Greenwich Council’s Conservative group has asked Transport for London to halt the controversial Silvertown Tunnel scheme – so it can be assessed along with rejected plans for a Docklands Light Railway extension to Eltham.
The borough’s main opposition group has lined alongside the Labour council’s leadership in backing the new road “in principle”, despite widespread concerns it will increase rather than decrease pollution.
However, it wants the process – which is being rushed through so the planning process can begin before Boris Johnson leaves office – paused so proposals for a DLR link to Eltham can be included in the scheme.
Johnson’s successor can continue with, pause, or scrap the Silvertown Tunnel scheme after May’s mayoral election. A “final” consultation into the proposal ended at the end of November.
In their response to the scheme, the Tories say the tunnel – which relies on the same southern approach road as the Blackwall Tunnel – will be “a much-needed improvement to the resilience of our local transport network.
But the report – from local party leader Matt Hartley and transport spokesman Matt Clare – says that not including a DLR link to Eltham in the scheme is a “missed opportunity” that “would take a significant amount of traffic off the road network” as well as being “transformative for the South East London economy”.
“Our area of London is suffering from decades of under-investment in transport infrastructure because bold decisions were not taken in the past – and we fear that not including the DLR extension is a further example of this,” it adds.
For a scheme that has been flatly rejected by Transport for London, the mythical DLR extension to Eltham has an amazing hold over Greenwich borough politicians – with an ability, in their minds, to magic away the congestion and pollution new road schemes can bring.
The return of the DLR on stilts
So what went wrong? In 2011, Greenwich Council spent £75,000 commissioning two reports into a proposal to build a link from Canning Town to Falconwood, following the A102 and A2, providing a service to and from Stratford International.
Hyder Consulting’s first report, which outlined the idea and costed it at £1 billion, was never released publicly – despite being discussed in a cabinet meeting – until this website obtained it under the Freedom of Information Act. Here it is. It was submitted to TfL for comments.
But the follow-up – which aimed to answer TfL’s concerns – was suppressed by the council, hidden for nearly two years, with misleading answers given to anyone who asked about it. It was also never submitted to TfL. It finally emerged in April 2014 after a former Liberal Democrat councillor asked to see it. (Here it is.)
Why wasn’t the report submitted to TfL? Unfortunately for the council, Hyder report concluded that only an extension to Kidbrooke would be feasible – any further would face “disproportionately higher costs”. (It also said the Silvertown Tunnel itself would overwhelm local roads with traffic, expensive advice that Greenwich Council also chose to ignore.)
And TfL itself dismissed the scheme, pointing out that the Jubilee Line at North Greenwich may not be able to cope with interchanging passengers, and better capacity on the existing DLR services were coming.
But the report did contain some startling images of the DLR on stilts as it weaved its way above dual carriageways and homes. It’s worth a read just for those alone.
The Eltham DLR flame still burns for some…
Of course, councillors are paid to be parochial rather than strategic. Which is why Greenwich frets about north/south links within its own borough, and TfL isn’t so fussed. Although if Greenwich councillors were that bothered, you think they’d have pressed TfL on why travelling from Woolwich to Eltham by bus is so lousy.
But there are still keepers of the Eltham DLR flame. After all, Eltham is still a place that can change elections. Less cynically, one of the causes of the Blackwall Tunnel’s jams is the lack of orbital transport in this part of London. A scheme to Kidbrooke, as the report says, could be a goer. But both Tories and Labour want the full Eltham version of a scheme which TfL simply isn’t interested in.
In its 2014 Silvertown Tunnel consultation response, Greenwich Council placed the Eltham DLR as a condition of its continuing support for the scheme. TfL ignored this, Greenwich’s 2015 response still backs the Silvertown Tunnel. Treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen, eh?
The Tories have started banging on about the scheme too – which is how we’ve ended up where we are today, with the Tories backing a scheme which was discredited in a report commissioned by a Labour council which didn’t bother to submit it to a Tory-run transport authority. Phew.
The real shame is that while Greenwich was messing around with the DLR on stilts, Lewisham Council was pursuing a Bakerloo Line extension through Lewisham and Catford – a scheme that’s got every chance of becoming reality. Politicians in Greenwich have belatedly woken up to the benefits of this – but putting Eltham on the Tube would have been a big, big prize.
