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.


Here’s how Henry Ford and IKEA could provide the key to solving the housing crisis

A flatpack house designed by architectural firm Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners, on display at the Royal Academy, London, in 2013. Image: Getty.

For many people, the housing market is not a welcoming place. The rungs of the property ladder seem to get further and further out of reach. There are loud calls to build hundreds of thousands of new homes (and equally loud demands that they’re not built in anyone’s back yard).

If there was ever a time to introduce mass-produced affordable housing, surely that time is now.

The benefits of mass production have been well known since Henry Ford’s car factories made the Model T back in 1908. It was only made in one colour, black, for economic reasons. Not because it was the cheapest colour of paint, but because it was the colour that dried the quickest.

This allowed the production line to operate at faster, more cost effective, speeds. And ultimately, it meant the product could be sold at a more attractive cost to the customer.

This approach, where processes are tested to achieve increasingly efficient production costs, is yet to filter properly into the construction of houses. This makes sense in a way, as not everybody wants exactly the same type of house.

Historically, affordable mass-produced housing removed a large amount of customisations, to ensure final costs were controlled. But there is another way. Builders and architects have the ability to create housing that allows a level of flexibility and customisation, yet also achieves the goal of affordability.

Back in 2006, the “BoKlok” approach to affordable housing was launched to great acclaim in the UK. Literally translated from Swedish, the term means “live smart”. Originally created from a collaboration between flat-pack favourite IKEA and Swedish construction giant Skanska, the BoKlok housing approach was to allow for selected customisation to maximise individuality and choice for the customers. But at the same time, it ensured that larger house building components were duplicated or mass-produced, to bring down the overall costs.

Standard elements – wall panels, doors, windows – were made in large numbers to bring the elemental costs down. This approach ensured the costs were controlled from the initial sketch ideas through to the final design choices offered to the customers. The kitchens and bathrooms were designed to be flexible in terms of adding additional units. Draw and cupboard fronts interchangeable. Small options that provided flexibility, but did not impact on overall affordability.

It’s a simple approach that has worked very well. More than 10,000 BoKlok houses have now been built, mainly in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, with a small number in the UK.

But it is only part of the architectural equation. The affordable housing market is vital, but the cost of making these homes more adaptable is rarely considered.

Flexibility is key. The needs of a house’s inhabitants change. Families can grow (and shrink) and require more room, so the costs of moving house reappear. One clever response to this, in BoKlok homes, has been to allow “built in” flexibility.

Loft living

This flexibility could include a loft space that already has flooring and a built in cupboard on a lower floor which can be simply dismantled and replaced with a “flat-pack style” staircase that can be purchased and installed with minimal disruption to the existing fabric.

Weeks of builders removing walls, plastering and upheaval are replaced by a trip to the IKEA store to purchase the staircase and the booking of a subcontractor to fit it. The original design accounted for this “future option” and is built into the core of the house.

The best approach to new affordable housing should consider combinations of factors that look at design, materials and processes that have yet to be widely used in the affordable housing market.

And the construction sector needs to look over its shoulder at other market places – especially the one that Henry Ford dominated over a century ago. Today’s car manufacturers offer customised options in everything from colour to wheel size, interior gadgets to different kinds of headlamp. These options have all been accounted for in the construction and costing of each model.

The ConversationThey share a similar design “platform”, and by doing so, considerably reduce the overall cost of the base model. The benefit is quicker production with the added benefit of a cost model that allows for customisation to be included. It is a method the construction sector should adopt to produce housing where quality and affordability live happily together.

David Morton, Associate Professor in Architecture and Built Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.