Great designs: but how many of these river crossings will be built?

There's no shortage of ideas for new Thames river crossings in London and with regeneration hopes high, the new mayor's on board. But will they happen? Jon Masters reports

Garden Bridge

Connectivity between north and south of the Thames is a big, long-running issue for London, which does not have a good recent track record on building new river crossings. Among a raft of different proposals now tabled for new Thames bridges and tunnels, a couple look a little bit familiar – loosely similar to the Thames Gateway bridge that former mayor Boris Johnson cancelled in 2008.

Further east, Highways England’s (HE) plans for the tunnels and connecting roads of a new Lower Thames Crossing, between Tilbury and Gravesham, are taking shape. HE has completed its public consultation and will now work towards applying for a development consent order for this “nationally significant” transport scheme.

Slew of plans for next decade

The estimated opening date for the Lower Thames tunnels is about 10 years from now, by which time Transport for London may have completed one or two bridges and tunnels of its own.

TfL’s Connecting the Capital plan, published in December with the Mayor’s Office, lists 13 different new Thames crossings. This figure, however, includes HE’s proposal for Tilbury-Gravesham, plus the Crossrail and Crossrail 2 rail tunnels beneath the Thames – the latter won’t be in use until 2033 or later.

Nonetheless, it seems bridge-building is back as a means of aiding development as well as solving problems of access and connectivity.

"The architectural side of bridge-building linked to development is re-emerging. Opinions are split on extravagant projects such as the Garden Bridge in London. But structures like this are a piece of engineering sculpture. If the money’s around they present fantastic opportunities to do something different." Ramboll international bridges director Peter Curran

In addition to TfL’s plans, architect Farrells has come up with its own proposals for a series of low-level bridges across the Thames in east London (see below). Farrell’s plans come with the stated aim of boosting development along the river banks.

Ramboll international bridges director Peter Curran was lead designer for the Gateshead Millennium Bridge, which has helped to boost development of the Newcastle-Gateshead Quayside area. He says: “Plans in London show that the architectural side of bridge-building linked to development is re-emerging.

“Getting public buy-in is proving more of a challenge, partly owing to social media, and opinions are split on extravagant projects such as the Garden Bridge in London. But structures like this are a piece of engineering sculpture. If the money’s around they present fantastic opportunities to do something different. Other schemes, like the bridge at Nine Elms, show there is still plenty of industry appetite for these prestigious projects.”

Crossrail, ferries and a rail bridge

Of the 13 crossings listed in the Connecting the Capital plan, one is an undeveloped, tentative proposal for a rail crossing to extend the London Overground line from Barking Riverside to Thamesmead – but the line must first reach Barking Riverside, for which TfL has just made a transport works order application.

Three others are the two Crossrail tunnels and Highways England’s Lower Thames Crossing. A fifth is a proposed ferry service from North Greenwich to the Isle of Dogs.

Of the eight remaining, three are proposed road crossings – the Silvertown Tunnel and two more crossings, which may be either tunnels or bridges at Gallions Reach and Belvedere, all in east London.. The remaining five are all foot and cycle bridges. One of these, at Charlton, is “purely conceptual at this stage”, TfL says, with the other four at various stages of development.

Spectacular ideas for foot and cycleway crossings

Garden Bridge

The Garden Bridge

This is arguably the highest-profile of all of the current Thames crossing proposals, owing to its controversy. A pet project of former mayor Boris Johnson, members of the London Assembly and others have been calling for it to be scrapped since some dubious procurement practice was revealed.

Among much protestation over how the mayor and TfL went about the design procurement, a final report by the GLA Oversight Committee says that architect Heatherwick Studio, with structural engineering by Arup, was given insight into the mayor’s vision for a garden bridge, while TfL’s invitation to tender specified only that it was looking for a pedestrian footbridge.

There have also been claims and counter-claims over how much of the cost will be met by the taxpayer. Promoter the Garden Bridge Trust claims to have £145m pledged towards the estimated total cost of £175m so far, including £30m each from the London Mayor and the Treasury, but
 the trust has said it will repay £20m of London’s contribution and cover the £2m annual maintenance costs.

The scheme took a significant step in March with award of a construction contract to Bouygues and Cimolai. The Trust says construction is expected to start this summer and finish in 2018. But according to latest reports, Mayor Sadiq Khan, while supportive of the bridge in principle, is reviewing the project again before he signs off an agreement to underwrite the bridge's annual maintenance cost should the Trust fail to fund the bridge's upkeep.

Chances of success: 4 out of 5


Rotherhithe-Canary Wharf

Rotherhithe-Canary Wharf

May take the chequered flag as the first new foot and cycleway bridge over the Thames. Consents has yet to be granted, but the plans are unlikely to meet much objection from Southwark on the south bank or Tower Hamlets – home to Canary Wharf – on the north.

The sustainable transport charity Sustrans has been promoting a crossing at Rotherhithe for a number of years and came up with a lift-bridge design, which Johnson criticised as ugly and rejected in 2008 in favour of the Emirates Air Line cable car crossing built for the London Olympics.

The latter has since been labelled a white elephant as usage has dropped, while Sustrans has produced new proposals for the Rotherhithe-Canary Wharf site, with an eye-catching twin- bascule design by architect ReForm and consulting engineer Elliott Wood. The construction cost is estimated at £88m. Supporters include London’s new Mayor Sadiq Khan, which points to the scheme’s political importance for Southwark at least. The bridge has received seed corn development funding from TfL and endorsement in the form of a mention in the 2014 National Infrastructure Plan.

