It’s the fourth year I’ve surveyed cable car usage in a typical October week. In 2012 and 2013 I did it for Snipe, just for this website in 2014, and for Londonist in 2015, where the week was 11-17 October. If you want more, Diamond Geezer has drilled down into the full dataset to see just when you can guarantee a cabin all to yourself. (All this is thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, currently under threat from the Government.)
The easy figure to home in 2012 was the number of people using it to commute, since Boris Johnson had banged on about it being such a vital link. Back then, 16 people tapped in with their Oyster cards more than five times in a week, enabling them to obtain a rebate on their fares. The following year this dropped to four. Last year, there were none at all. And it’s the same this year.
The handful of people who do commute on it use paper multi-trip tickets, which are valid for a year, and are less fiddly to use. About 30 are sold each week, although because the tickets are valid for a year, it’s hard to tell who’s using it to work and who is using it for fun. This year, I’ve seen figures for these paper tickets going back to opening day in June 2012, and sales don’t seem to tally with big events at the O2 or ExCeL, either. That said, a load were sold on 23 December last year, so maybe someone was giving out a load for Christmas presents (and they’ll have to be used up by today).
It does seem rather strange that TfL runs a public transport service that it discourages regular travellers from using its main public transport ticketing system on, but there you go.
Here’s a table of the week’s journeys:
Individual Emirates Air Line journeys, hour by hour, between 11-17 October 2015. Source: TfL.
And here’s a graph:
It’s bad news all round. Usage is pretty much the same as it was last year, the only rises coming from the opening hours being extended to 9pm on weeknights and 11pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
Tourist-friendly tickets were also well down in our sample week. Combined “experience” tickets, which allow admission to the Emirates Aviation Experience at the Greenwich Peninsula terminal, were down from 5,292 sales to 4,099. Sales of tickets allowing travel on the cable car and Thames Clippers river buses were also down, from 539 in 2014 to 291 this year.
|Sun 11th||Mon 12th||Tue 13th||Wed 14th||Thu 15th||Fri 16th||Sat 17th|
Total Emirates Air Line journeys, starting at north and south terminals, 11-17 October 2015. Source: TfL
Here’s how it compares with previous years:
So the cable car opened with a bang on 2012, slumped in 2013, rose slightly on the back of some touristy promotions in 2014, and has been lifted by night flights in 2015. What happens for 2016?
Not a lot, I imagine. We’ll have a new mayor who’ll be less beholden to mayor Johnson’s little projects. But the next mayor’s hands will be tied by the Emirates sponsorship contract signed by TfL in 2012 which, among other things, bans the next mayor from criticising that contract, and mandates a minimum level of service (which is why it opens up at 7am for a handful of punters – albeit a bigger handful than in the very early days.
TfL wanted the cable car because it wanted a river crossing that would bring in an income. Furthermore, it needs that income to pay off the £16m in taxpayers’ money that has gone into building it (plus £8m from the EU and £36m from Emirates). But it’s only made £1m in three years. The last TfL commissioner’s report states that usage will go up as the area around the cable car develops, and the cash will start rolling in.
But will it? At present, most development is going up on the Greenwich Peninsula – if you’ve moved there, would you want to pay a premium fare to go to the Royal Docks? (Would you go to the Royal Docks at all?) On the north side, development is around Canning Town station (notably the hideous London City Island) or at Royal Wharf to the east – too far from the cable car to be convenient.
It’s likely that it won’t be the next mayor’s call what to do with the cable car, but the one after – whoever is in charge in 2022, when the Emirates contract ends. By then, there might be some critical mass on both sides of the Thames, but will a premium-fare link be a help or a hindrance?
Another sponsorship deal could wipe out the loss, then the fares could be cut and it could just become part of the transport network. Or it could just be sold off as a tourist attraction.
That’s all a long way off, though. The more I find out about the cable car, the more questions seem to come up. Whoever wins in May, the Dangleway’s going to be an object of curiosity for some time yet.
This website hasn’t featured the cable car much recently, so here’s a story somebody else has done about it. LondonLovesBusiness has done some digging and found that the Dangleway isn’t paying its way.
LLB editor Shruti Tripathi Chopra used the Freedom of Information Act to get the Emirates Air Line’s fare income for each year since it opened in June 2012. During the six months it was open in 2012, it took a healthy £6m; but in all of 2013 that dropped to £5.2m; then back up to £5.8m in 2014. Up to July, it’s taken £2.3m in fares – obviously that’s before the bulk of the school holidays.
