the access structures and parking / marshalling area are poorly designed, have no capacity for growth and in any case have a limited life remaining. TfL has been advised (on more than one occasion AIUI) that the entire infrastructure needs replacing to a new design. Cost? Unknown.

    So far as the vessels are concerned, a recent “back of an envelope” calculation suggested that the cost would be in the £7–10million each, depending on capacity. This would be in line with the new CalMac hybrid ferries (capacity for 20-25 cars) which are costing £10–£12m each. So for increased capacity and resilience let’s assume a fleet of four, at a total cost of, say, £35m.

    And because the vessels and linkspans need to fit each other, the renewal would have to be a “big bang” operation – both infrastructure and boats being replaced at the same time. And can the shoreside be upgraded without disrupting the existing service? I’d love to keep the ferry, but I just don’t think it’s feasible.

  6. fahy

    Very interesting Blog and responses. There is overwhelming demand for a significant improvement in public transport and the Council will campaign for this to be a priority. Important to remember that the current lame duck Mayor is unlikely to move the transport agenda forward. We need to look beyond 2016 for a more rational approach. Currently the Woolwich Ferry is a magnet for lorries not wishing to pay the Dartford Toll and simply blocks up the roads in the Town Centre on a regular basis. In my view there is the option to charge for lorries now rather than waiting for any final decisions by the Mayor. .i believe that there is overwhelming support for the Council position who has taken the views of residents into account.

  7. Deborah

    It does look like the Council has taken residents views into account to some limited extent – at least on terms of the necessity to improve and add public transport provision – and this is a welcome shift in stance. I have a few, very serious concerns however.

    The Council has stated several times that it wishes to see reports on the impact of crossings on traffic levels and air quality. This completely ignores (i) Newham’s report which states that areas south of the river will experience substantial increases in traffic and pollution (contrary to TfL’s documentation, which has traffic magically disappearing beyond the confines of Thamesmead) whilst being the poor neighbour in terms of benefitting from regeneration. It completely ignores evidence from the last inquiry (with which the inspector concurred) regarding traffic and pollution. The inspector also poured scorn on claims that a bridge at Gallions would be suitable for cyclists and pedestrians.

    The Woolwich Town Master Plan envisaged: (i) scrapping the Woolwich Ferry and demolition of the Waterfront (with a new leisure centre to be built on land currently occupied by Wilkinson and the Tramshed – despite pictures of the Tramshed being used to publicise the diversity and history of Woolwich buildings, but that’s another story), (ii) the extension of Hare St. along the route of the old Ferry Approach, (iii) the downgrading of the lower road and John Wilson St (to make the currently disparate sections of Woolwich more cohesive) and (iv) re-routing the South Circular – although where is not specified. Now, as RBG has supported the building of a road bridge for some time (not “always” as claimed by Danny Thorpe), I can only imagine that what is in mind but not stated publicly, is that the re-routed part of the South Circular would start at Gallions Bridge and end at the Rochester Way at Falconwood, thereby causing the destruction of hundreds of Plumstead houses, Rockliffe Gardens (very much neglected by RBG with no efforts to encourage a Friends of), Woodland Farm and ancient Oxleas Woods. It seems to me that Plumstead is to be sacrificed at the alter of Woolwich, especially since there are plans for capital expenditure in all areas of the borough except Plumstead.

    As for the ferry, my understanding is that the provision of a free ferry at Woolwich is statutory, on the grounds that people to the east of the metropolis contribute to the provision and upkeep of toll-free bridges to the west.

    As stated in my opening paragraph, the Council’s newfound support for public transport is to be lauded. This is what will connect local people to jobs further afield in London and the South East, whilst also freeing up road space for people who have no option but to use motor vehicles with the added and important benefits of making the streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists. Far from solving traffic congestion, a road bridge will attract more vehicles and will be for the benefit of people travelling through the area from outside London, rather than benefitting the people of Greenwich.

  8. Mr H

    Greenwich council and Greenwich time strike again! Things unfortunately will not change until these plonkers are voted out.

    The idea of charging to use the Blackwell tunnel is insane and unfair for the motorists who are subsidising the poor policies of governments/councils.
    The west of London has many crossings (none of them are tolled), while we in the east are held to ransom.

    The Dartford crossing was only supposed to have toll charges for 25 years (I think that was by law if I remember correctly to cover the costs). But the goal posts have been moved.

