The crossing had been due to close permanently from Saturday as part of plans to upgrade the signalling on the freight branch line. But Network Rail announced on Thursday afternoon that while the crossing would close for a week from Saturday for work to be carried out on the track, it would review its plans for the future of the crossing.
A spokesperson told The Charlton Champion: “We would like to apologise for the lack of meaningful engagement with local people around the proposed closure of Angerstein footpath crossing and have decided to stop the closure process until a review has taken place.
“We planned to close the crossing, near Westcombe Park station, as part of a £55m project to upgrade signalling and track on the lines from Deptford to Woolwich Arsenal and Lewisham to Falconwood, and increase the freight capacity at Angerstein Wharf. The increase in freight traffic and the fact trains will now straddle the crossing when stopped at red signals, presents a very real risk to the public, which we take very seriously.
“The crossing will be blocked while our engineers are working on the line over the Easter weekend, however, it will not close permanently at this point.
“We will provide a further update on long term plans, as soon as a review has taken place.”
A petition was launched on Wednesday protesting against the closure of the crossing, which runs between Fairthorn Road in Charlton and Farmdale Road in east Greenwich, and provides an important link to Westcombe Park station for hundreds of commuters. It crosses the Angerstein Wharf branch line, used for taking aggregates to and from the River Thames.
The crossing, originally built for farm workers in the 1850s, has grown in importance in the past decade with new housing being built at the end of Farmdale Road. It is one of the last of its type in London, the only other one being at the evocatively-named Trumpers Crossing in Hanwell, on another freight route to the Thames.
Residents only found out a few days ago when letters were pushed through their letter boxes. Local MP Matt Pennycook has criticised the lack of consultation, saying a closure would cause “significant inconvenience” to residents who would have to walk via Woolwich Road.
Greenwich Council has also formally protested, and this website understands the matter is with the council’s legal team.
Even Network Rail’s chairman, Sir Peter Hendy, was drawn into the row, responding on Twitter to one user who had flagged up the issue.
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.”
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”.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.