Operating costs in the cable car’s first year were £6m per year*, so essentially, LLB says, the thing’s not only useless as public transport – journeys have now been slowed to 15 minutes to allow people to enjoy the view – it’s losing money as a tourist attraction, if you judge it by fare income alone. (I’ve amended this paragraph as TfL later went on to dispute this – see update below.)
Some caveats, though. Firstly, most public transport in London is subsidised to some extent anyway – there’s a social benefit in getting people onto mass transit and out of cars, and its existence supports centres of employment. However, the Emirates Air Line’s extremely low number of regular users show this can’t be judged in the same way as, say, the 108 bus through the Blackwall Tunnel (which costs £3.7m each year to run before fares from 3.5m journeys are taken into account).
Secondly, these figures don’t include non-fare income, such as the sponsorship money from Emirates, which is paid in annual tranches. Emirates’ deal is worth £36m in total, including £10.35m up to and including the day the cable car opened. It is now paying the rest off in £2.85m chunks each year – enough, so far, to keep the finances in the black. You could argue that this is similar to advertising on the bus network.
All that said, it’s still another valuable insight into what essentially was a panicky vanity project carried out by a mayor seeing re-election. The sad thing is that a pedestrian or cycling connection between North Greenwich and Canary Wharf wouldn’t have cost that much more to build (£100m instead of the cable car’s £60m) and would have transformed the area.
Political parties are now choosing Johnson’s replacement (this website humbly suggests Labour backers make Christian Wolmar their first choice). It’ll be interesting to see just what the wannabe mayors make of Johnson’s most baffling legacy to London.
* Friday update: After this post was written, LLB amended its story to include TfL figures – which as far as I can gather had been released for the first time – that claim operating costs have fallen since the first year of operation, putting the cable car’s finances in a healthier light. I’d be curious to find out just where the falls in operating costs comes from. And of course, if the cable car was doing its job as public transport, the question of whether it makes or loses a million pounds each year wouldn’t be such a vexed one.
Greenwich Council has been made to release a secret report to Labour councillors about its backing for the Silvertown Tunnel under freedom of information legislation, after nearly a year of refusing to publish the information.
The document reveals that Greenwich’s Labour councillors decided to back the Silvertown Tunnel proposals with no evidence that it would do any good – and one year on, there is still no business case to back up the council’s claims that building what is effectively a third Blackwall Tunnel will help regenerate the area.
The report was presented to Labour councillors in November 2012, ahead of the launch of its Bridge The Gap campaign, promoting both a road tunnel from Greenwich Peninsula to Silvertown and a new road bridge between Thamesmead and Beckton.
London mayor Boris Johnson wants to build the Silvertown Tunnel, along with a ferry at Thamesmead.
After a request was submitted under the Environmental Information Regulations Act, the council refused to release the report, claiming it would affect “its ability to develop policy out of the public gaze”.
But the Information Commissioner’s Office ruled in November that the council had been wrong to refuse to release the information – pointing out Greenwich had already made and publicised its decision – and ordered the council to publish it before Christmas.
“There is an inherent argument for transparency and accountability in any spending of public money, and the Commissioner considers that this is relevant for a campaign designed to influence public debate on an important subject,” the ICO said.
“Furthermore, whilst the Royal Borough of Greenwich is not bearing the brunt of the costs for the new river crossing it still has significant influence over how the project evolves, and this has serious ramifications for the people in the borough.”
It added: “There is a strong objection to RBG’s position. Evidence of this can be found on-line, such as a petition with over 400 signatories.
“In the Commissioner’s view this shows there is a legitimate public debate around the subject and also public support for learning how RBG reached its position.”
Three weeks ago, almost a year to the day that I submitted the request, Greenwich finally sent me the report by post. So, the first time, here is the November 2012 Labour group paper on the Silvertown Tunnel and Gallions Reach Bridge.
Councillors voted to endorse the report, which outlines how the council planned to campaign for the Silvertown and Gallions Reach crossings, although some have since said privately they feel they were misled by leader Chris Roberts. What striking is how little there is in the report.
The report does not contain a shred of evidence that either crossing will do any good – merely an assertion that “the potential associated with [developable] land [in the ex-Olympic boroughs] can only be realised by investment in major transport infrastructure in an acceptable timeframe”.
It also failed to anticipate hostility from local residents – merely saying that “environmental groups against an increase in vehicle crossings are rehearsing previous arguments”.
Furthermore, the report said the council would need to develop a business case for the crossings, and a “conference and/or public meeting” – neither of which happened.
So what did happen to the business case? I asked regeneration cabinet member Denise Hyland at this month’s council meeting.
