After years of lobbying for more fixed river crossings east of Tower Bridge, Sadiq Khan’s announcement yesterday that the Silvertown tunnel, along with a DLR extension from Gallions Reach towards Thamesmead and a cycle bridge between Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf, will get the go-ahead is hugely welcome news for London.
But he must not stop there. These are just the first steps in a journey in which we need to make giant leaps.
It is no secret that London is growing. On current trends, the city’s population will reach 10m by 2030, up from 8.6m today. That will make the Greater London area a megacity. The majority of this growth is taking place in the east of the capital. However, despite almost half of London’s population living east of Tower Bridge, this area is currently served by just two fixed river crossings – compared to 22 crossings to the west.
If that growth is to be accommodated, London needs the transport infrastructure to match it. The capital’s businesses are well aware of the employee work time that is lost when the Rotherhithe and Blackwall tunnels are closed. The lack of alternative routes regularly causes long traffic diversions and travel delays, with significant costs for firms. Unfortunately, Khan’s plans are not enough of an answer.
The mayor’s commitment to the Silvertown tunnel will make a sizeable contribution towards tackling these problems. But TfL’s original proposals for new river crossings focused on tackling the issue at hand – congestion. Now the focus has shifted markedly to give more weight to public transport and greener issues.
Of course a balance needs to be struck and we are aware of the need to be mindful of pollution. But even if we wake up tomorrow morning and all our vehicles were electric, there would still be congestion. There is a technological solution to many elements of pollution such as electrification and lower emission vehicles, but this doesn’t apply as readily to congestion.
We also welcome the mayor’s commitment yesterday to improved public transport links across the river, and better use of the river. Khan says he will use the Thames for the transportation of construction materials and that’s fantastic. A “cycle bus” also sounds intriguing.
But, again, this is not likely to be sufficient. Businesses and residents rely on efficient freight logistics to meet the demands of a modern 24/7 city. Our restaurants, offices, shops, and tourist attractions could not operate without reliable access to the goods their customers want. Most of this comes by road. New homes and offices cannot be built without the delivery of construction materials. As the population of East London and its hinterland increases over the next decade and the economy grows, traffic levels will also rise, and with it the demand for crossing points across the river.
These demands cannot be achieved without fixed crossings for road traffic. As TfL itself has spelt out, vital delivery and servicing trips cannot be undertaken by public transport or entirely on the River Thames. The short of it is that East and South East London need more fixed road crossings to support economic regeneration – delivering the homes, jobs and business opportunities our city needs.
That is why proposals for road crossings at Gallions Reach and Belvedere should be front and centre of the mayor’s package of new river crossings to the East, and must not be kicked into the long grass.