Greenwich Foot Tunnel
A planning application has been submitted for the north lift

The broken lifts in the Greenwich Foot Tunnel are to be patched up with new doors to keep them working for the time being.

Greenwich Council has set a deadline of mid-January 2022 for the lifts to be back in operation after a wave of complaints from pedestrians and cyclists that has also seen the issue raised with the London mayor – although meeting this deadline seems unlikely as the council said in August that repairs would take five months. (Update: On October 25 Greenwich Council said the work would not be finished until April.)

Both lifts have been out of service for months because of continual problems and difficulties in finding replacement parts.

No public announcement has been made, but the news has emerged via a planning application to Tower Hamlets Council for the north lift at Island Gardens on the Isle of Dogs.

The glass doors on the nine-year-old lifts will be replaced with half-glass doors, similar to those used on the rail network. Other works will be carried out make the service more reliable.

Greenwich Foot Tunnel in 2015
The glass doors at Greenwich have been a problem since they were installed

Since the current lifts were installed in 2012 the weight of the glass doors – a late change to the design – has been a problem. A report submitted to Tower Hamlets’ planning department states that one issue is the doors opening three or four times per trip as users – referred to as “cyclists and members of the public” – enter the lift.

The half-glass doors would be more robust, built to Network Rail specification and be able to better withstand such intensive use, the report says. They will also be moved further back, to the position the lifts were in before the botched refurbishment works of a decade ago.

Greenwich officers also claim that “cyclists ride their bikes at speed within the tunnel and whilst the doors are closing, clash with the doors, causing damage and multiple failures of the lift equipment”.

The council is “aiming to undertake major works in the next two to three years to ensure long term reliability”, the officers say.

The tunnel was built in 1902 to link Greenwich town centre with the docks north of the Thames. Its first lifts lasted until 1992 and their replacements were meant to last for 20 years.

But repeated failures and problems sourcing obsolete parts led to Greenwich commissioning another set of lifts, which opened as part of a £11.5 million plan to completely refurbish the tunnel and its neighbour at Woolwich. The programme ran years late, overran its budget and resulted in the original contractors being sacked.

This third set of lifts, which did not need staff to operate them, proved to be even more unreliable than their predecessors. An independent report into the fiasco criticised the council and the two original contractors.

The planning application to Tower Hamlets claims that the current lifts were installed in 1992 and the works a decade later were aimed at extending their lifespan for 10-15 years, although this is contradicted by documents at the time which refer to the replacement of the lifts.

Greenwich says the parts would take eight to 14 weeks to source with three weeks needed on site to install them.

The full application can be seen on the Tower Hamlets Council website.

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