Her response? “TfL will be required to present a regeneration business case as part of their proposals. However a study has been undertaken by independent consultants employed by the London Borough of Newham, for which the Royal Borough provided data to inform the study, which is now in the public domain and demonstrates a clear regeneration case for a new crossing [sic].”
In other words, Greenwich didn’t bother. But does Newham Council’s report justify supporting the Silvertown Tunnel? Let’s have a look at its cover…
That’d be a no, then.
Oddly, among the few times that Silvertown is mentioned, the report’s potential traffic figures claim it would attract no new vehicles at all – which is optimistic, to say the least, and flies in the face of a body of evidence which states that new roads attract new traffic. Indeed, the Newham report even concedes that new developments will lead to more traffic.
It’s even slightly sceptical about Silvertown, saying it is “surprising that TfL report a higher benefit cost ratio for the Silvertown tunnel than the Gallions Reach bridge”.
So why is Greenwich Council continuing to support a policy on Silvertown which can only continue to cause it grief? Answers on a pre-paid Bridge The Gap postcard to the usual address.
Want to help the No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign? The No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign, of which I’m a part, is going to be running a new pollution study over a wider area early in the new year. If you can spare either a) time to help put up and take down tubes on weekdays in January and February or b) money to help fund them, then drop info[at]silvertowntunnel.co.uk a line.
We’re also interested in hearing from local firms who’d like to get involved – tech firm Scale Factory, based in Catford and Woolwich, is our first business backer. There’s more on the No to Silvertown Tunnel website.
The cable car was a year old last Friday, and almost as if to celebrate, I saw an unusually large number of people using it as I passed underneath it on my way to North Greenwich station at about 9.15am. Yes, a whole SIX passengers were using it – up on one passenger on the previous Tuesday, and nobody at all on the Monday.
To mark the anniversary, TfL issued a press release, entitled “One year after opening the Emirates Air Line is bringing jobs and growth to east London”. But the only growth industry sparked by the dangleway is that in increasingly desperate PR.
Well, I don’t know about east London, although the Siemens Crystal, which opened next door to the cable car’s northern terminal last autumn, was already going through the planning process at Newham Council when TfL announced its plans to build the cable car in July 2010.
As for south of the river, I’m pretty much certain that with the exception of the cable car’s own staff, contractors and associated workforce, and the tea van that pops up next to it, the Emirates Air Line has not created a single job in Greenwich. If you know of any, I’d love to hear about it.
The Emirates Air Line is successfully supporting regeneration and increasing footfall in Greenwich and Newham.
Today marks the first anniversary of passenger services on the UK’s first urban cable car, the Emirates Air Line, and the Mayor says it continues to play a key role in supporting growth and regeneration in east London.
Since opening, the Emirates Air Line, connecting Greenwich and the Royal Docks, has flown more than 2.4 million passengers across the Thames and customer satisfaction remains consistently high. Today, Transport for London (TfL) confirmed that it is working with AEG Europe, the owners of The O2, to make Emirates Air Line boarding passes available on The O2 website from August. That means passengers will be able to buy e-tickets for a flight on the Emirates Air Line at the same time as they book their visit to The O2, or their Thames Clipper travel.
The Emirates Air Line was built to support current and future regeneration in east London and the balance between leisure users and regular users will change as this takes place. The popularity among leisure users means the Emirates Air Line is covering its costs while encouraging people to visit Greenwich and the Royal Docks.
Those running costs, incidentally, are about £5.3 million a year – or £14,600/day – judging by the answer to a Freedom of Information request put in by Poplar-based campaigner Alan Haughton. At 2.4 million journeys since opening, it probably is covering its costs.
Remove last summer’s Olympic/Paralympic traffic (worth at least 200,000 journeys) and the novelty factor, though, and that business plan starts to get as wobbly as a gondola in the wind.
Of course, there’s still a £16m black hole where Emirates’ sponsorship (£36m) and European funding (£8m) haven’t covered the £60m cost of building the cable car.
“Regeneration of the area is already well under way as illustrated this month when the Mayor of London announced a £1.5bn deal with the Silvertown Partnership to transform Silvertown Quays in London’s Royal Docks into an innovative new quarter that will be able to accommodate more than 1,500 new homes, restaurants, cafes, galleries and leisure facilities both on and off the water, making it a thriving destination for Londoners and visitors to live, work and enjoy. Work on the first phase of the site is expected to begin in 2014/15.”
All very well, but development at Silvertown Quays – which will involve the demolition of the landmark Millennium Mills – hardly depends on a cable car from Greenwich. Instead, it’ll cling to Crossrail for life, and its central proposition – a park of “brand pavilions” – seems to be the sort of development that could be used to try to justify the Silvertown Tunnel.
