For many years Newham has campaigned for investment in transport infrastructure, believing, as we do, that with the right links, and developable land, we can attract business and hence jobs for residents. One of the obvious results of this campaigning can be seen in the superb transport links at Stratford where, once Crossrail is complete, there will be a total of 10 lines. It is these transport links, and the availability of developable land, which contributed massively to Britain winning the Olympic and Paralympic Games and to the creation of thousands of new jobs.
However, not all London politicians have recognised the value of ensuring that transport connections are delivered to create real economic opportunities for local people in east London.
The centre and west of London currently has 16 traffic bridges over the 20 miles to Kew which connect people and jobs together. But when you pass Tower Bridge, there are only three road tunnels for the next 20 miles to the Dartford Crossing – an area now home to over half of the city’s population. This long-term imbalance is not only preventing the creation of thousands of jobs in north-east and south-east London but is holding back the economic growth of the whole capital.
My question to the mayor of London is therefore: why does he believe east London residents are worth less than those in the west? By mothballing the Thames Gateway Bridge over six years ago and then failing to deliver a single road crossing, east London residents have lost access to thousands of jobs and billions of pounds of investment. But for his rejection, the bridge would be opening this year.
Transport for London has recently begun yet another round of public consultation which includes, seriously, a ferry as one of the proposed solutions – not the commitment to deliver a bridge with an identified timetable and funding package that we need. This is this mayor’s answer to the challenges of the 21st century – a ferry!
Independent analysts have found that a bridge at Gallions Reach would address accessibility and connectivity issues for over 24,000 businesses, resulting in productivity gains of £55.7m annually (GVA), 10 times higher than comparable estimates from a ferry. Modest assumptions also demonstrate a bridge at Beckton could produce between 9,000-18,000 additional jobs for east and south-east London.
We need politicians to take courageous decisions to help transform the life chances of the communities they serve but this mayor of London will end his term having failed to bridge the Thames, other than of course, his much vaunted (by himself) cable car. His refusal to support the bridge is a result of his unwillingness to upset the Tory party in Bexley – even though a recent poll shows the majority of residents are in favour in every single east London borough.
Transport links are not about attracting new shiny developments, but increasing life chances and providing people with the economic opportunity, skills and relationships they need to achieve their potential. Access to real employment opportunities is absolutely at the heart of that. That is why if central government and the mayor of London do not deliver a bridge at Beckton to link Newham and Greenwich by road, we will work with other Labour councils to do it ourselves. Otherwise, as Andrew Adonis eloquently puts it, the entire growth strategy for the Thames Gateway will hang on a cable car.
Robin Wales is mayor of Newham
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