Gallions reach bridge
A 2015 TfL design for what a Gallions Reach bridge would look like

Bexley Council has backed a call to bring forward new Thames road crossings at Gallions Reach and Belvedere, four years after the plans were dropped by London’s Labour mayor Sadiq Khan.

A road crossing at Gallions Reach, between Thamesmead and Beckton, has been talked about in one form or another for decades; and Khan’s Conservative predecessor Boris Johnson held consultations on both it and a crossing between Belvedere and the A13 at Rainham in 2014 and 2015.

The two projects disappeared from Khan’s transport plans after he was elected in May 2016, when he concentrated on the Silvertown Tunnel with proposals for a DLR route to Thamesmead, and a Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf foot and cycle crossing which has also since been dropped.

A motion to revive the scheme was put forward by Tory councillor Gareth Bacon, who is also MP for Orpington and London Assembly member for Bexley and Bromley, and was absent from the meeting.

Moving it on his behalf, Crook Log councillor Linda Bailey said that before 2016, Bexley “did a lot of work with Transport for London on potential river crossings in the borough”. (watch video)

Traffic impact map
A TfL map of the once-planned bridges, and their impact on traffic

She said work with residents and businesses showed strong support for new crossings – with a two-lane each way bridge a popular suggestion – which was fed into the borough’s future growth strategy.

Bailey said the crossings would “greatly benefit growth in Bexley” – claiming they would help housing development and ease traffic on the A2 and at the Blackwall Tunnel.

“Having done all this policy work, Sadiq Khan was then elected to mayor of London,” she said, saying the London Mayor “dropped both river crossing proposals within weeks” in what was a “slap in the face for residents”.

She said now was the time to revisit the proposals.

“Covid-19 will not always be running our lives . . . growth is very important for our borough, home jobs and wealth creation,” she said.

Bexley’s Labour opposition tabled their own amendment, suggesting the council prioritise a DLR extension to Thamesmead and Belvedere instead. TfL, which is chaired by Khan, has asked the government for £800m in funding for an extension as far as Thamesmead.

Highlighting Bexley Conservatives’ past opposition to a bridge at Gallions Reach – the Thames Gateway Bridge put forward by Ken Livingstone in the 2000s – Labour councillor Stefano Borella said “It appears Bexley’s Conservatives have gone on a total U-turn to support traffic crossings. What is clear if we were able to unlock connectivity, better affordable housing and economic development, we need better transport links across the Thames now.

“Despite the politics of a mayoral election next year, if they vote against this amendment today, they will be voting against the DLR to Thamesmead and Belvedere, and improved transport links,” he said, calling the Tories’ motion “another stick to beat the mayor with”.

Belvedere bridge
The Belvedere crossing would have linked Bronze Age Way with the A13 at Rainham

But Tory councillor John Davey said he had met “many thousand of people over the years” who had wanted road crossings rather than rail.

Bexley’s deputy leader Louie French said there had been a“dramatic” increase in south-east London and north Kent’s population without the accompanying infrastructure and a quick response was needed.

He said the delays to Crossrail had been noted with “dismay” and had helped colour the council’s renewed push for road crossings.

Under Ken Livingstone’s mayoralty, TfL planned to build a Thames Gateway Bridge at Gallions Reach, which would have been completed by 2012, to be followed by the Silvertown Tunnel, which was to be completed in the mid-2020s. Bexley vehemently opposed the bridge, fearing it would overwhelm the borough with traffic, and it failed to get planning permission.

When Boris Johnson became mayor in 2008, he scrapped the bridge and prioritised the Silvertown Tunnel, which has been carried forward by Khan, and was supported by both Greenwich and Bexley councils. After toying with options for a ferry at Gallions Reach, Johnson’s TfL then brought forward plans for a smaller bridge together with a second crossing at Belvedere, which won Bexley’s support. However, these disappeared from the agenda when Khan took office.

Additional reporting by Darryl Chamberlain

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Lachlan Leeming is the Local Democracy Reporter for Bexley. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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