Divisions deep in London's river crossings debate

By Rob Virtue on January 17, 2013 5:21 PM |

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If anyone needed evidence of the difficult job that is finding a solution to east London's congestion crisis they only had to attend City Hall last week.

Most came away from the transport debate - which included submissions from experts, assembly members and the public - more confused than when they arrived.

It gives a clue as to why the last crossing east of Tower Bridge and west of Dartford arrived in 1967 with the opening of the Blackwall Tunnel's second bore.

So while west London has it's pick of crossings those to the east - historically hindered by busy docks - have often faced gridlock in their attempts to squeeze across the Thames.

Transport for London's preferred option of a tunnel from the Greenwich Peninsula to the Royal Docks at Silvertown to offer much-needed relief for Blackwall came in for stern criticism from affected residents who predicted more pollution and congestion around their homes.

As David Quarmby of drivers' group the RAC put it: "The Blackwall Tunnel is the second most congested road in Britain. Silvertown Tunnel is a good solution but needs better dispersal to the north."

Those living around Greenwich and the A2 leading to the borough were critical on the same grounds, while some said the only way to stop river crossers driving into town was to toll the Blackwall Tunnel and make the Dartford Crossing free.

A more agreeable option was what is seen as TfL's back up plan - a bridge at Gallions Reach.

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TfL's proposal is for a ferry service there before looking into the possibility of a bridge if there is demand.

But, despite Greenwich, Newham and Tower Hamlets backing that scheme over its regeneration potential for both sides of the river, councillor Linda Bailey from neighbouring Bexley said a fixed link would cause too much pollution for residents.

"We support the Mayor's proposals in principle and believe the new ferry would increase regeneration without the unacceptable local impacts of a bridge," she said.

The options:

Tunnel at Silvertown -

Pros - Could relieve pressure on the Blackwall Tunnel. Would cater for overheight vehicles unable to get through Blackwall.

Cons - Much work would need to be done on roads to prevent a bottleneck of traffic in Greenwich as more traffic would be brought to the area. Local petitions have already started up against the plans.

Bridge at Gallions Reach -

Pros - Would take traffic away from congested areas in central Greenwich and Tower Hamlets. Has support from Newham, Greenwich and Tower Hamlets councils.

Cons - Greenwich's neighbouring council, Bexley, opposes on grounds of it bringing more pollution to the area. Not a preferred option on the TfL report, although not ruled out

Ferry at Gallions Reach -

Pros - Would replace the creaking Woolwich Ferry. Bexley Council back it. It would also give TfL more time to gauge whether a bridge should be built here.

Cons - Would still suffer from some Woolwich Ferry problems such as poor capacity and being at the mercy of the weather. Supporters of the bridge say the £100 million ferry cost would be better spent on the fixed crossing.

TfL's public consultation on its latest river crossings proposal runs until February 1. See it here