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Rocketing costs could put Canary Wharf's Thames drawbridge to Rotherhithe in doubt

PUBLISHED: 14:00 23 April 2019 | UPDATED: 18:02 23 April 2019

What could be world's longest pedestrian drawbridge on the Thames at Canary Wharf. Picture: Nik Randall/Reform Architects

What could be world's longest pedestrian drawbridge on the Thames at Canary Wharf. Picture: Nik Randall/Reform Architects

Nik Randall/Reform Architects

Rocketing costs of building the world's longest pedestrian drawbridge over the Thames at Canary Wharf could put the whole scheme in danger, it has emerged.

Artist impression of bascule lifting section for proposed Thames pedestrian-cyclist bridge. Picture: Nik Randall/Reform ArchitectsArtist impression of bascule lifting section for proposed Thames pedestrian-cyclist bridge. Picture: Nik Randall/Reform Architects

Calls are now being made for improving the Canary Wharf ferry to Rotherhithe as “the only viable option”.

The cost of a pedestrian and cycle crossing from East Ferry Circus towards the Canada Water shopping district was originally put at £88million when it was first mooted in 2015, then hyped to £188m.

The next estimate is due by the end of the month, with current assumptions put at £300m. It would also need £2.4m every year to run, to be staffed round the clock like Tower Bridge.

TfL believes 3,300 pedestrians and nearly 1,900 cyclists would use the bridge every day.

Canary Wharf ferry... could be viable alternative to £300m pedestrian bridge. Picture: Mike BrookeCanary Wharf ferry... could be viable alternative to £300m pedestrian bridge. Picture: Mike Brooke

“That figure for pedestrians might be optimistic,” Tower Hamlets councillor Andrew Wood insists. “The bridge will mean nearly half-an-hour's walk from Canary Wharf to Canada Water, plus delays if it has to open to let shipping pass.

“I wonder how many people would want to do that on a winter's night.”

A bridge at today's estimate would cost £57,600 a year for each user, plus £460 to operate, which he suggests won't be value for money.

“I actually started off supporting a bridge, but switched to a ferry as the costs increased,” he added. “An advantage of a ferry is that the vessel and pontoons can be moved easily to other locations. But you're stuck with a bridge if it turns out to be under-used.”

Canary Wharf pier... alternative to proposed bridge. Picture: Mike BrookeCanary Wharf pier... alternative to proposed bridge. Picture: Mike Brooke

The existing ferry doesn't carry many passengers. So Cllr Wood, who represents Canary Wharf district at the town hall, wants it made free to test demand.

“If demand stays low, then why build an expensive bridge?” he wonders.

One argument for the bridge in the first place was relieving the Underground between Canada Water and Canary Wharf. TfL did estimate the cost of three electric roll-on roll-off electric ferries and new pontoon piers, but have since ruled out this option, even though critics say it's cheaper and more comfortable in the winter.

The environment charity Sustrans, which led the campaign for the bridge, insists it is essential.

Its London director Matt Winfield said: “We want to see this bridge built as soon as possible, to support new homes and businesses across east London sooner rather than later.”

London mayor Sadiq Khan announced in 2016 that a new cycling and pedestrian bridge could be open by 2020. It would be the largest pedestrian and cycling bridge in the world and the largest with a bascule drawbridge in the middle, like Tower Bridge, to allow ships through.

There is 93 per cent public support for the bridge, according to TfL's last consultation. But only a third say they would use it for getting to work and only half would use it for leisure.

Yet TfL isn't ready to rule out the bridge option. A City Hall spokesman said: “The crossing would link to existing and planned cycle routes both sides of the river and help reduce congestion on the Jubilee line.

“The 2017 consultation showed significant public support, and we're working to include a bridge option that meets the needs of all users. The final cost will be determined once the design work has been completed.”

The consultation didn't mention cost, or upgrading the ferry service which currently has limited space for bicycles, critics point out. An upgraded ferry would not rule out a bridge later if there was demand.

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