Other exciting developments coming to the area include a new 452-room hotel next to The O2 with residential apartments in 2015. All of this development will directly benefit from the convenient and direct river crossing the Emirates Air Line provides.
That’ll be the hotel that’s been planned since at least 2009, then.
So, with the cable car having attracted precisely nothing to the peninsula, its sponsor is stepping in.
The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, said: ‘The Emirates Air Line is doing exactly what it set out to do and supporting regeneration of an area with huge potential to provide new jobs and homes. The £1.5bn deal to transform the Silvertown Quays in London’s Royal Docks is a superb illustration of how providing new transport links like the cable car can be the perfect spur for economic growth.
‘As the customer satisfaction scores show, Londoners and visitors from around the world thoroughly enjoy using this innovative transport experience and the new and exciting Emirates Aviation Experience opening in July next to the Greenwich terminal will be yet another fantastic reason to visit this rapidly developing area of London.’
Yep, the Emirates Aviation Experience, which has appeared in what were meant to be retail units inside the Greenwich cable car terminal, featuring two flight simulators in a “fun, yet educational, overview of just what it takes to successfully get a 560 tonne aircraft off the ground and 40,000 feet into the sky”. PR agency Pulse (“creating happy humans”) has been recruiting for it. So the first jobs to be created by the Emirates Air Line are being created by… Emirates itself.
I heard a whisper that Boris was due in Greenwich to open it today, incidentally, presumably to thank his sponsor for doing him a favour.
Of course, none of this desperate justification would be needed if the cable car had been built as proper public transport, integrated into the Travelcard scheme and charging normal zone 3 fares, instead of £3.20 each way. There’s no press releases claiming the London Overground covers its costs – it’s accepted that throwing a billion pounds at railways in north and east London is a price worth paying for a better quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people each day. Because the cable car has been built as a tourist attraction, it has to be seen as covering its costs.
A year on, the cable car just sits there for its 16 commuters, like a strange Christmas present bought by an in-law that you can’t decide what to do with. It sits there, heading off in the wrong direction, as a monument to the failure to plan Greenwich Peninsula’s growth properly. When North Greenwich station, already creaking at the seams, can’t cope with the peninsula’s growing population, the cable car will still be sat there, useless.
And it’ll be a headache for whoever’s (un)lucky enough to succeed Boris Johnson as mayor in 2016. What should he or she do? I’d be interested to hear what you think – please assume there’s no cash to do anything like building foot/cycle bridges or moving to to Canary Wharf.
Or, if you have an even better idea, share it below…
Greenwich Council is demanding the power to build a new road bridge at Thamesmead, according to its response to Transport for London’s consultation into river crossings.
As expected, the council is “strongly supporting” the controversial Silvertown Tunnel, which would branch off the A102 just south of the Blackwall Tunnel, as favoured by mayor Boris Johnson but opposed by local residents and the local Labour party.
There’s also no surprise in the council rejecting the mayor’s other proposal – to build a ferry at Gallions Reach, linking Thamesmead with Beckton, instead – and favouring a bridge instead.
But what is interesting is a demand that Greenwich and Newham councils be given the power to build their own bridge if TfL doesn’t build one.
It says: “The Royal Borough is concerned that a new fixed crossing at Gallions Reach should be constructed at the earliest possible opportunity [and] does not accept that a new fixed crossing at Gallions Reach could not be constructed before 2021.
“If TfL is unable to deliver a fixed crossing sooner than 2021 the Mayor should use the powers provided by the GLA Act 1999 (as amended by the GLA Act 2007) to delegate authority to the Royal Borough of Greenwich and Newham Council so as to facilitate that.”
The chances of Boris Johnson approving a bridge at Gallions Reach, to be built by TfL or anyone else, are remote. His political allies at neighbouring Bexley Council are implacably opposed to the idea, and scrapping a previous proposal – the Thames Gateway Bridge – was one of his pledges prior to his election as mayor in 2008.
That said, though, the mayor clashed with Conservative assembly member and Bexley cabinet member Gareth Bacon on the subject in January, an exchange which is worth reading (“I am not ruling it out. I am ruling out the Thames Gateway Bridge. I have ruled that out.”), while he has also acknowledged that a future mayor may take a different view.
Are the two Labour councils trying to offer Tory Boris a way out by offering to build a bridge themselves? It’s an interesting development.
It also deepens the council’s disagreement with Eltham Labour MP Clive Efford, who fears a Gallions Reach bridge would lead to a revival of long-scrapped plans to drive a motorway through Oxleas Woods. The local ward party in Shooters Hill has rejected the council’s campaign.
