The Thames Deckway floating cycle path is the most ludicrous London transport plan yet

Yeah, right. Image: Arup.

The Thames Deckway, proposed this week, would be a floating cycle path, running for eight miles along the River Thames between Battersea and Canary Wharf. It’s the work of the “River Cycleway Consortium”, a bunch of architects, artists and (most significantly) Arup, the global engineering consultancy.

It's also a quite outstandingly stupid idea.

a) It's pointless

The whole purpose of the plan is ostensibly to solve London’s traffic problems, by allowing cyclists to go about their business without getting in the way of cars. Obviously, then, you'd expect it to parallel existing streets.

What you wouldn’t expect, though, is that it would parallel existing cycle routes. And yet, there it is, running almost right next to a succession of existing cycling highways (the CS8, the CS3, the East-West cross route), all of which are either already there or are on their way.

The half-mile stretch running from Lambeth Bridge to Westminster is literally the only bit that isn’t duplicating something that’s already there. Still, I guess if it’s cheaper than re-jigging existing roads, then...

b) It's pricy

From Dezeen:

“River Cycleway Consortium Ltd – currently including engineering giant Arup and London-based Hugh Broughton Architects – estimates that construction costs would amount to approximately £600m, which it would seek from private investment.”

...ah.

£600m, for any narrow-minded bean counters there might be among you, is just over 12 times the price of the two segregated cross-town cycle paths that Transport for London already has in the works. It’s about two thirds the cost of the entire East London line extension project. It's a lot.

But it’s coming from private investment, so that’s good, I suppose. And how would those investors recoup their capital? Well, using the route would set you back £1.50 a turn. So, a mere 400 million journeys and then, next stop, profit.

c) It's precarious

The artist's impression shows the new cycle path floating on top of the river, just a few feet from the South Bank. Where, it so happens, quite a lot of boats dock.

And while the picture shows the cycle path passing under the jetties which allow those boats to dock, it's not clear how the former (which would move up and down with the tides) would interact with the latter (which wouldn't). I mean, you'd bang your head, wouldn't you?

More than that, though, quite a lot of boats dock there, and the odds that the cycle path would never get at least a little bit bumped seem small, to say the least. So do the odds that nobody will ever bang into anyone else. Sooner or later – by which we mean sooner – somebody's going to end up in the drink.


d) It's a ploy

So, it’s impractical, it’s expensive, and it only makes sense if you're a billionaire with an unquenchable desire to watch cyclists tumbling hilariously into the River Thames.

The Thames Deckway's designers claim that "London needs to think outside the box of conventional solutions to solve its deep-seated traffic and pollution problems". But this doesn't do any of that. It's a cycle path. Cycle paths are good, yes, but the idea that one of them, which parallels ones that already exist, could actually solve a city-wide congestion problem is ludicrous.

So what's the real point of the exercise? At risk of tipping over into cynicism, it's just possible that some architects and an engineering consultancy are thinking outside the box to solve their “deep-seated lack of press coverage” problem.

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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What do new business rates pilots tell us about government’s appetite for devolution?

Sheffield Town Hall, 1897. Image: Hulton Archive/Getty.

There have been big question marks about any future devolution of business rates ever since the last general election stopped the legislation in its tracks.

Not only did it not make its way to the statute book before the pre-election cut off, it was nowhere to be seen in the Queen’s Speech, suggesting the Government had gone cold on the idea. (This scenario was complicated further recently by the introduction of a private members’ bill on business rates by Conservative MP Peter Bone, details of which remain scarce.)

However, regardless of the situation with legislation, the government’s announcement in recent days of a pilot phase of reforms suggests that business rates devolution will go ahead after all. DCLG has invited local authorities to take part in a pilot scheme which will allow volunteer authorities to retain 100 per cent of the business rates growth they generate locally. (It also notes that a further three pilots are currently in operation as they were set up under the last government.)

There are two interesting things in this announcement that give some insight on how the government would like to push the reform forward.

The first is that only authorities that come forward with their neighbours with a proposal to pool all business rates raised into one pot across a wider geography will be considered. This suggests that pooling is likely to be strongly encouraged under the new system, even more considering that the initial position was to give power to the Secretary of State to form pools unilaterally.

The second is that pooled authorities are given free rein to propose their own local arrangements. This includes determining, where applicable, a tier split (i.e. rates distribution between districts and counties), a plan for distributing additional growth across the pool, and how this will be managed between authorities.

It’s the second which is most interesting. Although current pools already have the ability to decide for some of their arrangements, it’s fair to say that the Theresa May-led government has been much less bullish on devolution than George Osborne in particular was, with policies having a much greater ‘top down’ feel to them (for example, the Industrial Strategy) rather than a move towards giving places the tools they need to support economic growth in their areas. So the decision to allow local authorities to come up with proposed arrangements feels like a change in approach from the centre.


Of course, the point of a pilot is to test different arrangements, and the outcomes of this experiment will be used to shape any future reform of the business rates system. Given the complexity of the system and the multitude of options for reform, this seems like a sensible approach to take. But it remains to be seen whether the complex reform of a national system can be led from the bottom up. In effect, making sure this local governance is driven by common growth objectives, rather than individual authorities’ interests, will be essential.

Nonetheless, the government’s reaffirmation of its commitment to business rates to devolution and its willingness to test new approaches is welcome. Given that the UK is one of the most centralised countries in the western world, moves to allow local authorities to keep at least some of the tax revenue that is generated in their area is a step forward in giving places more autonomy over how they spend their money. That interest in changing this appears to have been whetted once more is encouraging.

There are, however, a number of other issues with the current business rates system which need to be ironed out. Centre for Cities is currently working on a briefing of the business rates system, building on our previous work in this area, and we’ll be making suggestions as to how the system can be improved.

Hugo Bessis is a researcher for the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this article originally appeared.

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