Transport for London have just begun consultation on plans to extend the London Overground line from Gospel Oak to Barking onwards to Barking Riverside. This would see the line terminate just over the Thames from Thamesmead. George Osbourne signaled his support in the budget back in the spring. The extension can be seen on the dotted orange line below, where it extends from Barking to the north bank of the river.
Serious consideration should be given to further extension over the Thames to finally give Thamesmead the station badly needed for years. The regeneration potential it offers is huge. In addition, the greatly expanded transport choices presented would not only benefit Thamesmead, but also the wider area by providing direct links between major transport interchanges north and south of the river.
South of the Thames there would be connections at Abbey Wood with Crossrail and the North Kent Line. An extended LO line heading north to Barking would meet the District Line, Hammersmith & City line, and c2c trains. The c2c line heads west through East London to Fenchurch Street and east to give fast links to Essex. Places like Southend, for example, with its quickly growing airport is just 39 minutes away. The London Overground also offers numerous destinations in East & North London. Abbey Wood to Barking is not far as the crow flies, and the trip between the two would be speedy.
Barking & Dagenham Council Support
An extension across the river is publicly supported by Barking & Dagenham Council. Leader Darren Rodwell has called for an extension to head south from his borough to meet Abbey Wood in Greenwich, offering an interchange with Crossrail as early as 2018.
“I’m confident it will happen,” he said. “We want to link in with Crossrail at the top and the bottom of the borough as well so I hope George Osborne will say something nice to us in autumn.”
“Both the Mayor and the borough are very positive so hopefully if you’ve you got the two elements that really want it, we’ll get a positive outcome.”
Correct me if I’m wrong but I’ve never heard the leadership of Greenwich or Bexley Council publicly calling for this, despite the huge benefits it would bring. It’s not an understatement to say it has the potential to radically change Thamesmead and the perceptions people have of it. The leader of Barking & Dagenham is being smart by getting the Mayor on board, who can exert public pressure. It may not work but what’s the harm in trying? It would be good to see such action from those south of the river. In the little kingdoms of Greenwich and Bexley it seems anathema to form wider campaigns. MPs have been quiet too. There seems to be a real chance here so just why are the various local politicians not grasping it? If the leaders of Greenwich and Bexley joined with the leader of Barking and very publicly called for it, alongside Boris, it may help the chances of approval at TfL and the Department for Transport.
The need for a station
Whilst South Thamesmead is close to the forthcoming Crossrail station at Abbey Wood, it is a different story for North Thamesmead. It’s cut off from Crossrail at Abbey Wood by a dual carriageway, terrible walking and cycling routes, and a major sewer bank running above ground from Plumstead to the sewage works at Crossness. It also has a fair amount of land that can be developed for much needed housing to help with financing any extension, as well as further strengthen future demand and the extensions business case.
A tempting option for an extension would be to follow the dual carriageways of Thamesmead to Abbey Wood after rising from a deep tunnel under the Thames. The line in black shown above is the proposed extension as TfL propose. The line in red offers one possibility south of the river. A future north Thamesmead station could have substantial over-station development to help fund construction costs, alongside developments in close proximity which would bring in additional funding.
A line that did run below ground could be constructed using cut and cover tunnels, which is cheaper to construct than deep level lines. An alternative is to run above ground on viaducts following the dual carriageways for much of its route. This method would however be tricky when it reaches the elevated sewer bank and road bridges.
Unlike much of the rest of London, Thamesmead has plenty of spare land which would help lower the cost of construction. The road network is rarely busy, as it was built for a population that has still yet to be reached – mainly due to a lack of infrastructure. As such there are roads like Carlyle Road above. During construction one half of the road could be closed, the other made two-way to minimise disruption, and a tunnel dug below, tracks laid and then covered over using the cut and cover method before the other side of the road reopens.
There’s many run down areas in North Thamesmead that could see both redevelopment and greater housing density, and a new rail line would enhance that potential.
The final stretch south to Abbey Wood, past the road bridges, dual carriageways and sewer bank, again has plentiful land to construct a cut and cover tunnel whilst allowing the road to remain open throughout.