While a bridge at Gallions Reach may look more attractive compared with the crazy Silvertown proposal, many of the same issues apply. Air pollution is already poor in the area, underneath the London City Airport flightpath, and housing has already been built either side of the proposed approach at Barnham Drive, west Thamesmead.
There’s the additional complication of attracting more traffic to roads which wouldn’t be able to cope with the traffic – notoriously, the main route to the area from Bexleyheath is a side road, Knee Hill.
That said, those issues would also apply to Boris’s ferry proposal – supported by Bexley – which would replace the Woolwich Ferry, mostly used by HGVs.
Another interesting aspect of Greenwich’s response suggests using both crossings to create some kind of circular public transport link between the Royal Docks and the north of the borough, as well as flagging up its pet “DLR on stilts” proposal.
“An analysis of the opportunity to incorporate provision for a DLR extension to the south of the Royal Borough within the Silvertown Tunnel would be welcomed – alongside an analysis of the prospect of creating a circular public transport arrangement that could connect Thamesmead, Beckton, the University of East London campus, City Airport, ExCel, the O2, Ravensbourne College and North Greenwich station, Charlton Riverside, Woolwich Central and the new Crossrail stations utilising new crossing at Silvertown and Gallions Reach,” it says.
No reference to worries about air quality or increased congestion at either Silvertown or Gallions Reach feature in Greenwich’s submission, which records the curiously round figure of 1,200 signatures in support of its three-month long Bridge The Gap campaign, of which 795 were received online, the rest from pre-printed cards supplied to the public. (The No To Silvertown Tunnel petition got 348 in a month.)
It also supports tolling, yet acknowledges that this could send traffic towards Rotherhithe Tunnel and Tower Bridge: “It is essential that any tolling regime introduced is designed such that the World Heritage Site at Greenwich is not detrimentally affected by a potential shift of vehicle movements westwards to the nearest ‘free’ crossings.”
It says there should be “appropriate local traffic mitigation measures to safeguard the World Heritage Site and other residential areas in the proximity of the proposed Silvertown tunnel”, although it does not suggest what these would be.
As the end of TfL’s consultation on river crossings looms (please, fill in www.tfl.gov.uk/rivercrossings by Friday), Greenwich Council’s Bridge The Gap publicity push to build a road tunnel between Greenwich and Silvertown, as well as a road bridge between Thamesmead and Beckton, has fallen into even more disarray.
After all, nothing else can explain this response to a letter from an anxious punter in this week’s edition of council propaganda weekly Greenwich Time.
(I should point out that the council press office did arrange space for a letter after a press release responding to the last load of nonsense was sent to an old email address – strangely, GT now uses a Gmail account. Criticism of GT’s coverage and a call for people to sign the anti-Silvertown petition was edited out of the letter.)
Nothing in this reply addresses the issues with Silvertown – indeed, it doesn’t mention it by name – all it says is “we’ll back it now and worry about the facts later”. I fully expected that attempt to divert the focus downstream.
But let’s see that opening line again. “The Bridge The Gap campaign seeks to ensure that local residents are effectively aware of the proposal to effectively move the Woolwich Ferry to Thamesmead. That reply is the first time in the seven issues of the council’s main publicity organ which have relentlessly plugged Bridge The Gap that the closure of the Woolwich Ferry has actually been mentioned. Is that the sound of grasping at straws coming from Woolwich Town Hall?
It must be, because it has no evidence in the Silvertown Tunnel’s favour.
Moving onto page 13, it’s the inevitable…
Forget the Woolwich Ferry, it’s back to a picture of a packed A102 and bigging up the lethal Silvertown proposal, as well as the whopper about “community leaders” and the deceitful implication that this campaign is supported by anyone other than Greenwich Council and its developer friends.
And it still has no evidence.
Actually, we know another set of supporters – the Eltham Labour Party, which rejected a motion from its Shooters Hill ward party condemning the campaign last Friday. I’m told council leader Chris Roberts admitted he had no evidence to support the campaign – this is disputed by cabinet member John Fahy, who chaired the meeting, although the councillor in charge of public health hasn’t exactly been forthcoming with any evidence of Silvertown’s benefits himself.
On 7 December, I emailed the council to ask for the evidence submitted to Chris Roberts, and that presented to the ruling Labour group, that influenced their decision to launch the Bridge The Gap campaign. Nearly eight weeks later, I’ve no response.
It’s because they had no evidence in the first place, no doubt.
