Thomas Turrell is an association and area officer in London. He has been a council candidate on three occasions and was an election agent at the 2015 General Election.
London’s population is booming and is set to grow further. To ensure we are not playing an endless catch-up game with demand we need to be on the front foot in terms of investment and planning for the future. The river crossing proposals announced by Sadiq Khan show how ill-prepared the new Mayor of London is for the transport challenges the capital faces.
Earlier this month the Mayor of London revealed that he was adding two additional crossings to the proposals for new River Crossings in South-East London. So now, in addition to the proposed Silvertown tunnel, Gallions Reach crossing, and Belvedere Bridge, Khan wants to build a new ferry / river-bus crossing connecting North Greenwich and the Isle of Dogs and a new cycle crossing between Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf. The problem is that the Mayor has so far failed to set out a detailed plan for where the funding will come for these projects.
The original proposals set out that the new road crossings would be funded by tolling users of the new crossings and introducing a toll on the existing Blackwall tunnel. In previous consultations on the Silvertown tunnel, Transport for London had ruled out introducing new tolls on the Rotherhithe tunnel and Woolwich Ferry. However, the Rotherhithe Cycle Bridge alone adds £88 million to the cost of building the new crossings. So the Mayor needs to come clean as to whether or not he will introduce a new toll on the Rotherhithe tunnel to pay for the new bridge. As the proposals currently stand it is clear that the Mayor has no plan as to how he will pay for the new Dockland Light Railway (DLR) extension, London Overground extension, the river bus, or the cycle bridge.
Since becoming Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan has so far announced a new one hour hopper fare which is reported to cost £50 million; he has announced a fares freeze (for single tickets and pay as you go oyster users) costing £640 million; and as a result of Khan’s decision when a Transport Minister in Government protecting the 60+ Oyster card will cost £92 million by 2021 – yet the Mayor is yet to announce how he plans to fund these policies and build five new crossings in South-East London.
There are some very welcome parts of these proposals. For example, the fact that Thamesmead was built without a single rail connection was a major error, so the plans to extend the DLR to Thamesmead and London Overground to Abbey Wood is long overdue. That said, the Mayor has a duty to present a credible plan as to why these plans should go ahead and if he cannot even be bothered to explain how he’ll pay for them he’ll never get the go ahead. I am fearful that the Mayor’s lack of detail will lead to a lack of credibility which in turn will harm the capital’s case for projects such as Crossrail Two and securing the devolution of the capital’s metro trains.
During the election campaign earlier this year Sadiq Khan was deliberately vague about whether or not he would support the building of the Silvertown tunnel. He committed to a review in his manifesto, which was undoubtedly a means to appeal for Green Party second preferences. Khan should have been open with Londoners rather than giving out a false impression that he could call time on the plans. Within weeks of being elected, the new Mayor did not withdraw the application for the tunnel from the planning process, a clear indication that his review was an election ploy rather than any real concern with the proposals.
The press release from City Hall announcing the amendments to the river crossing proposals made absolutely no mention of the expected cost of these proposals nor how the Mayor will fund them. The secrecy around the cost and funding will harm city hall’s and Transport for London’s credibility when it comes to getting the investment the capital needs. It’s time that “London is open” became more than just a twitter hashtag to the Mayor. It is time for the Mayor of London to be open with the figures and how he’ll pay. His failure to do so doesn’t just put his credibility at risk, but the credibility of Transport of London and its ability to secure investment.