So what about Greenwich Labour? Don’t hold your breath…
Meanwhile, Greenwich Council’s response to the Silvertown consultation – in the name of regeneration councillor Danny Thorpe – might as well have been written by former Dear Leader Chris Roberts, whose Bridge The Gap campaign ushered in unconditional support for the tunnel. He’s now working for regeneration PR agency Cratus, which is fretting over whether the Tories will win the mayoral election.
The response, which uses the phrase “royal borough” 57 times, backs the tunnel without hesitation despite outlining a host of concerns, from inadequate air pollution monitoring to the effects on traffic through Greenwich town centre. This continued support suggests it may not be entirely sincere about these concerns, which have been repeated in every consultation since 2012.
It continues to demand that Greenwich borough residents get cheaper car trips through the tunnel while wanting express buses to North Greenwich with priority on the A102 as well – surely contradictory aims for a council that once wanted to persuade people to switch to public transport.
One of the more baffling aspects of the response is a claim that the “opportunity should be taken to improve cross river cycling connections, particularly those between Greenwich Peninsula and the Isle of Dogs”. This is from a council which, when it considered the Greenwich Peninsula masterplan earlier this year, completely ignored a call for a fixed crossing between the peninsula and the Isle of Dogs, even though the cost of it could have been covered by the planning gain.
Instead, it appears to go touting for business for Thames Clippers, owned by O2 owner AEG, putting forward a proposal already included in the masterplan: “The Royal Borough [sic] asks that TfL agrees to explore opportunities to introduce a cross river vehicular or boat ‘cycle shuttle’, to address that demand, as part of ongoing work.”
The dear old Dangleway’s not forgotten, either: “Similarly, the Royal Borough [sic] would expect definitive proposals for a reduction in charges for cyclists using the Cable Car to be contained within the DCO submission.” It’s unclear why cyclists should get a discount ahead of pedestrians, but there you go.
Fiddling while London chokes
So while councils elsewhere pass motions against the Silvertown Tunnel and raise the alarm about the scheme, in Greenwich we have councillors who know full well the scheme will do harm, and are just content to fiddle around the edges rather than take a stand.
Essentially, Greenwich residents are having to rely on Lewisham councillors to defend their interests at the moment – a crazy situation.
We’ve got a mayoral election coming up where both main parties’ candidates will claim to be the “greenest mayor yet”. Their party colleagues in Greenwich seem to be doing their best to sabotage these claims – if they get their way, we’ll all pay for it in the end.
As Greenwich’s Labour councillors get ready to vote tonight on whether or not they’ll give long-serving leader Chris Roberts the heave-ho, here’s an example of the secretive culture that challenger John Fahy wants to overturn.
Last December, the council agreed to spend £45,000 on further studies into a possible DLR extension to Eltham, which would utilise the tunnel Boris Johnson wants to build on the Greenwich Peninsula (Labour’s Ken Livingstone is opposed to the tunnel) before running above the A102 and A2 to Falconwood.
It’d already spent £25,000 on commissioning a preliminary study – but can Greenwich council taxpayers study the report on its website? Nope.
Indeed, if you ask the council for the report, it’ll only send a hard copy to you. So I’ve scanned it in anyway – so, for the first time in public, here’s the Eltham ‘DLR on stilts’ report (PDF, 18.3MB) produced for Greenwich Council by Hyder Consulting. Apologies for the occasional wonky page.
A few things are striking about the report, notably the warnings about how difficult construction would be; one proposal would involve demolition around the Woolwich Road roundabout in east Greenwich, while the vexed question of just how the line would negotiate the area around Eltham station, where the A2 runs in a tunnel, is deemed too tricky to answer. The line would also have to be 12-15 metres above the A102 through Charlton and Blackheath.
Routes suggested include a line through the Millennium Retail Park in east Greenwich, but a proposal for a single-track terminus at Falconwood would surely limit its capacity. But there’s no thought here to just where DLR trains would go to once they depart North Greenwich – with Bank and Tower Gateway surely at capacity, they would presumably have to squeeze up to Stratford International.
