Gallions Reach - room for a bridge?

New London river crossings vital to drive economic growth in east

Evidence for building new routes across the River Thames, which are seen as integral to spurring economic activity in London’s East end, were presented to MPs on Monday.  

The need for new river Thames crossings east of London was "over-riding", MPs on the Transport Select Committee were told this week, the question simply being one of where to put them and how fast they can be delivered.

In the Committee's first evidence session for its inquiry into new strategic river crossings across the UK, former tranport minister Lord Adonis was joined by representatives from the Mayor’s office, Transport for London (TfL) and business to argue the merits of constructing new river crossings east of Tower Bridge to the Transport Select Committee.

“People understand there are going to be winners and losers locally. But there is an overriding need for those crossings.” Isabel Dedring, deputy mayor for transport

Michele Dix, managing director, planning, TfL, said the authority has won support for investment in new river crossings among local residents over the last four years.

“The barrier has been a lack of consensus in terms of, not that there’s a need for river crossings, but over the form of them i.e. where they would be located, and more importantly, the timing by which the river crossings are implemented,” said Dix.

TfL recently carried out a consultation into new river crossings in response to the on-going debate over need, location and cost.

Crossings were subsequently proposed for further investigation in three locations: Silvertown tunnel, Gallions Reach and in Belvedere. TfL anticipate the Silvertown crossing could be up and running by 2021 at the earliest, with Gallions Reach and Belvedere to be complete by the mid-2020s.

Isabel Dedring, Deputy Mayor for Transport also supported new river crossings but said that local politics remained a barrier. However, she pointed out that the positives for building new crossings far outweighed the negatives.

“People understand there are going to be winners and losers locally,” she said, “but there is an overriding need for those crossings.”

Economic Regeneration

The need for new river crossings is highlighted by the number of crossings east and west of Tower Bridge. Currently there are 16 road bridges to the west compared to just two road tunnels in the east, according to a report by the Centre for London.

Colin Stanbridge, chief executive, London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the London Olympics in 2012 had demonstrated the economic potential to the east of the city and pointed out that river crossings were key to continued economic regeneration.

“If we’re really going to build houses, set up businesses and create jobs, you need the ability to cross the river,” he said. “Roads are vital to people’s economic activity.”

Air Quality

However, there are concerns over what impact the proposed crossings would have on the environment. Campaign groups, such as Friends of the Earth, have in the past voiced their opposition to new river crossings saying they would “create more congestion and pollution.”

Currently TfL is monitoring air quality levels in Silvertown, Gallions Reach and Belvedere in order to forecast the impact the crossings will have once they’re complete.

Dix said that with the population of London predicted to rise to beyond 11M in the next 20 years, traffic will continue to be a problem in the city. The river crossings, she said, would hopefully mitigate the rising air pollution.

“If the crossings improve the flow of traffic, we’ll reduce the air quality impact associated with that,” Dix told MPs.


Cost projections for the crossings estimate the Silvertown tunnel will cost around £700M, Gallions Bridge in the region of £350M-£600M, and Belvedere at around £500M-£900M. Questions were raised by MPs over how the crossings will be funded.

Dix said TfL was exploring ways to fund the projects independently. However, if that was not possible she said there was interest in “private finance to pay for the bridge[s].”

The committee explored the idea of applying tolls to pay for new crossings. Stanbridge was receptive to the idea and said that although businesses may be against tolls, they would be pragmatic enough to see the benefits of them.

“If there have to be tolls, I would say I’d rather have a toll and a bridge than no tolls and no bridge.”