It’s a funny old place is Bexley borough, politically tied as it is to London, but with its heart in Kent. That said, Kent proper is no doubt glad to be shot of Bexley, just as it is neighbouring Bromley, or at least parts of both boroughs. Like it or not, Bexley is tied to the City State of Greater Londinium, aka the Great Wen, currently ruled by Boris de Borja.
The northern edge of Bexley borough runs along the south bank of the River Thames from Thamesmead in Greenwich to the west to Dartford in Kent to the east. The area is part of the Thames Gateway along which London is expanding, or at least will once politicians and planners get their act together. Much of the Thames Gateway is for the moment a marshy wasteland, but on the northern bank we see being planted the seeds of new urban growth. Whether that growth is sustainable is open to question, but it seems foolish to oppose the creation of new communities and economic activity when they are so needed.
Opposition to the creation and sustenance of community and business is something at which politicians excel, and Bexley is a case in point. The protestations of Invest Bexley notwithstanding, the regeneration of the riverside part of the borough seems to be on permanent hold. This issue has come to mind following a seminar at City Hall in Southwark at which politicians and public discussed proposals for new river crossings in east London.
Political momentum is clearly behind the building of a new road tunnel to run alongside the existing Blackwall Tunnel, but there is pressing need for multi-modal crossings that facilitate the movement of people and goods across the Thames further downstream from the inner-ish London boroughs of Newham and Greenwich. There are currently no vehicle crossings between the Woolwich Ferry and Dartford Crossing.
I attended the river crossings seminar as a member of the London Cycling Campaign. LCC and its partners Sustrans, Living Streets and the Campaign for Better Transport are calling for the needs of cyclists, pedestrians and public transport users to be factored into highly politicised infrastructure projects that would otherwise focus on motorised through-transport to the detriment of riverside communities. LCC is currently formulating its corporate response to the river crossings public consultation, and we appear to be converging on a consensus.
From a personal pespective what I am keen to do is find common ground among what might normally be considered disparate interests: sustainable transport groups and environmentalists on the one hand, and urban economic regeneration lobbyists on the other. For me the most interesting of the invited presentations at the City Hall seminar was that of David Quarmby of the RAC Foundation, who spoke of the need for transport infrastructure that benefits the riverside communities of Bexley to the south and Barking and Dagenham to the north.
Quarmby’s presentation will not have gone down well with the representatives of Tory-controlled Bexley council sitting in the cheap seats. Their contribution from the floor was so incoherent that I had to stifle an urge to laugh out loud. To paraphrase: “We fully support the Mayor’s proposals, but don’t like any of them.” If Boris Johnson had attended the seminar in person, he might not have matched my level of self-discipline.
Tempting as it is for LCC to highlight Bexley’s opposition to a Thames Gateway Bridge as part of our campaign against a uni-modal river crossing that would do little more than increase the number of cars clogging up the outer reaches of inner London, I have cautioned against this. It might be politic if Bexley were an honest player in this game, but it isn’t. What we have in Bexley is NIMBYs without the Y. The local authority’s attitude toward the development of the Thames Gateway is one of purposeful neglect, and it seems content to have the northern part of the borough – where the proles live – remain a wasteland.
Such cynicism aside, the public debate around the proposed east London river crossings has prompted LCC to question whether in collaboration with sustainable community and economic regeneration groups we might contribute to a masterplan for a liveable Thames Gateway.
Now I like the sound of that.