Critics condemn TfL's new ferry proposal

By Rob Virtue on November 26, 2012 11:17 AM |

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East London: home to Canary Wharf and Tech City. Land of forward-thinkers and innovators.

So it has left politicians and businesses perplexed that Transport for London's solution to a lack of river crossings is to relocate the Woolwich Ferry two miles downstream and bring in a toll.

It's a far cry from the Thames Gateway Bridge proposals scrapped by Mayor Boris Johnson in 2008 and the latest suggestion - put forward in last month's river crossing consultation - has drawn criticism from a range of parties.

Greenwich MP Nick Raynsford, pictured, called it "19th century technology when we need a 21st century solution".

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He said: "The proposal for a ferry to Gallions Reach is foolish and going to be inadequate to keep up with long-term demands.

"It should be a fixed link. TfL said these crossings must be tolled - that will pay for a bridge or tunnel. There is no reason to go for a ferry."

TfL's second consultation into the issue made two proposals - for a Silvertown Tunnel and for a ferry between Gallions Reach and Thamesmead.

The consultation paper suggests the tunnel - which will link Newham with the Greenwich Peninsula - would make a fixed link at Gallions Reach unnecessary.

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It says a ferry to Thamesmead is the preferred option, replacing the current service and reducing the heavy traffic in Woolwich.

TfL insisted a fixed crossing was not being ruled out but a quick solution was priority.

It said the Woolwich Ferry was deteriorating and the earliest a bridge or tunnel could be completed would be 2021. The ferry could be set in place by 2017.

But critics, including Newham and Greenwich councils, as well as London Assembly member John Biggs, say plans for a permanent solution must be put in motion now and are concerned it is not a key proposal in the consultation.

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"We need a plan for a fixed link and have to keep pushing that," said Labour's Mr Biggs, who represents City and East at the Assembly. "The ferry is a stop-gap where the capacity is dictated by the amount of users who can get on.

"The average driver, looking at a map and seeing a ferry, would just choose another route. We want to regenerate east London and we need a fixed link to facilitate that."

In the first TfL consultation on river crossings, held earlier this year, Labour-run Newham and Greenwich councils insisted a fixed link was the only answer.

Greenwich has stepped back - promising to assess the new proposals before making a decision but Newham is unmoved by the ferry idea.

And it seems the uproar is not just a tool for the Labour Party to bash Conservative Mayor Johnson's transport group.

Key firms Excel and London City Airport are also planning to recommend in the consultation the only way forward is for a tunnel or bridge to Gallions Reach.

Capacity is not the only reason. The airport points to the unreliable nature of a ferry, as seen with the regular closure of the current Woolwich service.

A spokeswoman for London City said: "We would support a permanent and constant access point that is the least vulnerable to changing factors and that people are able to travel across without restrictions or additional fares."

The consultation will close on February 1, and the public can offer views at tfl.gov.uk/rivercrossings

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