But we have evidence of how wrong they are. On Monday, 50 people crammed into the Christchurch Forum, Greenwich to hear about research which shows how the Silvertown and Gallions Reach proposals are so dangerous.
I don’t have most the visual presentation, but you can hear traffic expert John Elliott (a former GLC transport chief) and pollution expert Dr Ian Mudway (part of the team behind the London Air website) discuss why new roads generate new traffic, why tolling won’t work, and how traffic pollution kills by clicking the play button below. The first voice you hear is Jenny Bates of Friends of the Earth.
Among the audience there was the aforementioned John Fahy, once so bullishly in favour of Silvertown, who left with a worried look on his face. Now one of the council’s cabinet, and the man in charge of public health, has heard the evidence, will some sense start to emerge? Here’s hoping.
You can also watch Greenwich councillors take public questions on Silvertown at their next full meeting, TONIGHT at 7pm at Woolwich Town Hall. Here’s some tips on what to expect.
After the media launch of its Bridge The Gap campaign was hijacked two weeks ago, I’d been wondering how Greenwich Council would try to breathe new life into its campaign to see a third Blackwall Tunnel built.
Here’s how it did it – it called up its mates.
You know when the council’s in trouble – when it issues a press release in time for the local papers to use it. So this image and the following release was issued on Wednesday afternoon, rather than on Friday evening, after deadline time at the Mercury and News Shopper. Nevertheless, you’ll surely see it in next week’s propaganda weekly Greenwich Time. GT’s been sent a comment from the No To Silvertown Tunnel campaign – I’m looking forward to seeing whether it’ll use it.
Among this crowd are some of the people who have the greatest influence over how Greenwich Council works. They include figures from O2 owner AEG, property developer Berkeley Homes and West Properties, which promised to build a cruise liner terminal for the Olympics but has so far failed to deliver.
Below is the press release, with some comments on those who took part. Wednesday’s photocall ties together heap of stories proving just how dependent Greenwich Council has become on a handful of large firms – shutting out even members of its ruling Labour party from decision-making. But both MPs and rank-and-file Labour members are revolting against the council’s stance. The fight against the Silvertown Tunnel has a long way to run yet, but another battle is erupting over who actually controls the council.
Considering the handsome salary dished out to Greenwich’s head of press, the council could probably have done without the legend “Softheads” above regeneration cabinet member Denise Hyland’s bonce, mind. Whoops.
ROYAL BOROUGH OF GREENWICH
16 JANUARY 2013
LOCAL BUSINESSES CALL FOR BETTER RIVER CROSSINGS
Community leaders, local businesses and entrepreneurs have thrown their weight behind a campaign for more river crossings in East London. The Royal Borough of Greenwich and Newham Council are jointly campaigning for a new bridge at Thamesmead and a new tunnel at Silvertown to ease congestion and to promote economic growth. Businesses have now staged a public show of support, saying that the lack of routes across the river in East London is a barrier to economic growth in the area and that new crossings are badly needed to secure future the prosperity of the region.
Actually, no “community leaders” have spoken out in favour – does anyone know any “community leaders”? – and none are in the photo. There’s a few politicians, though. As for Newham Council’s support of Silvertown, it’s lukewarm at best. It told told last year’s TfL consultation on the issue:
“Newham’s support for Silvertown Tunnel is conditional on traffic management and a commitment to a fixed link at Gallions Reach.”
Bear in mind that Boris Johnson is implacably opposed to a fixed link at Gallions, which means Greenwich Council’s campaign would be more likely to achieve only a Silvertown Tunnel, a situation Labour London Assembly member John Biggs told TfL last year would be “unsustainable”. Last week, Biggs told an Assembly seminar into road crossings it would just “funnel more problems into the area”, adding there was a “very deep anxiety in Newham” that it would be lumbered with just the Silvertown Tunnel.
Local politicians, business leaders and community representatives gathered to discuss the issue on a morning which saw severe transport problems in the local area with the Woolwich Ferry closed because of fog, interrupted DLR services south of the river and incidents in the Blackwall Tunnel and on the A2.
Again, no “community representatives” in sight there. Of course, an incident on the A2 would still hold up access to the Silvertown Tunnel.
Councillor Chris Roberts, Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich said:
“It’s no surprise that there’s such strong support amongst businesses for our Bridge the Gap campaign. Providing new river crossings is absolutely essential to solve the serious congestion in this part of London and to unlock the development potential of some 40 sites both north and south of the Thames. The value of land and property is determined by access to it and it’s essential for both our businesses and our residents that we are no longer pegged back by the river being such a barrier here. While we obviously work hard to promote walking, cycling and using public transport, new river crossings are needed to solve the existing congestion issues and to bring better jobs and prospects for our local residents and businesses”
Do businesses and residents benefit from high property values? Or do existing landowners and property developers benefit? There’s also no proof that new road-building solves congestion issues – in fact, researchers from the London School of Economics and the University of Toronto have found otherwise.
