Woolwich Foot Tunnel
The Woolwich Foot Tunnel has also been hit by lift problems

A group formed to press for improvements at the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels plans to wind itself up because it has been unable to help solve continuing problems with the crossings.

Fogwoft – the Friends of Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels – was formed in 2013 following a botched refurbishment of the two tunnels under the Thames, which are run by Greenwich Council.

That refurbishment – which began in 2010 – ran years late and over-budget and resulted in the firing of the original contractors. It also left the Woolwich tunnel closed for 15 months. New lifts installed in the Greenwich tunnel were plagued by breakdowns, while the Woolwich tunnel lifts have also recently been hit by problems.

At present, one lift is out of action at both crossings – with the council waiting for parts from Germany to be able to fix them.

Fogwoft, chaired by former Labour councillor Mary Mills, had also hoped to help allow considerate cycling in the tunnels – at present cycling is banned but inconsiderate cyclists can only face a fine of £1 under byelaws last revised in 1938. Tower Hamlets Council has refused to approve a bylaw change for the Greenwich tunnel following a local campaign on the Isle of Dogs. In 2017, TfL said the Greenwich tunnel would reach its capacity for cyclists by 2025.

Greenwich Foot Tunnel
The Greenwich tunnel runs to Island Gardens on the Isle of Dogs

The group’s committee has also voiced its frustration at poor levels of cleaning in the tunnels. They hope tunnel users more widely will now pressure Greenwich Council and City Hall for action on the crossings.

In a statement, the committee – Mills, Ian Blore and Mike Shallcross – said: “The Fogwoft committee, now reduced to three after the sad death of one and retirement of another, have decided that we have achieved much of what is feasible in the seven years of existence of the Friends group.

“Major issues remain unresolved. Top of the list are the issues of cycling and of lift maintenance. The first is blocked by the refusal of Tower Hamlets to agree to a revision of the byelaws. Without this change infringement fines are set at 20 shillings; result, zero enforcement. A trial of allowing cycling under certain circumstances remains stalled since it is dependent on the byelaw change.

“The lift issue appears hamstrung because of the need to source spares from Germany. Such political and technical issues are beyond the competence or power of Fogwoft to solve. They dwarf all others. We are now asking for the members of Fogwoft to support our closure.”

North Woolwich
The Woolwich Foot Tunnel is the most easterly fixed free crossing of the Thames

The two tunnels were built in the 1900s to help workers get to and from London’s docks. In more recent years the Greenwich tunnel has become an important link to Canary Wharf while both tunnels are part of long-distance walking routes around London. About 1.2 million people use the Greenwich tunnel each year, with 300,000 using the Woolwich tunnel, with users said to be equally divided between walkers and cyclists. While Tower Hamlets is unhappy about cycling in the Greenwich tunnel, Newham is said to be content with changes to Woolwich’s byelaws.

Historically, they were run by London’s elected government, but after the Greater London Council was abolished in 1986 their ownership passed to Greenwich, Tower Hamlets and Newham councils, with Greenwich taking charge of their operation. When the mayoralty and Transport for London were created 21 years ago, the foot tunnels remained with Greenwich, despite the Rotherhithe and Blackwall road tunnels being transferred to TfL.

The tunnels are the only fixed public foot crossings east of the City, and will be the only free fixed crossings east of Rotherhithe after the Blackwall Tunnel is tolled in 2025. Two years ago, the architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands proposed a footbridge at the Thames Barrier; it has recently been talking to community groups and developers about the idea although the scheme is yet to get official backing.

The backers of the Thames Barrier Bridge will discuss their idea in a comment piece for 853 later this week.

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