Air pollution, traffic, no space for cycling: TfL’s east London road crossings plan is terrible

TfL's package of bridges. Image: TfL.

London is drifting towards becoming a road city, a kind of Birmingham of the south. Boris Johnson, the departing mayor, has set in motion “irreversible” projects to build new urban motorways crossing the River Thames in east and south-east London; a new subterranean ring road is also on the cards. In parallel with this, London is facing an air pollution public health crisis, with a Supreme Court ruling that the government and mayor must act upon.

The capital is a walking and cycling city. Rates of car ownership are falling. Public transport is bursting at the seams. So why are we committed to building new roads? Because of population growth, because there is a gap in the road network, claim Transport for London (TfL). It is true the population of London is growing, and more people have to travel further to their work – but there is no evidence all those extra journeys need to happen by car.

TfL has perhaps got to grips with the theory of induced demand whereby if you build a new road, more drivers will appear to use it – so many people, in fact, that the new road ends up with more congestion that you started with. Instead of one congested and polluting road, you now have two. Money well spent.

Source: Campaign for Better Transport.

But instead of learning the lesson that roads equal pollution and congestion, TfL hope that an even bigger splurge on road building – “package”, in their language – will allow them to do what no new road building scheme has ever managed to do. It is TfL’s belief that by building three new roads, then traffic congestion will be cut.

So what are we getting for our £2.25bn of tax-payer money?

The most advanced scheme is a proposed new tunnel next the existing Blackwall Tunnel. This has been given NSIP status – a nationally significant infrastructure project – that ensures a fast track route through the planning system.  The scheme is supposed to provide economic benefit, but does nothing to connect the 10,000 new homes planned for the Greenwich Peninsula with jobs in Canary Wharf. A pedestrian and cycle bridge would be a more sustainable solution here, and would help people cross the river without getting in a car.

Source: Campaign for Better Transport.

The brilliant No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign have been very good at pointing out the flaws of the scheme, including the terrible air pollution levels that already exist in the area: these reach as high as twice the legal limit in some places. There is a story spread by some who fancy the idea of new roads, that if we build more urban motorways the pollution will vanish as traffic becomes more “free flowing”.  But the evidence, which has been building since 1925, tells us that new roads equal more car journeys and increased congestion.

Surely the other schemes can’t be quite so bad?

Further east two new bridges are proposed. One of them, the Gallions Crossing, we’ve seen before as the Thames Gateway Bridge between Beckton and Thamesmead. It was a scheme so terrible that, in 2007, the planning inspector found that it would cause increased congestion, that it would be unsuitable for pedestrians and cyclists, that it would make air and noise pollution worse. He also found there is no evidence that regeneration and economic improvement would result from it. It failed on all the things it was supposed to do.

The third crossing is planned to connect Rainham with Belvedere, half way between Gallions Reach and the existing Dartford mega-crossing of two tunnels and a bridge. Transport for London in their own technical report have found it would cause the local road network to become congested with new traffic, that traffic pollution and noise would increase, and there could be a negative impact on the Crossness Nature Reserve and Rainham Marsh sites. Sounds great, yes?

Another argument for these crossings is that they plug gaps in the road network. But especially in outer London, the gaps in public transport crossings are just as wide. There is just one public transport proposal that Transport for London are taking seriously to plug one of these gaps: this is the London Overground extension from Barking to Thamesmead. But the current plan is this would be built after all the road crossings, in 2025.

Did I mention London is in a public health crisis over air pollution?

As Birmingham is removing some of its urban motorways, we need more sustainable public transport plans in the capital, and not a package of expensive and polluting roads that will change the city for the worse. London is a walking and cycling city, not a motorway city of the south. Let’s keep it that way.

Steve Chambers is an urban planner, and the London Campaigner for the Campaign for Better Transport.


Barnet council has decided a name for its new mainline station. Exciting!

Artist's impression of the new Brent Cross. Image: Hammerson.

I’ve ranted before about the horror of naming stations after the lines that they’re served by (screw you, City Thameslink). So, keeping things in perspective as ever, I’ve been quietly dreading the opening of the proposed new station in north London which has been going by the name of Brent Cross Thameslink.

I’ve been cheered, then, by the news that station wouldn’t be called that at all, but will instead go by the much better name Brent Cross West. It’s hardly the cancellation of Brexit, I’ll grant, but in 2017 I’ll take my relief wherever I can find it.

Some background on this. When the Brent Cross shopping centre opened besides the A406 North Circular Road in 1976, it was only the third large shopping mall to arrive in Britain, and the first in London. (The Elephant & Castle one was earlier, but smaller.) Four decades later, though, it’s decidedly titchy compared to newer, shinier malls such as those thrown up by Westfield – so for some years now, its owners, Hammerson, have wanted to extend the place.

That, through the vagaries of the planning process, got folded into a much bigger regeneration scheme, known as Brent Cross Cricklewood (because, basically, it extends that far). A new bigger shopping centre will be connected, via a green bridge over the A406, to another site to the south. There you’ll find a whole new town centre, 200 more shops, four parks, 4m square feet of offices space and 7,500 homes.

This is all obviously tremendously exciting, if you’re into shops and homes and offices and not into depressing, car-based industrial wastelands, which is what the area largely consists of at the moment.

The Brent Cross site. Image: Google.

One element of the new development is the new station, which’ll sit between Hendon and Cricklewood on the Thameslink route. New stations are almost as exciting as new shops/homes/offices, so on balance I'm pro.

What I’ve not been pro is the name. For a long time, the proposed station has been colloquially referred to as Brent Cross Thameslink, which annoys me for two reasons:

1) Route names make rubbish modifiers because what if the route name changes? And:

2) It’s confusing, because it’s nearly a mile from Brent Cross tube station. West Hampstead Thameslink (euch), by contrast, is right next to West Hampstead tube.

Various other names have been proposed for the station. In one newsletter, it was Brent Cross Parkway; on Wikipedia, it’s currently Brent Cross South, apparently through confusion about the name of the new town centre development.

This week, though, Barnet council quietly confirmed it’d be Brent Cross West:

Whilst the marketing and branding of BXS needs to be developed further, all parties agree that the station name should build upon the Brent Cross identity already established. Given the station is located to the west of Brent Cross, it is considered that the station should be named Brent Cross West. Network Rail have confirmed that this name is acceptable for operational purposes. Consequently, the Committee is asked to approve that the new station be named Brent Cross West.

Where the new station will appear on the map, marked by a silly red arrow. Image: TfL.

That will introduce another irritating anomaly to the map, giving the impression that the existing Brent Cross station is somehow more central than the new one, when in fact they’re either side of the development. And so:

Consideration has also been given as to whether to pursue a name change for the tube station from “Brent Cross” to “Brent Cross East”.

Which would sort of make sense, wouldn’t it? But alas:

However owing to the very high cost of changing maps and signage London-wide this is not currently being pursued.

This is probably for the best. Only a handful of tube stations have been renamed since 1950: the last was Shepherd’s Bush Market, which was until 2008 was simply Shepherd's Bush, despite being quite a long way from the Shepherd's Bush station on the Central line. That, to me, suggests that one of the two Bethnal Green stations might be a more plausible candidate for an early rename.

At any rate: it seems unlikely that TfL will be renaming its Brent Cross station to encourage more people to use the new national rail one any time soon. But at least it won’t be Brent Cross Thameslink.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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