I posted here last month about Boris Johnson’s fast disappearing support for the Cross-River Tram project. Since then, there has been nothing to suggest that he is in anyway minded to reconsider this position. Indeed, the news on transport has got yet worse, with ‘modally agnostic’ (a Labour self-description, but if the cap fits…) Transport supremo Kulveer Ranger threatening to withhold funding from the scheme to make the disastrous Elephant & Castle roundabout a bit more pedestrian and cyclist friendly because it might slow down someone’s car journey.
Now, news is emerging (courtesy of Labour Matters) that the plug has been officially all but pulled on another transport scheme: the extension of the Docklands Light Railway to Dagenham Dock. This isn’t some pie-in-the-sky scheme, but has already gone through several phases of consultation and was due to go to public inquiry next month – officially, TfL have only asked for a delay to the public inquiry (which the DfT has granted), but with funding apparently missing from the TfL business plan and no new date proposed for the inquiry to commence, the project looks all but dead.
The scheme was costed at £497m, a relatively small quantity of money for a major transport scheme in this day and age. It was considered, rightly, to be absolutely vital if the huge Thames Gateway development at Barking Riverside, comprising 11,000 new homes, was to be in any way workable or ecologically sustainable. Without the extension, this community will be isolated from any high-capacity transport link, thus throwing the delivery of these vital new homes into doubt (OK, its probably in doubt anyway, what with circumstances pertaining, but work has, by all accounts, already started on the first phase). Indeed, the only other proposal is the East London Transit dedicated bus route, of the sort so readily derided by Andrew Gilligan as ‘vanity projects’. We can be sure that now it is in the firing line for scrapping, the Dagenham Dock DLR will soon be given the same moniker in London’s favourite newspaper before long. I suppose at least we can’t accuse Boris of only cutting schemes in Labour-voting areas, with Barking & Dagenham being a key marginal borough where the Tory just edged it.
So, with £5m thrown away on planning for the DLR extension, where does this leave transport in far eastern London? The answer is basically: in no fit state to handle the expected influx of new housing. Crossrail doesn’t extend far enough out to really benefit the Barking & Dagenham Thames Gateway areas. There are plans underway for platform lengthening on the National Rail network through Dagenham to allow for 12-car trains by the time of the Olympics, but the stations on this route are remote from many of the biggest proposed housing developments. Boris has regularly seemed less than enthusiastic about the Thames Gateway developments – I have a feeling he may see it all as a re-run of the post-war GLC overspill housing estates and a Herbert Morrison-ite desire to ‘build the Tories out of London‘. Quite how moving lots of people into what is effectively Essex is going to help them become Labour voters, I’m not quite sure, but anyway… Indeed, Boris’ plans for a fantasy island airportin the Thames estuary, so as to prevent planes disturbing the residents of heavily built up areas near Heathrow, hardly seem to sit comfortably with a lot of housing being built in the Thames Gateway underneath the proposed flight paths.
Expect lots more of this sort of thing, I’m afraid. My neighbours down the road in Woolwich should probably thank their lucky stars that their Livingstone-era DLR extension opens next year, safe from the clutches of Boris’ cuts.