Boris swings travel axe

Recent spending cuts have cast doubt on prospects for linking up key regeneration areas and developments in the Thames Gateway with an integrated transport system, notes Vicki Shiel.

London mayor Boris Johnson's decision not to fund a host of promising transport schemes has been met with scorn and has provoked warnings over its implications for Thames Gateway housing schemes considered a priority by ministers.

But exactly how shocking was the announcement? The schemes needed extra funding to the tune of £3 billion. Is Johnson being under-ambitious or realistic? If the projects are as important as supporters claim, can they be delivered without Transport for London (TfL) funding?

When TfL launched its ten-year business plan two weeks ago, the mayor confirmed that the £750 million Docklands Light Railway (DLR) Dagenham Dock extension will not be funded (Planning, 14 November, p6). But it is seen as vital to the 11,000-home Barking Riverside scheme, identified as a priority by the DCLG and the London Plan.

The London Borough of Barking and Dagenham says it cannot go ahead if there is no extension because the planning consent stipulates that only 1,500 homes can be built without it. But English Partnerships regional director for London and the Thames Gateway Stephen Oakes, who is also a Barking Riverside director, remains optimistic.

He says a funding solution can be found by working with TfL, the mayor and the government. "This scheme is vital," he insists. Improvements covered in TfL's plan, such as the East London Transit (ELT) bus service, will serve the first phase of the scheme, linking it with the new transport interchange in Barking town centre from autumn next year.

The DLR extension was not expected to be running until at least 2016. The organisations behind Barking Riverside maintain that it is a 20-year project, meaning that infrastructure improvements will be developed and funded throughout the course of development. However, they are a little less forthcoming on how this might be done.

Some of the schemes could be funded by private finance or the proposed community infrastructure levy. A DCLG spokesman comments: "The levy would be set by local authorities based on the infrastructure needs they have identified. It is already envisaged that sums raised will go to Crossrail."

He adds: "No-one should be in any doubt about the government's commitment to Barking. In May we announced a major £237 million investment in housing, jobs, infrastructure, community facilities and green spaces to rejuvenate parts of east London, including Barking."

TfL's programme includes tube upgrades, Crossrail and London Overground extensions. The ELT will serve Barking and Dagenham Dock. DLR upgrades will add 50 per cent to capacity. The extension to Woolwich Arsenal, due to open in February, will provide a new river crossing.

However, significant projects not funded in the plan include the Thames Gateway Bridge. A total of £60 million has already been spent on it, the DLR extension, the cross-river tram and a Croydon Tramlink extension, all serving areas with poor links. A progressive mayor would have found a way to fund the projects, according to London Assembly Labour member John Biggs.

But Campaign for Better Transport (CFBT) London campaigner Richard Bourn argues that the mayor's refusal to back the schemes is a reasonable stance. He insists that there is an "enormously strong case" for most of the planned housing to be built in London rather than Kent and Essex because good transport links are already in place.

"The government always cites Crossrail when it talks about Thames Gateway transport links, but it does not properly serve Kent and Essex," Bourn contends. "London could accommodate 146,000 of the 160,000 homes planned for the gateway."

These figures are highlighted in the CFBT's masterplanning checklist for the design of developments that require minimum car use, published last month. It also complains that transport expenditure in the gateway areas outside London is heavily weighted towards roads.

Conversely, in the London Thames Gateway only 21 per cent of expenditure is on roads, with most going on public transport. "There were always gaps in the public transport planning for the gateway. Now they are even bigger and government plans are looking threadbare," warns Bourn. "We need a fundamental rethink and a framework put in place."

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