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BIG DEBATE: Should we build a new Thames river crossing in east London?

13:22 09 April 2014

Thames at Galleons Reach... no river crossing

Thames at Galleons Reach... no river crossing

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Calls are growing for a new Thames river crossing east of Tower Bridge. The nearest road link for Newham is the busy A12 Blackwall Tunnel. Newham’s Labour Mayor is pressing for a bridge across Galleons Reach at Beckton or tunnel at Silvertown which he says would create 18,000 jobs. But London Assembly’s Green Party fears it would bring more traffic and pollution to an area where the air already exceeds EU health limits.

"It’s time Boris Johnson listened to the support for a crossing that’s vital for jobs and homes"

Sir Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham

Sir Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham, is adamant about the need for a new bridge:

Newham represents one of the biggest opportunities for growth in London and we need to do all that we can to make the right connections and realise the potential for residents and local businesses.

We have seen multi-million pound investments in the Royal Docks in the south of Newham from University of East London, ExCel London and the Siemens Crystal.

New residential areas are forming and new businesses are moving into east London such as ABP, the Chinese developer—our infrastructure must keep up.

"It’s reckless for Sir Robin Wales to call for new roads in this pollution hotspot"

Darren Johnson, London Assembly Green member

As a local authority working with our partners, Newham achieved a great deal so far. We have lobbied for and secured improved transport links, including the DLR, Jubilee Line, High Speed Rail and Crossrail.

But the single biggest thing the area now lacks is the connectivity brought by river crossings.

Heading west from Tower Bridge to the M25, there are 25 bridges crossing the Thames.

Heading east from Tower Bridge to Dartford, there are just two—the Blackwall and Rotherhithe tunnels. A bridge is vitally needed to ease congestion and help bring regeneration.

Sir Robin WalesSir Robin Wales

For too long, the river has been a barrier, separating east London from south-east London. A bridge connecting Newham and Greenwich would help unlock 9,000 to 18,000 additional jobs, and £55m in output each year from the existing business base alone.

Residents and employers are behind the idea of a bridge. A recent Transport for London consultation found that a much greater proportion of respondents, 71 per cent, supported a fixed crossing, compared with just 52 per cent who want a ferry.

It’s time the Mayor of London listened to the overwhelming support for a fixed crossing that is vital to accommodate the large increases in jobs, homes and communities forecasted in his London Plan. It is the only long-term viable solution to ease traffic congestion, cut journey times and support growth.

The simplistic argument that a bridge would create more traffic and pollution ignores the daily inconvenience for motorists forced to sit in long queues and the pollution and inconvenience that causes people.

Darren JohnsonDarren Johnson

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But Darren Johnson, Green Party London Assembly member, argues against the need for a new Thames river crossing which he claims will increase traffic pollution:

There is no evidence to demonstrate that major new roads lead to prosperity in the community.

What we do know, however, is that major new roads generate more traffic and that a new river crossing over the Thames at Beckton or Silvertown will be used by thousands of cars every day. This increased traffic will bring even more pollution to east London and to south-east London. Families on both sides of the river, in Newham and Greenwich, will be forced to breathe air ever-thicker with lethal pollutants.

We also know that East London already suffers from some of the dirtiest, most dangerous air in the metropolis. EU legal limits for nitrogen dioxide pollution continue to be breached and the human toll is terrible—4,267 Londoners died prematurely in 2008 as a result of their exposure to polluted air.

It is nothing short of reckless for Newham’s Mayor Sir Robin Wales to be calling for new roads in this air pollution hotspot.

There is a reason why the two previous proposed river crossing schemes in east London ended up being torpedoed. The public simply do not believe that their lives will be improved once a motorway is running through their neighbourhood.

Neither the proposed Silvertown tunnel nor a Galleons Reach road bridge could be used by pedestrians and cyclists. The Mayor should be throwing his weight behind public transport options which everyone can use.

London’s recent smog episode whith Met Office pollution warnings hitting maximum level for some districts should mean that we are under no illusions about the seriousness of our bad air problem. New major highways will compound the problem hugely and Londoners will pay the price.

We’ve stopped these plans before, and we will stop them again. Everyone’s voice across east London counts.

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