Council and MP angry at Network Rail plans to close Angerstein foot crossing

Angerstein crossing
A neighbour has placed a sign warning of the crossing’s closure

Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook and Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe have hit out at Network Rail’s plans to close the Angerstein Wharf foot crossing, used by hundreds of Charlton residents each day.

The historic crossing, one of the last left in London, enables people who live near Fairthorn Road – which has seen new homes built in recent years – to reach Westcombe Park station.

It crosses a small railway branch, opened in 1851, used by aggregates trains heading to and from Angerstein Wharf. The crossing, which marks the modern-day point where Charlton becomes east Greenwich, was originally built for workers on the nearby Combe Farm, which occupied land at the foot of Westcombe Hill.

Residents only found out a few days ago that Network Rail planned to close the crossing permanently in letters sent to neighbours, which said that major upgrade work on the line would be carried out next week and the crossing fenced off.

One neighbour has attached a hand-written sign to the crossing, warning of the closure, adding in ballpoint pen: “Network Rail weren’t going to tell you.”

Angerstein crossing family
Many longstanding locals have fond memories of the crossing

Network Rail’s regional press office has not responded to an enquiry The Charlton Champion sent on Monday asking it to clarify its plans.

Council leader Thorpe told a resident on Twitter this morning that Network Rail had “not followed any proper process or engaged people and this is clearly not acceptable. We have contacted them to advise of such and expect them to stop pending a proper consultation”.

Angerstein crossing
The crossing sees a steady stream of commuters and and from Westcombe Park station each rush hour

A council spokesperson told The Charlton Champion: “The pedestrian crossing serves as an essential link between both sides of the railway line and has been in place, and in good use, for over 100 years.

“Whilst we recognise the attempt to improve safety and reduce pedestrian access to railway lines, we object to the closure unless full details are provided and a suitable alternative is provided.

“The crossing cannot be closed without consultation and a formal legal process. We were not made aware of the proposed works, which we should have been.

“We have written to Network Rail to request postponing the crossing closure until alternative options explored and until much better publicity has been issued locally. We will also be taking advice about enforcement options.”

Pennycook has also written to Network Rail criticising the plans and the lack of consultation.

Network Rail letter
Network Rail’s letter was misdated March 2017

One neighbour shared a response he had from Network Rail, saying the crossing was being closed because a reconfiguration of the signalling would mean it was more likely to be blocked by freight trains waiting to access the main line. Trains typically wait for half an hour before leaving and entering the branch line. In June 2015, a derailment on the branch line damaged track and signalling on the main Blackheath-Charlton line.

In recent years Network Rail has closed many foot crossings on railway lines for safety concerns. The only other crossing left like it in London is in Hanwell, west London, on another freight line which serves the river.

But the sleepy crossing has seen a new lease of life in recent years with the construction of over 200 homes on the Thorn Lighting site at the south end of Fairthorn Road, with a further 330 homes now being built on the rest of the site.

Fairthorn Road development
So near, yet so far: Westcombe Park station can be seen behind the substation on the Fairthorn Road development

Many of these homes overlook the Greenwich railway line and are within sight of Westcombe Park station, but no provision was made to improve access to the station with residents left to depend on the foot crossing.

Footpaths have less legal protection in inner London than in the rest of England. In the 2000s, a developer built housing – now called Bellfield Close – between Charlton Road and Old Dover Road, permanently blocking a path which had only been designated a cycle route a few years before.

11.30pm update: A petition against the closure has been launched.


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Bramshot Avenue subway in line for upgrade from Silvertown Tunnel money

Siebert Road subway
The upgrade is designed to make the subway more pleasant and cycle-friendly

The subway linking Bramshot Avenue with Siebert Road is to get a £50,000 upgrade as part of measures to mitigate the impact of the forthcoming Silvertown Tunnel on the area, Greenwich Council documents reveal.

The revamp of the 50-year-old subway is among an expanded package of measures to go with the controversial river crossing between Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks, which is due to open in late 2024 or early 2025. Work on the tunnel is due to begin by the end of this year.

A scrutiny panel of councillors rejected an earlier £349,000 package of “neighbourhood enhancements” which focused on expanding the current, limited, low emissions neighbourhood in east Greenwich in May. This has now been increased to £700,000.

There is very little for Charlton in the new package, but it does target some areas just outside – commuters who use Westcombe Park station will notice some difference by the time the work is finally done, which may not be until the tunnel is completed.

