There are 16 river crossings of the Thames west of Tower Bridge up to the M25, yet just three to the east, including the tolled M25 crossing at Dartford. There are no bridges covering the distance of around 16 miles from Tower Bridge to the M25 Queen Elizabeth II bridge. That means no double decker buses across the river, as well as a severe lack of pedestrian crossings and pretty bleak conditions for cyclists. What the lack of bridges also means is that transport and employment opportunities are limited in SE London, and all traffic is mainly funnelled towards the Blackwall tunnel. Horrendous traffic is the result. And if there’s a problem complete gridlock for miles around is the result. Cyclists have limited crossings due to there being no bridges, and the ongoing sagas with foot tunnels shows the problems of limited crossings. Cross river buses are reduced to a small single decker 108. It’s pathetic and SE London deserves, and needs, so much better.

Ken Livingstone remarked when talking about a bridge at Thamesmead or a tunnel from North Greenwich to Silvertown (Boris’ favoured option) that –

‘The reason we went for the bridge and not the tunnel at Silvertown is because the bridge benefits a much wider area. If you look at the impacts of a bridge versus the tunnel you’re mad to do the tunnel, especially because a tunnel would be much more expensive. I’m also not sure you want to dump all that extra traffic in the area around the Greenwich Peninsula. The thing about the bridge being a bit further out is that it would be easier to cope with.’

The deprived outer South East London region including Thamesmead and surrounding areas are in big need of a lifeline. The positive impact of a bridge would be massive there. Not only because of the bridge, but the public transport possibilities that could utilise it.

The need for a crossing of the Thames at Thamesmead has been known for decades, and whilst reading about the town’s history recently I have been reminded of the numerous schemes proposed and then shamefully cancelled.

Boris cancelling the bridge plans after his election was the biggest mistake he has made under his tenure. Boris cancelled the bridge after pressure from the former leader of Bexley Council, Ian Clement. Boris had been helped by Ian Clement during campaigning for his first election run as mayor, and Boris won big in Bexley. After his victory he made Clement one of his deputy mayors. Clement then left in disgrace for fiddling and using City Hall credit cards for his own purchases, and afterwards it came out he was doing the same at Bexley council. He was subsequently convicted and sentenced to a suspended sentence and 100 hours community service. He also managed to get himself drugged and robbed in China by a ‘Chinese spy’ he took back home. But I digress. Apart from being a crook, he helped ruin a great chance for his borough to improve itself when leader.

When the bridge is built (it surely has to one day) it’s essential that high standard public transport options are in place from day one. Looking back at the plans for the bridge 5-10 years ago it was often stated that it should be designed to take DLR trains, though it was never planned they would run from day one. DLR trains to Beckton run just the other side of the bridge –

My knowledge of the DLR over there is lacking. If there was provision for it in the plans presumably it’s physically possible. A problem could be that it’s already very busy and if trains start in Thamesmead they could be too busy by the time they reach the existing line. Anyone know? Maybe a shuttle would be possible with a simple platform change?

If that is not possible then a high speed bus with only limited stops travelling to Barking station would be very useful. It could leave from Abbey Wood station, head north to Thamesmead town centre, then cross the river to Beckton DLR and onto Barking station with its quick trains to Fenchurch Street, and tube station on the District and Hammersmith and City lines. It’s a short distance. Think what that could do for SE London. In the long term it could even become a tram going extended south from Abbey Wood crossrail and north kent line station linking with the other rail lines to Dartford at Bexleyheath etc.

The original plans around the time of Thamesmead’s development in the 1960s and 1970s favoured a tunnel rather than a bridge after lobbying by Greenwich and Bexley Councils. This pushed the price up, and as cut backs kicked in the plans were dropped.

There were further plans in the 1980s yet run into problems with an approach road plowing through Oxleas Wood. After Livingstone was elected in 2000 plans for a bridge were resurrected without the road as road capacity had been improved from the M25 to Thamesmead, which is now fully dual carriagway. At the time I lived nearby and remember filling in a consultation which asked about what design I favoured.  There were four designs, of which three were pretty elegant.

So how would such a bridge be built in such a time of financial difficulties? The original plans were for it to be tolled, and at such a level to dissuade much of the long distance traffic and lorries who would use the cheaper QEII Dartford crossing. It could be 3x higher for example. The price would be set to also so as not to dissuade all users towards the free Blackwall Tunnel. Maybe the Blackwall could be tolled as well? Though that would be a logistical nightmare, and the headlines would be that all of South/East London has to pay to cross but not the wealthier west. It’s a fair point.

With tolls, and the massive demand, it would pay for itself over a number of years. And yet Boris still doesn’t consider it. It has edged it’s way back onto TfL’s agenda recently as the need is clear, yet Boris’ previous firm resistance under Ian Clement’s pressure seem to have made him reluctant to accept a u-turn.

The downsides of a bridge are that inevitably there will be much more traffic locally. Given the benefits it will bring to residents I think it’s a price worth paying. I lived in an area that would have seen much more traffic by a bridge yet I still support it. So did most of my neighbours. It’s wider benefits are massive. It would alleviate some of the snarl ups around Greenwich as well as traffic doesn’t all go there. The tolls should be high enough to stop lorries and too much M25 traffic entering suburban London. It’s a tough balancing act though to get enough traffic to fund the bridge yet not cause gridlock.

The roads in Thamesmead should be ok. They are hardly that busy as they were built to handle a far bigger town and population than that which eventually arrived.  Traffic from Bexley borough down to Thamesmead would cause traffic at Knee Hill. Maybe widening, or a diversion using quieter roads such as the parallel, yet quiet, New Road would work. It won’t be pleasant, but it’s a price worth paying.

If Livingstone wins and brings the plan back alive, and can secure a bond and permission from central government to fund it with the promise that it will pay for itself in time with tolls, then maybe, just maybe, Thamesmead will get what it needs and deserves. Otherwise much of the town could linger in the doldrums for decades more.

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