DLR train
There have been demands for the DLR to run to Thamesmead for as long as the system has been open (Photo John Ray via Creative Commons)

Plans to extend the Docklands Light Railway to Thamesmead have been cast into doubt by Transport for London’s financial crisis, with the authority’s finance chiefs warning that it may not be able to afford to build the £800 million transport link.

TfL’s board will be told next week that it cannot afford to build all four major projects it has planned – including the DLR link and the £5 billion Bakerloo Line extension to Lewisham.

Crossrail 2, linking north east and south west London at a cost of £23 billion, and the £500,000 West London Orbital rail link, planned as part of the Old Oak Common regeneration scheme, are the other two projects put in doubt.

However, the same documents show TfL is planning to push ahead with plans to build Cycleway 4 to Deptford Creek Bridge this summer, along with a new cycle route from Greenwich to Woolwich, and another route on the A21 from Lewisham to Catford.

There have been calls to extend the DLR to Thamesmead since the original system opened 33 years ago, following the failure of 1970s plans to extend the London Underground to the new town.

In 2016 London mayor Sadiq Khan announced plans were to be “accelerated” – along with those for a cycle bridge between Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf – in an announcement timed to coincide with the start of the Silvertown Tunnel planning hearings.

Thamesmead DLR extension
A map shown to Greenwich councillors in February 2019 of a possible DLR route to Thamesmead as well as potential Overground routes

However, few plans have made it into the public domain since then. Spiralling costs saw the cycle bridge dropped last year and now the coronavirus pandemic could do for the DLR to Thamesmead.

TfL relies on fare income after the scrapping of its government grant under the mayoralty of Boris Johnson, now prime minister, while George Osborne, now editor-in-chief of the Evening Standard, was chancellor. The collapse in travel because of the crisis has blown a £789 million hole in its finances, and it has had to rely on a government bailout, giving the Westminster government a key role in deciding what the devolved body spends money on.

Two government representatives – Johnson’s transport adviser Andrew Gilligan and senior civil servant Clare Moriarty – will attend next Wednesday’s board meeting as a condition of the bailout.

However, the Thamesmead link could have a better case than the other projects, with papers for next Wednesday’s meeting stating that it could generate 20,000 homes at a cost of £800 million. “This scheme would unlock growth and improve cross river connectivity in relatively deprived areas. We are working with the developers [Peabody] on taking forward a feasibility study, including around funding options for the scheme,” board members will be told.

Doubt has already been cast over the Bakerloo line to Lewisham, which would generate 35,000 homes but would cost six times more. “This scheme would unlock one of the poorest connected areas in inner London by Tube. Significant funding support would be required to meet the capital costs of the scheme and our immediate priority is to safeguard the route,” the report says.

Of all four projects, the report says: “We need to be realistic in discussions with Government about what will be affordable over the next decade and we cannot currently afford to progress them all.”

Cycle lane plans

TfL’s list of “streetspace” projects (from here)

In the short term, TfL is ploughing on with plans to expand protected cycle lanes to help people get to work and school while public transport remains disrupted.

While both Greenwich and Lewisham councils received far less than they hoped for to carry out their own schemes, TfL has proposals of its own that will affect the two boroughs.

Old Royal Naval College
A Greenwich Council map has shown the Greenwich-Woolwich cycle route running through the Old Royal Naval College

Work is due to take place between now and September on:

  • Cycleway 4 on Evelyn Street and Creek Road, Deptford, and additionally along Tooley Street to London Bridge
  • “Cycle Future Route 11” from Greenwich to Woolwich. A map issued by Greenwich Council earlier this week shows this running in two phases, firstly via the Old Royal Naval College, Old Woolwich Road and the A206 to Charlton Church Lane, and then a second phase on to Woolwich. It is not clear what is planned for the Angerstein roundabout under this proposal.
  • A cycle route along the A21 from Lewisham to Catford. A route all the way to the borough border at Bromley had originally been planned, now “social distancing measures” are planned for Bromley Road instead.

The change to Cycleway 4 and the confirmation of the route from Greenwich to Woolwich would imply that there will be a cycle route all the way from London Bridge to Woolwich – as originally planned in the mid-2010s. However, the area around the Rotherhithe one-way system is being planned separately by Southwark Council and it is not clear whether the route to Woolwich will be built all in one go.

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