Chances of success: 3 out of 5

Nine Elms-Pimlico

This route is being promoted as London’s first dedicated foot and cycleway crossing of the Thames. An Anglo-Danish architectural partnership of Bystrup and Robin Snell & Partners won Wandsworth council’s design competition for this £40m bridge in November 2015.

Around £26m of the cost is being met by investors in the Nine Elms Vauxhall development, which is getting its own Northern Line Underground extension. Many residents of Pimlico and members of Westminster council are however opposed to the idea. Westminster is carrying out its own public inquiry.

Chances of success: 3 out of 5


Diamond Jubillee

Diamond Jubilee Bridge

Proposed for Battersea and designed by architect One-World Design and structural engineer Expedition Engineering, planning consent from Hammersmith & Fulham and Wandsworth councils has been in place since 2013, and from the London Mayor since January 2014.

However, full funding for the £24m bridge is still not yet committed. Part of the cost is being met by Barratt London as part of its Lombard Wharf development, but local councils and MPs are still seeking public and private-sector funds. While not as expensive as other proposals, the Diamond Jubilee Bridge lacks their heavyweight backing.

Chances of success: 3 out of 5

Under and over options for drivers

Silvertown Tunnel

Silvertown Tunnels

Three of the plans are for improving north-south road connectivity. The first, the Silvertown Tunnels project, is well progressed in planning terms. TfL is preparing to apply for a development consent order and has invited interest from design and construction consortia.

The twin-bore, dual carriageway tunnels from the North Greenwich Peninsula to Silvertown have been conceived as a means for relieving congestion through the nearby Blackwall Tunnels, with a route more appropriate for HGVs and abnormal loads. The cost is put at around £1bn. Both the Silvertown and Blackwall Tunnels will be tolled when the new route opens – possibly in 2022.

Chances of success: 4 out of 5

East London Road Crossings

Gallions Reach

Initial consultation has now been completed for two more road crossings, at Gallions Reach (pictured) and Belvedere. Gallions Reach would connect Beckton with Thamesmead, while the second crossing would link Belvedere with Rainham.

Former mayor Boris Johnson asked TfL to investigate new road crossings in east London – there are currently no road bridges or tunnels between Greenwich and the M25 at Dartford. The resulting “East of Silvertown” project examined options for either or both crossings, as bridges or tunnels. The Gallions Reach location has the flightpath of City Airport to contend with, however, and both proposals are at points where the river widens, so large, long-span bridges would be needed.

These plans are reminiscent of the Thames Gateway bridge, in roughly the same place. This was scrapped by Johnson in 2008, owing to the £1bn costs as well as fierce local, political and environmental opposition to the expected increase in traffic, noise and air pollution. Opposition campaigns have also been launched to fight the new proposals.

TfL puts the costs for East of Silvertown at between £1bn and £3bn, with benefit-cost ratios for transport and economic regeneration from 1.9 to 7.1. The options include Docklands Light Railway lines using the crossings alongside road traffic.

The environmental aspects should not prevent either crossing being built, says Temple Group associate director Simon Perry. “TfL will clearly have to examine the usual possible impacts through an environmental impact assessment, plus changes to traffic, air quality and construction effects, but none are insurmountable,” Perry says.

Chances of success: 2 out of 5

The Farrells proposal for transforming east London: six low-level lift bridges

Farrells Proposal

Architect Farrells’ proposal is for a series of six low-level lift bridges to boost regeneration in east London. Buro Happold, which has worked with Farrells on its Bridging East London plan, estimates that the crossings could open up land for 50,000 homes and bring economic growth to both sides of the river.

“Our proposal is not an alternative to TfL’s plans,” says Farrells partner Neil Bennett. “London needs a bigger network of bridges to support transport as well as local development. The ideas are not competing, but clearly London has very pressing needs for jobs and housing.”

Analysis by London First has shown large areas fit for development, but all need better connectivity with central London and other employment centres, Bennett says.

“East London has turned its back on the river in the past. Our proposal is low-level bridges to allow the riverbanks to thrive, allowing east London development to face the river again.”

The Port of London has voiced no objection, but the right balance must be struck – between bridges’ optimum height (for pedestrians and cyclists) and practicality on the frequency of opening for smaller vessels using the river.

Farrells’ idea has been well received in conversation with developers and local authorities, Bennett says. “There is a great deal of interest from public and private sector in capitalising on land values and there are clouds gathering to make it happen. London boroughs and the GLA are up for it. We just need to hit the sweet spot of engineering – to get bridges as low as possible.”




Currently there are no crossing east of Tower Bridge where you are allowed to cycle over or under the Thames. This severance issue can be solved much cheaper by an increase in foot + cycling tunnels at key points along the Thames. This is a lot easier and cheaper. All weather protection, never mind high winds, sleet and rain. Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels are used by around 3000 cyclists/day mostly going towards Canary Wharf. The Tyne tunnel with separate nine foot diameter pedestrian and cycle tunnels has sufficient capacity and was built in the 1950s. Lyon has an excellent new cycle and ped tunnel opened in 2013. No need to wait 10 mins for bridges to open and close like Tower Bridge. Just take the lift or walk down. Use video, art , LED lighting, music and busking to make the tunnel space more interesting. Relatively easy to integrate into the existing urban fabric. Although not as glamorous as a bridge its surprising the amount of tourists at Greenwich who get excited by walking under the Thames. Tunnels are worth considering.