Old faithful returns

UK engineering is littered with jobs that have been repeatedly proposed for years but are never going to happen, CrossRail Glasgow for instance has been hawked about since at least the 1970s. Quite simply it is as bad an idea now as it was then, if for no other reason than it involves opening a new station in the Gorbals. One of the few benefits of the Beeching Axe was that it cut the Gorbals off the rail network, why on earth would you want to re-connect it? Fortunately common sense prevailed and the scheme didn’t make the recent Scottish infrastructure 20 year plan. And for those wondering why Scotland has a 20 year plan, it is because Alex Salmond is four times more communistical than Stalin. Fact.

Returning to the subject today the grandfather of all not-going-to-happen-but-keeps-being-announced schemes once more rose from it’s coffin; The Thames Gateway Bridge (or East London River Crossing or Gallions Reach Bridge or any one of it’s many names).

The earliest mention appears to be way back in 1903 when William Rees Jeffreys, “The man who numbered Britain’s roads”, made one of the first recorded denouncements of how awful London’s roads are;

Their encircling boulevards are the pride of many a continental city, and it is a crowning disgrace that, notwithstanding the absence of any great engineering difficulties, no road exists encircling the metropolis.

This is important to bear in mind next time someone blames government x for the awful state of the country’s roads, they have always been a ‘crowning disgrace’ and probably always will be. (Incidentally that is a phrase I intend to work into as many conversations as possible from now on.) To remedy their awfulness he proposed the following scheme;

Rees Jeffreys' Ring Roads, fresh from the wonderful chaps at CBRD. Note the crossing at Woolwich, the first sighting of the Thames Gateway Bridge.

Sadly the quite grand sounding Royal Commission on London Traffic ignored his ideas (not necessarily a totally bad thing, he did want the ring road to contain a pedestrian lane and one for traction engines) and instead proposed some madness about a grid of 140ft wide (40m+) ‘main avenues’ bisecting the city. As you may have noticed if you’ve been to London, that didn’t happen either. However they did achieve the setting up of the London Transport Board which first met a mere two decades later in 1924 and then promptly did very little.

The crossing, and Rees Jefferys’ ideas, lived on and emerged in the 1937 Highway Development Survey (written by, amongst others,the architect Sir Edwin Lutyens who had just finished designing Dehli. This was the start of the long British tradition of ensuring people with no practical skills or experience of roads were instrumental in transport policy.) Sadly a rather expensive effort at stopping Germany ruling Europe intervened and so the scheme disappeared for a few years, eventually surfacing in the 1944 Greater London Plan as ‘Ring C‘. Understandably the post-war reconstruction of London was focused on just getting housing rebuilt as fast as possible and it was only belatedly realised that it might have been a good idea to leave some space for roads and transport links, by which point everything had been rebuilt. Fortunately there wasn’t any money left (that had mostly been spent on fighting a war with Attlee spending the little left over on such wise investments as British Coal and British Railways) so it was somewhat academic.

By the time there was some money knocking about in the 1960s there wasn’t any space left in London and planning looked like being a nightmare, fortunately the government had a plan; The Greater London Council. Nasty transport rumour has it that the entire point of the GLC was to get a new road network built in London (the alternative explanation is that it was a political plot to balance out Labour dominated inner London with Tory strongholds in outer London, certainly no-one believes it was actually a particularly good idea on it’s own merits). In any event the GLC churned out masses of road schemes, including the barking mad Ringway 1 which would have required re-homing 35,000+ people to build a £1 billion ‘motorway box’ around most of central London. And that’s £1 billion in 1969 pounds, push it through a share of GPD converter and you end up with something like £30 billion in today’s money, for comparison that is two CrossRails or enough to take High Speed rail all the way from London to Glasgow AND link up every major city on both sides of the Pennines. So really very pricey for essentially one orbital roadway, especially as they wanted to build four of the buggers.

For our purposes however it is Ringway 2 which is of most import it contains the Thamesmead Tunnel, a twin bore beauty crossing the Thames slap bang on the site of the Thames Gateway Bridge. Interestingly it was very vaguely referred to as the East London River Crossing as the planners wanted to retain the bridge option, just in case.

The Ringways died a death due to being mind-boggling expensive and requiring far too much demotion and re-homing. Ringway 1 was just outright killed, parts of the northern half of 2 happened under a different name (a string of upgrades to the North Circular) but the southern half just died while Ringways 3 and 4 were badly nailed together to form the M25. On which note always remember the M25 was a bodged solution that could only hope to provide a 1/4 of what 1960s planners thought would be needed for 1980s level traffic, which they had woefully under-estimated to start with. The wonder isn’t that the M25 is so bad, it’s that it works at all.

From the wreckage of the Ringways the East London River Crossing emerged and even got past two planning inquiries in the late 1970s and early 1990s, sadly each time emerging into the teeth of a recession and so being delayed till the money was available, by which time the planing had lapsed and the scheme had to be redesigned.

More recently the King of the Newts, former Mayor Ken Livingston, lost the last planning inquiry in 2007 and his successor Boris “Shagger” Johnson decided not to appeal that decision as there was a small £300 million shortfall in the £500 million budget. The most recent twist was a cunning name change to ‘Galleons Reach Bridge’ as Boris tried to use the £200 million in PFI Credits the last government had put up as a pre-election bribe to help Ken win the election investment in East London. The smart money is saying the consultants have reached the ‘correct’ conclusion that a new lower-capacity crossing can be nailed together for about £200 million, this should meet the planning objection that a high capacity crossing would bugger the local road network and solve the funding problem.

Naturally though there are a few problems; 1. The greens will be out in force to stop the scheme, if only because it’s a road. 2. If the capacity is low enough not to disrupt local traffic there’s no point building it whereas if it can carry a useful amount of traffic then it will disrupt the local area. 3. The PFI credits were only ever an election bribe (allegedly) so will the new government actually honour them. 4. Are they even applicable as sole finance? They were designed as a partial funding contribution with TfL paying most of the cost, BoJo is planning to use only PFI credits with no actual contribution from London. Good for London, bad for everyone else. Is that even an option in the age of austerity when were all in in together (*insert hypocritical and slightly sickening government slogan here*)

Taking it all together I can confidently predict the crossing wont happen anytime soon, a new vehicle ferry may emerge somewhere near Galleons Reach as they are dirt cheap (relatively speaking) but there will be no fixed link crossing on the Thames Gateway Bridge site. And thus concludes today’s lesson and prediction.

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2 Responses to “Old faithful returns”

  1. I live in spitting distance of the proposed bridge, and they are felling trees, so I’m not sure what they are planning but when I aked the land owners I was told that the bridge is currently on hold and they are making a park there (knocking down trees to put more trees up??)

  2. […] go back. Except when your right Those of you with nothing better to remember may recall this post from last September discussing the East London River Crossing (or one of it’s many aliases). […]

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