Travel options from much of Thamesmead would switch from slow, meandering buses to a five minute dash on the Overground to Crossrail and the North Kent line at Abbey Wood. Heading north it would take 10 minutes to get to the many options at Barking.
Due to some laissez faire 1980s and 1990s planning, much of north Thamesmead is a bit of a mess of various cul-de-sacs, dead ends, and winding roads which can make using local buses a bit of a crawl. The town also lacks any sort of heart. The 1980s town centre was a decent effort that utlisised the canal running through, with a small parade of shops around, a pub, and a supermarket that integrated with the smaller shops and square. This was one of the very few examples of utilising the canals and lakes that run across much of Thamesmead.
Subsequent expansion of that area was along the lines of the out-of-town retail barn method. Massive car parks, drive-thru Mcdonalds and huge, soulless retails sheds. The whole place is extremely uninspiring and completely ignores the lake next to the site. The entrance to Safeway (now Morrisons) was located far away from the old centre. As such the formative attempts at creating a heart stalled and then declined. Those in charge also didn’t help with symbolic moves such as concreting over a water feature which saw water cascading down to the canal below.
How to fund?
Thamesmead needs a centre, and London needs many new homes. A new station at North Thamesmead station could greatly help with both. A large-scale, mixed-used development above and around a new station would directly help with the costs of extension. Wider developments spurred on by the scheme would bring in further funds. There could be provision for a large amount of retail and public uses at street level. Thamesmead lacks a lot of things most towns take for granted – cinemas, bars, pubs, restaurants, various retailers, banks etc. They could be provided in just such a development around a new station.
In terms of wider developments away from the station site, there is undeveloped sites such as Tripcock Point which has long stalled plans for up to 3500 homes. There’s also some poorly designed estates that could benefit from alterations or rebuilding. The last stage built from the original Thamesmead masterplan was the Moorings estate. It is far more basic in design than earlier stages due to cost cutting, and lacks much architectural value. The later stages also use land inefficiently with things like excessive on-street parking. Redevelopment plans should include these areas. The shot below shows a shopping parade in this area and close to the dual carriageway seen above. Not great is it, but with a station nearby the potential is obvious.
If redeveloped it could offer far more – new housing, more retail, better public areas, and the canal made into a feature to be enjoyed. It seems a tall order now, but with fast links to many forms of transport this could sustain a comprehensive development and greater housing density.
Many schemes have been proposed for river crossings at Thamesmead and associated schemes over at least 50 years. There were plans for the Jubilee Line to terminate at Thamesmead with an extension from Charing Cross in the 1960s & ’70s. It didn’t open until 1999 and the terminal ended up at Stratford.
Masterplans for the original Thamesmead development also showed a road tunnel crossing the Thames. By the 1980s and early 1990s this had become a road bridge. This plan was abandoned after heavy opposition as it would have passed through Oxleas Woods.
After cancellation the plans for a Thames Gateway Bridge arose. Various public transport options were mooted. The Greenwich Waterfront Transit line from Abbey Wood to North Greenwich via Thamesmead which would have met another route which crossed the river on the Thames Gateway Bridge. Downgrades eventually led to glorified bus routes that had as many downsides as benefits, before the whole thing was scrapped along with the bridge plans in 2009.
With new plans for a bridge at Thamesmead in limbo, and little action looking likely soon, this could well be the most plausible scenario for Thamesmead to get its long awaited and much needed railway line. Greenwich Council belatedly supported the call to re-zone Woolwich Arsenal from zone 3 to zone 2/3. Yet has done nothing to push a London Overground extension over the Thames to aid the deprived north of the borough. It’s the same with Bexley Council. Not even a public push for a feasibility study. There’s quite a few reasons that SE London probably has the worst public transport in London, and the reticence of local politicians is a big part of it.
Thamesmead needs a big boost and a river crossing would give it that. London also has a huge housing crises. Thamesmead can provide thousands of new homes but it needs the infrastructure to do it. A enhanced bus route or two is never going to be enough. Alternative options such as the DLR from Beckton to Thamesmead are likely to take far longer and offer much more limited connections north of the Thames, and be worse for those living north of the river too.
The public consultation is available by clicking here