    I do think that there needs to be a river crossing in the east somewhere between the Blackwell tunnel and Dartford crossing – where I don’t know. However, there needs to be a holistic approach as building more roads and crossings isn’t a silver bullet.

    I oppose the third tunnel at Blackwall is you just get more traffic down the A2 and puts a lot of pressure in the local area.
    We know what happens if there’s an incident at either the rotherhithe, blackwall or Dartford crossings, the knock on effect is horrendous as people have to find an alternative.
    There are far too many bottle necks on our roads along with poor traffic light phasings.

    The planning and design of our cities are too sort term and not very well thought through.
    Too many out of town shopping destinations and retail parts where while it’s possible to use public transport it isn’t very practical (carrying lots of bags or big bulky items).
    Also I have previously mentioned in other posts the over development of housing in such small areas. All these people need to get to places and many will have cars (where do they park, and where do visitors have to park if they come to visit?) Etc etc.
    Public transport is also far too expensive in London and not really a pleasant experience, unreliable, and inconvenient.
    Parents should also force their kids to walk to school where possible (I used to walk 30 min to school and now I walk 45 min to work). It’s not as bad as people make it out to be, and it wakes me up in the morning. The difference in traffic during school holidays is like night and day.

  9. Sam C

    I have to admit to recently becoming part of the problem – I purchased a car. I don’t use it for commuting, it’s purely used for leisure (maybe two or three uses per week, all within London). It’s a big annual expense, but I don’t mind paying it if it means I avoid some of the dreadful public transport in our area.

    Many buses are extremely overcrowded and infrequent (I’m looking at you route 108). God forbid you decide to use the bus on an O2 event night, as you’ll be sitting at those damned traffic lights at Edmund Halley Way for weeks. The council & TfL have recently missed an opportunity to resolve the bus issues at this junction following the recent re-development of the unused car park nearby. See https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/plans_for_edmund_halley_way_junc for more.

    The mainline train service from Southeastern is astounding. Each year they manage to do the impossible and deliver a worse service than the year before. The Greenwich line seems to just get forgotten about. We’re still waiting on 12 car trains and our service to Charing Cross is being removed permanently. The council and our MP just don’t seem to give a monkeys.

    The jubilee line and DLR are both pretty good, but are a 40 min walk for me, or a week on the bus if you travel during peak hours and enjoy sitting on the A206. In other works, if you’re not in one of the four million new flats nearby North Greenwich and the DLR then you’re out of luck.

    Greenwich has a bunch of problems, but for me transport (and public transport in particular) is number one. The one good thing to have come out of this is that I’m more keenly aware of local politics and news.

  10. Tina

    Very well said Sam. I’m also worried that when those million and one new flats become occupied the Jubilee line and DLR may no longer be quite as good.

  11. DB

    ‘The council’s support for Gallions comes with a number of caveats:
    – that TFL can demonstrate any new bridge will not affect air quality…’

    Would this be the same TFL who previously demonstrated that ADDING an IKEA to the existing East Greenwich traffic will IMPROVE air quality? Looks like a done deal already.

  12. Mr H

    Sam – I’m in the same situation. I only use the car a couple of times a week for leisure. It’s not very practical to use public transport at times.
    DB – You’re correct, looks like the Ikea is a done deal. It just goes to show the double standards & contradictions of politicians & councilors.

  13. Deborah

    At the last inquiry, models were presented that demonstrated people’s health would improve along the routes to and from the bridge. Ditto traffic flow models. The inspector deemed the models preposterous and the authorities were instructed to rework them. What’s the betting any new reports will be equally ludicrous.

  14. Kate

    Is anyone at Council even vaguely concerned about the lack of increased infrastructure – transport, medical, educational etc – that the (aptly put) million and one expensive new homes will require? I imagine most of them will have at least one car.
    Public transport is deficient and will become increasingly so with greatly increased population density.
    I used to cycle around North Greenwich/Bugsby’s Way area until I felt so ill from the fumes that I stopped – and now use my car when I need to go there. (I know….)
    There could be a riot of white van men if they are serious about tolling the Blackhell Tunnel too. Who had that bright idea?!
    How about grabbing the £35 mill of public money Boris has earmarked for his latest vanity project, that garden bridge on the South Bank – which is 200m from 2 other bridges – and putting it as a drop in the ocean towards better transport infrastructure in SE London? Of course almost no-one votes for him round here though.

  15. Pingback: Like a Free Ferry over Troubled Water | Deserter

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