Green light for Gallions Reach Bridge, Red for the Woolwich Free Ferry

View towards Gallions Reach from Plum Lane

View towards Gallions Reach from Plum Lane

Transport for London are continuing with their plans to build a new bridge at Gallions Reach, but it’s the beginning of the end for the Woolwich Free Ferry following the results of the consultation into new river crossings east of the Blackwall Tunnel. TfL’s e-mail about the results said:

The majority of feedback supported the introduction of new fixed link crossings, rather than enhancement of existing or introduction of new ferry crossings. Having considered all of the issues raised in the consultation, we will now continue to develop the concepts of new bridges at Gallions Reach and Belvedere, and we will also consider whether tunnels would be more suitable by releasing greater land for development than would be possible with a bridge.

and:

We will put our consideration of proposals for a new ferry at Woolwich and a ferry at Gallions Reach on hold, pending the outcome of this work.

65% of respondents to the consultation “strongly supported” the Gallions Reach bridge option and a further 15% “supported” it (80% total support), as you can see in TfL’s summary of the results below. In comparison the figures for improving the Woolwich Free Ferry were 19% and 18% respectively (37% total support). Opinion has hardened in favour of a Gallions Reach bridge and against the Free Ferry since the previous consultation in 2013: a Gallions bridge or tunnel  had the support of 71% and the Free Ferry 51% in that consultation.

The Consultation Report gives all the results and presents a selection of the comments made by the public about each of the options. Strangely it manages to find no comments in favour of the Woolwich Ferry option and a page and a half against. You would almost think that TfL were trying to present a particular point of view rather than impartially report on the results.

In the image at the top the new Gallions Reach bridge would cross the river roughly in the centre of the photo, this side of the Barking Creek tidal barrier – the high structure just to the right of centre,  on the river. The bridge would be higher than the Barking barrier.

Summary of support for different options from TfL Consultation Report

Summary of support for different options from TfL Consultation Report

The proposal for a new tunnel at Silvertown was not included in this consultation, in fact it is assumed in all the supporting documents that the Silvertown Tunnel will have been built by the time any of the consultation options are constructed. Additional traffic capacity at Silvertown is the main plank of TfL’s defence against the charge that the road infrastructure south of the river is inadequate for the expected traffic going to the new crossing at Gallions Reach.

As well as the Consultation Report, TfL have published a Response to the Issues Raised document which gives TfL’s opinion on specific objections raised about the different crossing options. It has sections on concerns about increased traffic and congestion, and about the threat to Oxleas Wood.

They have two responses on traffic increase and congestion: Paraphrasing, firstly they say they warned us that there would be more traffic on some roads, but they don’t know which roads will be affected. Part of their work in the next stage will be to work out what  impact a Gallions Reach Bridge will have on traffic flow and what they can do about it. The second response is that they think most non-local traffic will use the tunnels at Blackwall and Silvertown and not the new bridge because the tunnels have better links on the other side of the river.

Doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence that they’ve thought this through, and there is an implicit assumption that the crossing will go ahead and any problems will be “mitigated”: even if the future work shows that Plumstead will be gridlocked with traffic that will not stop the crossing’s construction. An almost identical response is given to concerns about the environmental impact: we’ll do some more work to understand the impact and how it can be “mitigated”.

TfL’s response on concerns about the threat to Oxleas Wood points out the differences between the current proposals and earlier schemes such as the East London River Crossing. In particular they say:

It is not the intent that the new crossings will provide a new strategic route for traffic with no local origin or destination, and it is not intended to carry traffic between the A2 and the North Circular, a journey which would remain more convenient via the Blackwall tunnel.

What does “local” mean in this context? TfL don’t say.

The response also mentions that the Gallions Reach Bridge would be one of three new crossings, with the Silvertown Tunnel and Belvedere Bridge, so the traffic load would be spread, and it asserts that tolling the crossings will allow TfL to manage how much traffic uses them.

Some of the details given about the new bridge are interesting. It will have two lanes of traffic, but one will be reserved for public transport and HGVs. There will be provision for pedestrians and cyclists to use the bridge, and they are considering whether it should carry the DLR over the river to Thamesmead and Abbey Wood.

As well as traffic and environmental impact assessments, TfL’s next steps include considering “whether we might need to take additional traffic management or other mitigation steps to ensure the new crossings operate successfully and sustainably” and “how we can make best advantage of the opportunities that new river crossings would give us to improve cross-river links for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport passengers”. They don’t say when the next stage will be complete.

Whatever emerges from the next steps the future doesn’t look good for the Woolwich Free Ferry.

Woolwich Free Ferry and tall ship

Woolwich Free Ferry and tall ship