The new package includes £50,000 for improvements to Siebert Road subway, which links Westcombe Hill in Blackheath with Eastcombe Avenue in Charlton – a busy route for local schoolchildren and commuters using Westcombe Park station or buses to North Greenwich. It is partly aimed at making it safer for cyclists to use. Similar subways at the Sun-in-the-Sands roundabout already permit cycling.

Improvements promised include “lighting improvements to the entrances and within the underpass itself, “planting on ramp approach to tunnel to enhance public realm and slow cycles”, “planting and environmental improvements on Siebert Road side to make link more appealing to users”.

Footbridge improvements

Another £50,000 will go on improvements to the footbridge over the A102 between Farmdale Road, east Greenwich, and Westcombe Park station. This will comprise of “lighting along the entirety of the bridge”, “resurfacing with buff anti-skid surfacing”, “repainting railings” and “planting where appropriate and minor bridge repairs”. 200m long 4m wide bridge.

Soap fans will recall the bridge from a 2005 episode of EastEnders…

The bulk of the extra cash, however, is going at the footbridge’s eastern end, with a £275,000 scheme to improve the approach to the bridge at Farmdale Road. Before the A102 was constructed in the late 1960s, this was the end of Westcombe Hill – and the road has barely been touched since it was severed decades ago.

Plans here appear to be encouraging a pedestrian and cycle route towards the Thames – arguably, this is something that perhaps should have been included in the Ikea planning agreements, which merely include signage along this particular route. They include “footway improvements, decluttering and planting on Farmdale Road”, “resurfacing of Farmdale Road”, “continuous footways on both Farmdale Rd and Aldeburgh Street”, “toucan/parallel [pedestrian/cycle] crossing shifted to ped/cyclist desire line into Aldeburgh Street”, “greening on both sides of the railway bridge”.

A further £75,000 is set aside for the decades-overdue screening of the western side of Farmdale Road from the A102 slip road.

Separately, a planned noise barrier for the Blackheath side of the A102 will be doubled in length so it runs from near Invicta School to the railway line at Westcombe Park, protecting neighbours of the dual carriageway in SE3 from road noise, following heavy lobbying from residents. No such protection is planned for the Charlton side, where there has been no lobbying.

The council paper discussing the improvements can be read here, full details of the improvements can be seen here. (See also From The Murky Depths’ take on this.)

Siebert Road subway graffiti
Occasional graffiti has livened up the bleak subway under the A102

Council still backs the tunnel – despite what councillors said

The tunnel, which is backed by Greenwich, Bexley and Tower Hamlets councils, but opposed by Newham, Lewisham, Southwark and Hackney, was given planning consent by transport secretary Chris Grayling in May 2018.

An attempt to change Greenwich’s stance on the tunnel was defeated in an internal meeting of the council’s ruling Labour group last week, in part thanks to two Peninsula ward councillors – Stephen Brain and Denise Scott-McDonald – going back on their previous opposition to the tunnel. Neither would comment on their change of heart on the tunnel, but The Charlton Champion has been told that Brain changed his mind because of the increase to the mitigation package.

The elephant in the room – the A102 roundabout

Nothing in this agreement deals with the dangerous junction between Woolwich Road and the Blackwall Tunnel approach. It was originally due to be dealt with as part of plans for Cycle Superhighway 4 to Woolwich, which was then cut back to Deptford Creek Bridge.

City Hall has pledged to deal with the junction by “late 2023”, according to papers released by the mayor’s office last year.

Woolwich Road roundabout
Two cyclists have died at the Woolwich Road roundabout in the past decade

Now the A206 will be covered a by a new, separate plan for a cycle route between Greenwich and Woolwich. A consultation earlier this year on removing Greenwich town centre’s one-way system was the first step in that process. (Locals will get a preview of how this could work on Sunday, when The Big Half half-marathon closes part of the town centre.)

City Hall’s walking and cycling commissioner Will Norman said on Tuesday: “I’m excited about that, because unlocking that town centre unlocks the cycle route down to Woolwich. We now have the funding for that cycle route and we are working with the borough to deliver that.

“The plans are working well, it is unlocking the next phase and the money is in place to do that. The designs are being worked up for that new route all the way down to Woolwich.

“The Angerstein roundabout will be part of that. Greenwich is working up an interim scheme to make it a bit safer.

“But, as part of the longer route from the town centre to Woolwich, that is a core focus. That and the Woolwich Ferry roundabout are two hotspots for road danger.

“I’m seeing initial plans to make that [the Angerstein roundabout] safer for cyclists and pedestrians, at the moment it is a horrible area. That work is ongoing, the new [council] leadership are really behind it, it’s very exciting.”