Nick Raynsford, MP for Greenwich and Woolwich said:
“For too long, Greenwich and Woolwich have suffered from inadequate provision for river crossings. Severe congestion at Blackwall, and also queues of lorries waiting for the Woolwich Ferry, are not just inhibiting economic development; they are also causing serious pollution. That is why we need new river crossings at Silvertown and Gallions Reach, imposed traffic management through the introduction of smart tolling, and improvements in transport access, together with enhanced environment safeguards particularly along the A102”.
Nick Raynsford’s connections with the construction industry are well-documented. Of course, he infamously backed the universally unpopular redevelopment of Greenwich Market, since scrapped. He even backs the ‘Boris Island’ scheme to build an airport in the Thames Estuary.
Also among those gathered this morning, Rebecca Kane, General Manager of The O2 said:
“At The O2, AEG has created the world’s most popular music and entertainment venue, attracting more than 40 million visitors since it opened in June 2007. Throughout this time congestion at the Blackwall Tunnel has been an inherent problem for our customers, tenants and partners. AEG strongly supports the proposal for a tunnel crossing at Silvertown and a bridge at Gallions Reach. This will provide much needed relief to the area, support AEG’s next development phases on the Greenwich Peninsula and indeed stimulate similar growth on both sides of the river”.
Most O2 visitors arrive by public transport – the bigger threat to the O2 was the botched Jubilee Line resignalling project. Since 2007, AEG has done nothing to help ease the traffic congestion caused by the O2 arena outside North Greenwich station. Perhaps it might look after its own backyard first? AEG’s development plans include a controversial hotel scheme which has had council approval since 2010, when the planning board split on party lines, with Labour councillors voting for it. Which it’s believed locally that it’s behind the mysterious appearance of an open-air stadium in the council’s Greenwich Peninsula development masterplan. AEG representatives are regularly invited to the council’s functions, while the council rents a hospitality box in the O2 arena.
John Anderson, Chairman of Berkeley Homes said:
“Berkeley is very supportive of the two new River crossings at Silvertown and Gallions Reach Thamesmead which are essential for the continued growth and regeneration of this strategically important part of South East London.
We strongly believe that in order to gain the maximum sustainable benefits the Gallions Reach Crossing must be a bridge link and not a ferry.”
The links between Greenwich Council and Berkeley Homes are well-known. Council leader Chris Roberts even bought a flat in the Royal Arsenal from Berkeley for £270,000 in December 2009. Meanwhile, Berkeley has been doing its bit for the local housing crisis by, um, hawking homes in Kidbrooke Village – the old Ferrier Estate, handed to it by Greenwich Council – to Malaysian investors. It’s also been trying to wriggle out of paying for the fit-out of Woolwich’s Crossrail station, which sits inside the Arsenal development – the deadline for which is weeks away.
Berkeley Group chairman (and Conservative Party donor) Tony Pidgley was knighted in the New Year honours list. He’s called for homebuilders to be given spare government land cheaply. Berkeley are also regularly invited to council functions.
Donal Mulryan, CEO of West Properties said:
“This area has such huge economic potential which is already being realised to some extent, but it’s essential to future prosperity that we get a new river crossing in this part of London. It would be of great benefit to properly connect north and south here and will undoubtedly bring new jobs and investment to this area”.
West Properties promised to build a cruise liner terminal in east Greenwich in time for the Olympics. There’s been no sign of it yet, and so far has brought no new jobs or investment to the area. The company, which also hit problems with developments in Manchester after being caught up in the Irish property collapse, is also regularly invited to council booze-ups.
Roger Arnold, of Arnold Martin Associates said:
“East London has suffered historically, both economically and socially, due to the lack of connectivity between the two sides of the river. With the success of the regeneration of the Olympic site in Stratford and the commitment to Crossrail, this is an opportune moment to secure the future of East London and the campaign must be supported by local residents, communities and businesses to enhance the further potential of East London and the Thames Gateway.”
Martin Arnold Associates – yep, the council got the firm’s name wrong – are chartered surveyors and construction consultants involved in the redevelopment of the Olympic Park. It’s also supported the council’s Greenwich Starting Blocks charity for young athletes.
