Rotherhithe Bridge Consultation

Southwark Liberal Democrats submission: Thames crossing between Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf (January 2018)

It is marvellous to see that a Rotherhithe-Canary Wharf bridge may now at last be built, and we welcome the consultation on options for a navigable bridge. This has, at times, over the years felt like a lost cause – deemed too politically difficult, too technically challenging, or simply too easy to ignore. It took a lot of hard campaigning to overcome those doubts.

A new Rotherhithe-Canary Wharf bridge will be well worth it. The ‘Brunel Bridge’ will finally do something about the deficit of river crossings east of Tower Bridge, a deficit which has continued long after the end of the era of the docks on this part of the Thames.

The great benefits

A Rotherhithe-Canary Wharf bridge will ease overcrowded carriages on the Jubilee Line and East London Overground, and it will create an alternative for bus users and motorists stuck in standstill traffic at Rotherhithe Tunnel.

Journey times for cyclists will tumble. Cycling will also suddenly become a viable option for tens of thousands of people in east London (north or south of the Thames). Residents in Surrey Docks, Rotherhithe and Bermondsey will now be able to walk to Canary Wharf without resorting to a raft.

The bridge will help to improve access to jobs, redistribute wealth, spread opportunity. Infrastructure is an essential tool, not just for economic growth, but for social justice too.

The rise in cycling rates will lower air pollution in one of the worst-affected areas of London. Nearby Rotherhithe Tunnel, Jamaica Road and Lower Road see nitrogen dioxide levels which consistently breach EU limits. Part of Lower Road is an Air Quality Focus Area for this reason.

The health benefits which the increase in walking and cycling over the bridge will generate will be significant, saving money for the NHS and further improving quality of life for Londoners.

It is essential of course that plans for the bridge complement plans for new cycle lanes in Rotherhithe and Bermondsey. It would make sense – given that Southwark Council has finally committed to extend the Cycle Hire scheme to Rotherhithe – formally to integrate plans for the bridge with planning for new docking stations.

Bridge location

Of the three locations TfL is proposing, the first (the northern alignment) – from Nelson’s Dock to Westferry Circus – seems the most attractive. It links best to existing road connections, offers a direct connection to Salter Road through Pearson’s Park and minimises potential congestion on Rotherhithe Street.

Of course this, like every option, has some challenges. After all, this is a bridge in central London. Very few major infrastructure investments are able to avoid any impact on people or property. In this case, the bridge approach could affect heritage buildings including a Grade II Listed Building at Nelson’s Dock on Rotherhithe Street. There would need to be proposals from TfL on how to mitigate this. If a swing bridge is adopted, the bridge would swing across the front of Nelson’s Dock buildings and some riverside homes on Rotherhithe Street, which would of course need to be considered.

 

It is also possible that this location may require a longer span, with a higher associated cost – though with design innovation it may well be possible to overcome this issue.

 

Of the three proposed options, the Nelson’s Dock location is preferable. It is certainly not the only option though. A connection from Durand’s Wharf is viable as well and does carry certain advantages, such as additional space for ramps at the landing point.

Bridge design

The aesthetics of the bridge design are key. Residents are looking for reassurance that TfL is not planning to drop a great carbuncle on their doorstep, forever ruining views of the river. There is a risk that enormous, utilitarian towers at either end of the bridge will harm some river views and concern that a swing bridge will be more intrusive as it will inevitably swing in front of some windows.

The existing design has been the subject of extensive local consultation and exposure. It is popular, and should be the benchmark to be considered alongside alternative designs. Future evaluation and consultation on alternatives must include this design in order to provide genuine choice and make sure the best option is selected.

To avoid the mistakes of the Garden Bridge this means that multiple designs, including the current one, should be presented for consultation. We would consider the presentation of a single design as not constituting consultation.

It is essential that meaningful consultation takes place. The next consultation stage needs to involve Surrey Docks residents closely in design – offering not just different technical options, but a real range of architectural options. Preference for a higher or lower bridge will depend for many people on the aesthetic quality of the design.

Design proposals might seek to preserve local heritage or pioneer new frontiers, in the spirit of Brunel, or intertwine the two. Brunel pioneered new engineering and Rotherhithe’s links with his work should be captured with a design that shows similar innovation and elegance.

Shoreside issues

There are further issues to resolve at the landing points. It is vital at this early stage to plan for spill-over effects in the local neighbourhood: pressure on local parking, possible late night noise, large numbers of pedestrians flowing into local streets, potential anti-social behaviour, and so on. Designing out these risks, as far as possible, is obviously very sensible.

It would be a good idea in the next set of plans to include footpaths which guide pedestrians away from residential areas and to consider a buffer line of trees to provide some protection from noise.

It is also worth considering options for a Controlled Parking Zone (CPZ). A standard CPZ might be hard on local residents, who would have to start paying to park outside their homes, while the risk of commuters parking and riding to Canary Wharf is fairly modest. However, if parking space really did start to become an issue it is likely that a temporary restriction in the early morning and late afternoon would suffice or that local residents could be offered free permits in off-peak hours.

 

The construction phase will of course mean that the area will have some invasive noise pollution. We need to avoid repeating mistakes in Thames Tideway construction and make sure that ‘considerate construction’ is built in. We would ask TfL before work begins to provide guarantees on working hours and restrictions on noise levels, with clear penalties if breached.

We also ask that contractors be required to demonstrate maximum river and minimum road use during construction. Excellent use was made of the Thames for the London Eye for delivery and this could again spare residents unnecessary disruption.

It would also be good to plan locations for cycle hangers or lockers at Nelson’s Dock at this stage – and of course a Cycle Hire docking station.

