The opening of the DLR connection across the Thames to Woolwich had at least one consequence which surprised even TFL. It had been forecast that the connection would enable Woolwich people to access jobs etc. north of the Thames but no one had foreseen the surge in shoppers from Canning Town and Beckton taking advantage of accessible local shopping in Woolwich!
Never before in history had people in Canning Town and Beckton been easily and cheaply able to reach Woolwich just a mile or two away. It’s an amazingly graphic illustration of what being able to cross a river can do for the people and their local economies.
There are 19 vehicular bridges and 6 footbridges west of Tower Bridge between London Bridge and Hampton Court; on the other hand East London makes do with 2 substandard tunnels (Blackwall and Rotherhithe), 2 foot tunnels and an ageing ferry shortly to be pensioned off.
You could say that in this respect the riparian residents of London east of Tower Bridge are hugely disadvantaged compared to their west-of-Tower-Bridge compatriots. On its own such a disjunction would probably be something they could live with but it isn’t. These same bridgeless London residents (who make their contribution through taxes to all those bridges they don’t use) are far more likely to live in poor environments, live shorter unhealthier lives, be out of work or, if in work, less well paid.
All this seems rather unfair! It’s been unfair for centuries; so much so that we could be forgiven for thinking that east of Tower Bridge the community doesn’t need the same facilities and life chances.
But seismic changes are underway; the population is growing and becoming richer; the financial and business centre of London is moving East; property values are rising as demand in London outstrips supply.
Heavens above! We are going to need those bridges so that all these new East London professionals can be unimpeded in their travel arrangements; “people like us” need facilities like ours. The bridges will come.
But what about the people whose families have for centuries been cut off from Londoners on the other side of the river? That’s easy, rising housing prices and lowering benefits mean that many of them will no longer be living by the Thames, they simply can’t afford to.
ROGER TAYLOR - DIRECTOR OF THE GROWTH BOROUGHS UNIT 2013