Greenwich Foot Tunnel closure concerns traders
As summer nears, businesses on both sides of the Thames are listening out for the imminent stampede of customers.
In the back of their minds, they're also dreading a moment when that rush may slow to a trickle.
Greenwich Council is on the verge of closing the Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels for repairs. But there is no word as yet on how long this process will last, and traders are getting worried.
John Dawson, who has run the Tapas Tapas stall at Greenwich Market for three years, said: "The tunnel is a bit of a lifeline for us.
"When the DLR through Cutty Sark station is suspended, it's noticeable how much trade falls.
"It's going to be disastrous because we've got a lot of customers who live on the other side of the river. I'd say it's about 20 per cent of our trade.
"If it was closed for a long time, I would probably have to shut up shop for good.
"People get on the DLR every day to get to their boring jobs and offices. They don't want to do that on the weekends as well.
"If the tunnel was closed, I don't think they would just make the same journey on the DLR instead."
Greenwich is fed with visitors by the Thames Clipper service to Greenwich Pier and the Cutty Sark DLR station. But the foot tunnel is a key source of cyclists and summer walkers.
Traders estimate around 600 bikes use Greenwich's tunnel on a good day, while the council claims the Woolwich and Grenwich routes are travelled by 1.5million people a year in total.
It argues the tunnels are "ancient and in need of repair", and received £11.5milllion from the Government's Community Infrastructure Fund in January. This will go towards structural repairs, new lighting, drainage, leak sealing, CCTV, new lifts and refurbished stairways.
Journalist Andrew Gilligan suggested on a blog that this work could close the Greenwich tunnel for 18 months, sparking frantic calls to the local authority.
A council spokesman said: "I had a lot of calls over that.
"I don't know where that came from. No one in the council suggested 18 months because they haven't worked it out yet."
What they have worked out is that repairs must be completed by March 2011. In a meeting with Greenwich Cyclists on May 12, deputy leader and transport lead member Peter Brooks argued that while it "would like to keep the closures to a minimum", it would want to stretch its money as far as possible.
He said: "If we chose contract work for nights, it may not be of value. We need to do things more economically.
"Whilst it is closed there will be major disruptions, but what you will get out of it will be valuable."
The DLR is going through its own period of disruption due to its three-car expansion, so will the council swallow a long-term closure or opt for several short ones?
A spokesman said: "We really don't know yet.
"The council is talking informally to people with an interest in the tunnel, such as traders and cyclists, and we're in the process of appointing a contractor.
"We'll put our heads together, and some time in the autumn we're going to put out a proposal on how work will be done and how we'll minimise disruption. We're expecting the work itself will start by the beginning of 2010.
"There will need to be some period of closure but we haven't got to the stage of what it will be yet."
Some cyclists are not impressed. Balant Tusor uses the tunnel up to four times a day to visit friends in North London and travel to work in Hackney from his Nunhead home.
He said: "It would make my journey an hour or forty minutes longer. I will have to cycle maybe another two miles to Tower Bridge, as I don't want to use the Rotherhithe tunnel because there are a lot of cars and it's dirty.
"A lot of the time I work late in the evenings. I don't want to cycle for another half hour to get home."
Deptford resident Helena Platt is wary of the closure, but understands the motives behind it.
She said: "It's obviously a nuisance while it's being done but it's a good thing in itself.
"There was a time when it was the only route across, but now of course you have the DLR.
"When the lifts are broken, it's a nightmare for the breathless. But I didn't really think about the implications of actually closing. I thought it would just keep going."
Local resident Coral Gayle-Reveault, assistant manager of eco-friendly children's store Green Baby on Greenwich Church Street, was also surprised.
She said: "This is the first I've heard about it closing. I know a lot of mothers who like to walk through the tunnel on nice days and come to Greenwich.
"When the Cutty Sark went up in flames, our trade went down for a bit because people weren't walking by.
"My kids love using the foot tunnel. There's a little cafe on the other side and you can walk across and look back at Greenwich. Even in bad weather it's nice."
That cafe is managed by Lucie Joseph, who is none too pleased with the prospect of tunnel closures.
Her problems have been compounded by Tower Hamlets Council's decision to shut down the only public toilet in the area in April last year. The move apparently saved £50,000 a year, £2,000 of which was wasted when the light was left on for 11 months.
The Island Gardens Cafe manager said: "I have so many people coming to me every day asking where the toilet is, from kids, to old people and pregnant women. One man went behind a bush and the police spotted him and arrested him.
"Are they going to compensate us for closing the tunnel now?
"People come from all over the world in coaches during the summer, just for the experience of going through the tunnel. If they close it, what are they going to come for? A cup of tea and my jerk chicken?
"You're going to lose all that trade."