The Brunel Bridge will be an enormously useful piece of infrastructure, finally bringing a crossing to this stretch of the Thames. It was first proposed by Southwark Cyclists in 1997, then championed by Sustrans, and only very recently gained the mainstream attention it deserves. The bridge has Southwark Liberal Democrats full support – as it has for two decades. The focus now has to be on the best possible outcome.

 

Recommendations

 

The three proposed bridge locations are:

  • Nelson’s Dock Pier to Westferry Circus – Northern alignment
  • Durand’s Wharf to the West India impound lock on Canary Wharf – Central alignment
  • Durand’s Wharf to West India Dock Pier – Southern alignment

Our preferred option is the Northern alignment – Nelson’s Dock to Westferry Circus

Advantages:

  • Adjacent to Pearson’s Park, which offers a direct connection to Salter Road.
  • The bridge ramp can pass over Rotherhithe Street to Pearson’s Park, avoiding the need for a cycle/pedestrian crossing that would delay traffic.
  • With this option, cycle/pedestrian traffic would not need to travel along of Rotherhithe Street, reducing potential congestion or noise for residents.
  • Canary Wharf landing point dovetails with existing roads at Westferry Circus.

Issues:

  • Cyclists merging at Westferry Circus could slow down traffic/buses. A segregated merging lane for cyclists heading north (turning left) would be a very good way to minimise this.
  • Design must minimise the loss of views, and have a positive aesthetic impact on heritage buildings at Nelson’s Dock.

 

The options for bridge height are:

  1. High bridge
  2. Low bridge

Our preferred height is for a high bridge

Advantages:

  • Fewer bridge openings will mean fewer delays – which will lead to higher usage.

Issues:

  • A high bridge could, but need not, have a harmful impact on views. This makes the bridge design an essential consideration. As TfL note a low bridge would require high towers (up to 80m), which may offset the aesthetic gains of a lower arch.
  • Whilst a high bridge potentially generates longer ramps, the northern alignment mitigates the effect due to the elevation of Westferry Circus and a route over Rotherhithe Street into Pearson’s Park.

 

Other issues

 

Dividing the bridge

  • Current plans state that there will be: ‘A cost-effective, comfortable and future-proofed deck layout’. This is just a little vague.

Several questions need to be addressed:

  • How will cyclists/pedestrians be separated?
  • Will there be one side each? How will they be segregated – by a kerb, bollards or fence, or divided by the structure?
  • Or will cycle lanes run down the centre, with pedestrians to the side? Pedestrians would wish to cross sides in that case. Will there be crossings and lights?
  • The consultation notes that the bridge will: ‘allow points for pedestrians to cross a cycle track and other suggestions include rest/viewing areas on the bridge’.
  • What consideration has been given to a two-level, ‘stepped’ design? Such a design might offer pedestrians elevated viewing points and cyclists reduced stress.
  • There will be plenty of innovative ways to keep pedestrians and cyclists apart. TfL should have a design competition for the best.
  • The deck layout also needs to prevent people from climbing on to the structure.

Parking space

  • There is a risk that some commuters will park and ride from a Surrey Docks bridge landing point.
  • To protect residents it may be necessary to introduce a controlled parking zone (CPZ) or restricted parking times which would avoid the need for a CPZ. 

Considerate construction

  • Measures will be needed to minimise noise, traffic and pollution from construction on the Rotherhithe side.
  • TfL will need to give guarantees to Southwark Council and Southwark residents about working hours, noise levels and pollutants, with accountability in place for these guarantees.

Noise and anti-social behaviour

  • The view of the skyline at Canary Wharf is likely to attract tourists, photographers, and so on. This may mean at times – firework nights for instance – that larger numbers of people may move into local residential streets.
  • The pathways at the landing point should be designed to avoid this, steering pedestrians to the Thames Path or Salter Road.
  • To avoid any risk that the bridge becomes a location for excessive drinking, consultation with the Neighbourhood Safety Team should begin to provide best design solutions and plan monitoring procedures, possibly including non-emergency contact phones to report anti-social behaviour.

Relationship with planning for a possible Cycle Superhighway (CS4)

  • Proposals for Lower Road need to be brought forward as soon as possible, in conjunction with Southwark Council.
  • Proposals for cycle lanes should be considered for Salter Road. Salter Road has ample space for cycle lanes on the grass verges on both sides. A two-way lane or two one-way lanes are viable.
  • Adaptations will need to be made to the existing cycle path on the north edge of Pearson’s Park to avoid potential collisions between pedestrians and cyclists – and to prevent collisions between cyclists entering the park.
  • Plans for wider/segregated cycle lanes on the Isle of Dogs should be included to absorb the increase in cycle traffic.

Integration with Cycle Hire scheme

  • As part of the next consultation, TfL should include proposed sites for Cycle Hire docking stations on Salter Road, Rotherhithe Street, and the landing point (Nelson’s Dock or Durand’s Wharf).
  • In November 2017 Southwark Council publicly committed to fund the capital costs of docking stations on the Rotherhithe peninsula, so TfL should now co-design locations and routes with the council for the second round of proposals.

Canada Water developments

  • The large-scale developments at Canada Water are increasing demand on roads and rail in the Rotherhithe peninsula.
  • Creating (and integrating) quietways which directly link to the Rotherhithe Bridge will help to ease demand for car and bus use.
  • Quietways and, where appropriate, segregated lanes, will also offer an alternative to the Jubilee Line – especially important for new developments which do not have parking spaces.
  • Given that the Mayor of London has decided not to order more trains for the Jubilee Line, the bridge is now the only option on the table to relieve severe overcrowding.