As for the other outfits featured, they include council building contractor Lakehouse; London Stone Properties, which flogs properties on the Arsenal; construction logistics firm CSB; Plumstead minicab firm Abbey Cars; printers SMP; Woolwich-based printers Scorpion Press; Woolwich diner Favourite Inn; solicitors Grant Saw; Murphys Waste, whose trucks regularly thunder through Greenwich; and, bafflingly, the Woolwich Grand Theatre. I wonder how many of the smaller firms without a direct interest in construction or property actually realise what they’ve signed up to? I’ve asked the Woolwich Grand Theatre and am waiting for a reply.
Why only one MP? While Nick Raynsford was happy to be at the launch, where was Eltham’s Clive Efford? Clive seems to be pushing his own scheme – a Silvertown Tunnel and DLR extension (which TfL isn’t consulting on). That’s the infamous “DLR on stilts” scheme, which Greenwich Council is spending £70,000 on a report investigating. Nothing about Gallions Reach – it’s believed Efford is vehemently against a bridge there, fearing it’ll eventually end in a return to the axed East London River Crossing scheme, which would have driven a motorway through Oxleas Wood. Sadly for him, his constituency now includes Kidbrooke, which would be badly affected by extra traffic on the A2. He’s in a no-win situation. Meanwhile, Erith & Thamesmead’s Teresa Pearce doesn’t seem too keen on Silvertown, judging by this tweet.
TfL says Silvertown WILL increase A102 traffic: TfL’s head of borough co-ordination Colin Mann admitted to a panel of Greenwich councillors last November that Silvertown was “likely to attract a lot of traffic” to the A102, and that no environmental impact assessment had been carried out.
Local Labour parties revolting over Bridge The Gap: Labour parties are tight-knit organisations which wouldn’t even tell you which brand of biscuits (Co-op, of course) they serve at their meetings. But Blackheath Westcombe Labour Party passed a motion condemning the Silvertown Tunnel scheme last week, and I’m told the Peninsula ward party tore a strip off Denise Hyland when she turned up there last night. Understandably so – there’s an election coming up next year, and marginal seats are under threat as residents discover what the council wants to do. More resolutions are planned in other local parties, including one for the whole Greenwich & Woolwich party, which is guaranteed to result in fireworks. Its chair, David Gardner, has already signed the petition against Silvertown, as have other members. Who runs Labour in this area – property developers, or local members? We may find out in the coming months.
Councillors admit air quality an issue: At last week’s planning meeting into opening a new Sainsbury’s in Charlton, three councillors – Clive Mardner, Hayley Fletcher and, unbelievably, Denise Hyland, brought up air quality along the Woolwich Road as an issue. Fletcher even voted against the scheme after calling the data “frightening”. Yet all three councillors are part of a Labour group which voted behind closed doors for a scheme which would make air quality much, much worse. Strange.
Council’s case ‘conjecture’, admits transport planner: At the London Assembly seminar on river crossings last week, Greenwich Council’s transport planner admitted that without evidence of the benefits of more crossings, the debate was mostly “conjecture”. Interestingly, the RAC Foundation’s David Quarmby observed that TfL wasn’t promising Silvertown was about regeneration – but according to Greenwich, it is. You can watch it here – including the ex-GLC transport chief who said Silvertown would cause “critical” congestion as it “put all the eggs in one basket” – but unfortunately you have to sit through all 150+ minutes of the meeting.
Council silent on A102 widening: A token letter against Silvertown made its way into Greenwich Time this week. No answer to the question, though, just like we’ve had no answers throughout this bizarre, and shaming episode.
City Hall has now placed some more data about crossing plans online, and there’s a detailed discussion at Greenwich.co.uk, although it’s the questions that have been detailed, not the answers. There are also meetings in Poplar and Greenwich to be held by Friends of the Earth, which is against both crossings. No public meetings from Greenwich Council, sheltering behind its developer friends and propaganda newspaper.
(Post updated Friday 12.05pm, to include TfL quote on Silvertown and petition quotes below.)
PS. Here’s some quotes from the petition so far:
“We should not add to traffic and pollution on A102 until all other possibilities have been properly investigated and implemented” – Richard Dinkeldein
“Emissions in the area are bad enough already this will make things far worse. Shame on you Greenwich Council.” – Tessa O’Connor
“I live close to the A102 and a family member’s asthma will only get worse with more traffic on the route.” – Stephen Craven
“More ways to cross the river in the East are needed. This however, is not the solution in an already congested area.” – Matt Drewry
“I live in the shadow of the Woolwich Road flyover and experience the fumes from the amount of traffic passing 24 hours a day and the sooty fallout on the windowsills etc. I suffer with asthma.” – Linda Brittin