Anyhow, take a read and decide for yourself. You might also like to compare it with Lewisham Council’s report into Bakerloo Line extensions, which also deals with areas in Greenwich borough. And hopefully, after tonight, we’ll get a council that publishes this stuff as a matter of course. Fingers crossed.
Greenwich Council’s cabinet has agreed to spend up to £45,000 on further studies into a Docklands Light Railway extension to Eltham, with leader Chris Roberts declaring he wanted to “challenge Transport for London’s mentality” on new transit links.
The council has already spent £25,000 on the report via its Eltham Regeneration Agency, which suggests an eight-station line built on stilts above the A102 and A2 dual carriageways between a new river crossing at North Greenwich and Falconwood, on the borough’s western boundary.
Its director of regeneration, enterprise and skills, John Comber, told councillors on Tuesday that “a great deal of work needs to be done” to establish the viability of the proposal, which is costed at £1 billion and could include rebuilding east Greenwich’s Woolwich Road flyover.
Cllr Roberts said he envisaged costs coming down as “engineering solutions are discovered” for the scheme.
“This is also about changing the mentality of Transport for London, who seem to think that every bus and every railway line should go into central London when in actual fact we’re seeing in Westfield in Stratford, in Canning Town, in Canary Wharf that actually working patterns are changing,” he added.
“TfL needs to get into the 21st century about where jobs are located. It took years to get a bus service from the north to the south of the borough” – the 132 extension to North Greenwich – “and part of this is the ongoing challenge to change that mentality.”
Transport for London’s two most recent projects, however, have run around the edge of central London – the East London Line extension and the Docklands Light Railway link to Stratford International.
Culture cabinet member John Fahy called the proposal “an exciting opportunity for the borough long-term” which would “reduce the continual horror of queuing at the Sun-in-the-Sands and the Blackwall Tunnel”.
“There are cynics among us who would rubbish this and say this is pie-in-the-sky, but they need to recognise that we have a great track record in terms of the Jubilee Line, the DLR, and bringing Crossrail to the borough. I’m enthusiastically in favour of this report.”
Regeneration cabinet member Denise Hyland said: “There will be huge numbers of living at Kidbrooke Village, and this would be actually fantastic if we could actually ensure this is technically feasible. It would improve access to jobs and businesses in the borough.”
The report, compiled by Hyder Consulting, has not been made public by Greenwich Council.
Pie in the sky or not, it’s worth remembering that for this scheme to go ahead, Greenwich Council will have to hope for a Conservative victory at the next mayoral election, as Ken Livingstone has come out against building the tunnel between North Greenwich and Silvertown that this proposal depends on.
To further understand the difficulties with this scheme, it’s also worth picking up a copy of the current issue of train bible Modern Railways, which carries a special feature on the latest thinking for London’s transport. TfL’s current thinking for the DLR is to extend it to Euston, to cope with crowds from High Speed 2. “We could well get a bigger bang for our buck if we head west rather than east,” TfL executive Howard Smith tells the magazine. The other DLR scheme mentioned is Dagenham Dock – nothing about Eltham.
The magazine also carries a lengthy feature on the possibilities of extending the Bakerloo Line further into SE London, written by the author of a recent report for Lewisham Council on the idea. Five options are considered for inner London – one to Charlton, one to Canary Wharf, and three to Lewisham.
Beyond Lewisham, it could take over existing railways to go to Hayes (via Catford) or Slade Green (via Eltham) – both costing between £3.2-£3.6 billion. This scheme is actually on TfL’s radar, but it currently prefers a line to Hayes, but says the idea will be reviewed further.
If you want to find out more about the Bakerloo scheme, the Lewisham Council report is available online.
I still can’t help thinking that Greenwich would be better off junking this bizarrely insular DLR scheme and teaming up with other councils to back a Bakerloo Line link, properly plugging SE London into the tube network and giving access to a wider range of destinations than just North Greenwich. It’s bad enough trying to get the short distance from Blackheath or Charlton to North Greenwich in the mornings – surely the council should be trying to fix these relatively simple problems before thinking about a technically difficult scheme that still leaves Eltham relatively isolated, in London-wide terms.
All things considered, even after £75,000 is spent on a feasibility study, it’s still likely that the DLR on stilts to Eltham will join the King’s Cross Aerodrome and the Regent Street monorail in the long list of London’s canned transport schemes.