The River Thames is a key resident of London. What would we do without it? Well actually, we’d be able to get between north and south London with greater ease. Crossing the river is a daily necessity for plenty of Londoners, and building more crossings makes London a better connected city.
In 2015, back when Boris Johnson was Mayor of London — no, it wasn’t all a fever dream — he announced plans for 13 river crossings. We decided to take a look at where those 13 are today (May 2019). Come with us on a journey along the Thames, from west to east, as we look at each crossing’s progress, and try to paint an accurate picture of how easy getting across the river will be for future Londoners.
Diamond Jubilee Bridge
Hoping to span between Imperial Wharf and Chelsea Harbour, the Diamond Jubilee Bridge has stalled in recent years. That’s thanks to an £18 million funding gap — roughly half the cost of the entire bridge. There’s hopes that selling the naming rights to the bridge might cover some of that gap. That’s an interesting move for an unbuilt bridge that already has such a prominent name, which commemorates where the Queen boarded for her Diamond Jubilee river pageant.
If it is built, this pedestrian and cycle bridge would slot in nicely alongside Battersea Railway Bridge. Construction has technically begun, but it’s just preparatory work on the embankment that occurred in 2016, with nothing since.
Apparently if a sponsor is found by the end of summer 2019, Londoners could be walking and cycling atop the structure by 2021. If not, it might take another ten years (that’s code for ‘it probably won’t happen’ in our book).
There hasn’t been much movement on Crossrail 2 in the past few years. The Department for Transport wants the project to cut costs, a feeling that’s likely to have been emboldened by the recent delays and spiralling costs of Crossrail 1.
If it is built — and that’s still a big if and quite a way away — it will cross under the river just west of Battersea Bridge. The tunnel under the river will lie between Clapham Junction Station and King’s Road Station — if the residents don’t keep moaning about the area being better connected.
Nine Elms to Pimlico Bridge
Another pedestrian and cycle bridge — these are all the rage nowadays — this one will connect all those shiny new developments in Nine Elms, with Pimlico on the north side of the river. Not that the people of Pimlico want this bridge — the phrase ‘vanity project‘ has been tossed around on their end.
The bridge is progressing nicely, as investors have made sure the project is well funded. A preferred location out of a possible three has been picked, the one closest to the reimagined Battersea Power Station and soon to open Northern line station of the same name. It’s progressing nicely at the moment and we’re probably five years away from this bridge opening.
The Garden Bridge
Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf Bridge
Now we zoom past central London which is replete with crossings, and head east, where there is a total dearth. Yet another pedestrian and cycle bridge is planned — we told you they’re in vogue — this time linking Canary Wharf and Rotherhithe.
One of the reasons for the current paucity of crossings further east than Tower Bridge is a logistical one. Big ships still pass through that part of the river, and bridges complicate that. The solution in the case of this bridge? Just do what we did over a hundred years ago — build a drawbridge.
Like so many others on this list, this bridge is coming up against some funding issues. An original price of £88 million looks to have vastly underestimated the enormity of the scheme, which is now being costed at closer to £300 million. However, as it’s in east London where river crossings are more in demand, Sadiq Khan is much more committed to this bridge than its west London contemporaries.
There are some who claim that this isn’t the crossing east London needs, and wouldn’t get enough use to justify the cost. TfL has already spent £11.6 million on the bridge, and therefore will be hoping this goes ahead to ensure there aren’t comparisons to the Garden Bridge.
Canary Wharf to North Greenwich Ferry
A ferry is the old school way of crossing a river. It’s what ancient Londoners did back when there was only one bridge of note in London (the eponymous one). But just because we’ve got better at building bridges and tunnels, doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for ferries in modern London. Just look at Woolwich’s.
Except it looks like there isn’t a place for the mooted Canary Wharf to North Greenwich ferry in modern London. It hasn’t been officially killed but there hasn’t been any talk of this proposed crossing for a couple of years. Don’t worry people of North Greenwich. You’ve still got the cable car!
As mentioned earlier, bridges in east London are an issue. That’s why there’s a larger appetite for tunnels and ferries at this end of the river. This project connecting Greenwich to Silvertown falls under the former, and is the rare scheme that looks to be progressing, rather than stalling. It has been delayed five months, pushing the opening date from 2023 to 2024. But compared to the every other intended crossing, that sort of timeframe is peanuts.
That will come as a bitter disappointment to the vocal No To Silvertown Tunnel campaign, which believes that instead of reducing congestion around the Blackwall Tunnel as it’s supposed to, this will only bring pollution and gridlock to London. Protests against the tunnel have been ramping up and a ‘Die-In’ was held in City Hall.
Charlton and the Royal Docks
This was the vaguest of the 13 in the original plan, a suggestion of either another pedestrian and cycling bridge, or a ferry to connect Charlton and the Royal Docks. Unsurprisingly for something so poorly thought out, there’s been next to no talk of it since.
Crossrail’s failure to launch on time is well documented. Because of this delay, the eastern part of the river is just as painful as ever for Londoners to cross. Crossrail now looks set to open between October 2020 and March 2021, but its track record doesn’t make us confident of those dates. Barring a calamity — or should that be a further calamity? — this should be the first crossing on this list to open.
Gallions Reach Crossing
By our counting, this is the sixth serious attempt to build a river crossing at Gallions Reach. Plenty of past London authorities tried to build road bridges across the river here — trying to link up the North and South Circulars — but they all failed. This new attempt is trying again with one serious difference. No cars.
Instead it’s the beloved Docklands Light Railway that would come over the bridge and into Thamesmead. There’s a multitude of routes the dinky trains could take from there, and were this project to go ahead, up to four new DLR stations could be built. Peabody, which is bringing 11,500 new homes to Thamesmead, is incredibly keen on this project, as is the local council. Even though work is yet to start, this is still moving in the right direction.
Barking Riverside Overground
TfL is cash strapped and it’s no secret. Therefore it’s highly unlikely it will pay for both an extension to the DLR and the Overground that will head to the same place. This is an either/or situation. With the developer Peabody in Thamesmead favouring the DLR, we suspect that’s the crossing that will get built, especially as it’s contributing cash to it. Even if this one offers better connections.
Belvedere to Rainham
In 2016 TfL held a consultation for road-based river crossings at Gallions Reach and Rainham, and came back boastful of their support, saying 88% of people were behind the projects. However the crossings were branded as inadequate by campaign groups, and since then, talk of both schemes has died down significantly. Therefore, it’s almost certainly not happening.
Lower Thames Crossing
Yes, we know. The Lower Thames Crossing is outside London. But this is ‘Britain’s biggest road project since the M25‘ and its effects will be felt by many in the capital. The bridge aims to take pressure off the over-capacity Dartford Crossing.
In total, the project will cost around £6 billion and hopes to open in 2027 if all goes according to plan — but this is an infrastructure project in (well, near) London, so that’s unlikely. It’s faced vociferous protests from residents along the route and we met a few of them in North Ockendon — the only part of London outside the M25 — who think their area is about to be destroyed. However, thus far their protests have achieved little.