While the flyover dates from the construction of the Blackwall Tunnel Southern Approach in 1969, the original layout of the junction featured a more complex arrangement with traffic lights and longer slip roads from the A102 to the south. The current roundabout dates from a reworking of the junction about 10 years later, which itself had traffic lights installed in the late 1990s.

Will Norman material from Tom Bull, the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich. See how The Charlton Champion uses material from the Local Democracy Reporter Service.


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Inside Greenwich Ikea: Flatpack heaven with a little bit of greenwash

Ikea meatballs
Don’t forget the meatballs (and veggieballs)

Ahead of its official opening on Thursday, Greenwich Ikea has been holding preview days for members of its loyalty club (including Saturday – details here). The Charlton Champion‘s DARRYL CHAMBERLAIN, who has followed the saga since the store’s plans first emerged in 2013, signed up and went for a look.

We’ve been here before, of course. 19 years ago, Jamie Oliver fired a little white cannon on this site to declare the “environmentally-friendly” Greenwich Peninsula Sainsbury’s store open. Inside, you couldn’t move for reminders that this was something different – even the flooring in the toilets had a sign telling you that it came from recycled plastic.

There’s very little of that in the new Ikea which has taken its place after Sainsbury’s found some of those eco-features didn’t work and decamped half a mile down the road to somewhere bigger. For all the claims that this is Ikea’s most sustainable store yet (TM), it feels little different from any of the chain’s other London area outlets.

Some residents’ groups had pinned their hopes on something like its Harburg store in Hamburg, a high street outlet full of signs exorting German shoppers to use cycle delivery services and take public transport. There’s very little of that here.

Ikea Greenwich
Spot the spelling mistake

First impressions matter, and for those bruised at seeing the blue behemoth land in their neighbourhood, the in-store DJ’s choice of Rihanna’s We Found Love (“we found love in a hopeless place…”) seemed bleakly apt. After all, if the council had seen anything of value in this end of east Greenwich, between the traditional neighbourhood and the Millennium Village, it wouldn’t have encouraged a multinational to plonk its warehouse here.

If you love Ikea – and most people do, even if they pretend not to – then you will fall in love in this hopeless place. It’s an Ikea, doing the things Ikea do reliably well. The smaller footprint of the store means this is a little bit more cramped than other stores – but just as Ikea show you how to ingeniously squeeze stuff into your tiny flat, its twisty route through the salesfloor shows it can do this in retail too, even though it can feel a little claustrophobic at times.

Ikea Greenwich
This way forward..

Ikea-spotters will also note the marketplace – the bit where you pick smaller items off the shelves – is on two levels, with garden plants downstairs. Between the showroom and the marketplace is the restaurant, which was packed – it is likely this will be as much a draw as the furniture will be. But faced with an unpleasant walk around some of London’s most forbidding public realm to get there, will diners travel sustainably?

Ikea Greenwich

The major nod to the community is tucked away upstairs, with a roof terrace and an indoor space that can be used for events and meetings. A day of dire weather was not the best opportunity to show the roof terrace off, but views up towards Blackheath and Canary Wharf will look better when the sun’s out. Shame about the dual carriageway in between, which may make you think you’re taking a break in a motorway service station. A second nod to the community is a “learning hub” downstairs.

Downstairs, the warehouse section – where you pick up your flat-pack purchases – was seeing very little trade; somewhat surprising, as today would have offered the ideal chance to pick something big up before the crowds descend. But cheapskates will be delighted to know that Bargain Corner is already well-stocked, while the food outlet was doing a roaring trade (although the booze was taped off, clearly someone forgot to get the licence in time). Yes, there are plenty of meatballs.

Ikea Greenwich
The community hub and roof garden

In conclusion, it’s an Ikea, and if you expected anything different, go back to the start of this sentence and read it again. The store was reasonably busy for a Friday lunchtime, and the roads seemed to be holding up okay – despite the impatient (and totally unsustainable) horn-honking out on Peartree Way. How things will be next week, when the store’s first Saturday coincides with a Charlton match, is anybody’s guess.

Long-standing residents who remember this as a sports field will wince at the “sustainability” claims. This store has created jobs (about 100 have gone to people in the borough, councillors were told this week) but it would have created jobs if it had opened on the empty dual carriageways of Thamesmead – or on Eltham High Street, for that matter.

But they winced when Sainsbury’s came here, and that turned out to be something people become rather fond of. Will the people of SE10, SE7 and SE3 – so powerless when this was decided five years ago – learn to love the big blue beast in their midst? Only you can answer that.

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