Take a step into Charlton’s future: Support proposals for a Thames Barrier Bridge

Thames Barrier Bridge
A Thames Barrier Bridge could be a tourist attraction in its own right

Two years ago, we reported on early ideas for a pedestrian and cycling bridge at the Thames Barrier, connecting Charlton with Silvertown on the north side of river. Now the team behind the proposals are looking for your support to make this a reality. ALEX LIFSCHUTZ, of the architecture firm Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, explains more and how you can get involved.

The Thames Barrier Bridge, conceived by the London architects Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, with the marine, civil and structural engineers Beckett Rankine, is a low-cost, low-impact pedestrian and cycle bridge that would link the communities of Charlton and Woolwich with the Royal Docks. The transport consultants Steer reckon that five million pedestrians and one million cyclists would use the bridge every year, based on journeys to work alone. These figures don’t include leisure or other trips.

The grim statistics of the pandemic have alerted us to so many issues of health and social inequality. Likewise the return of birdsong to our cities has reminded us that, as we emerge from lockdown, we really do have to replace motor vehicles with sustainable transport. Walking and cycling are part of the solution to all of these problems – promoting health, social and economic progress, and reducing pollution. A hopeful sign is the massive increase of bike sales – according to The Guardian, up 40% on last year.

Thames Barrier Bridge
A bridge at the Thames Barrier would not stop shipping

But the river creates an enormous barrier to walking and cycling in east and southeast London. For instance, a journey from Charlton to the new City Hall at The Crystal, or the 70,000 new jobs in and around the Royal Docks Enterprise Zone, currently takes about 40 minutes, cycling and walking though the Woolwich foot tunnel (assuming the lifts are working or you don’t mind carrying your bike down and up the stairs), 40 minutes by the Docklands Light Railway, or over 70 minutes walking.

A bridge across the river close to the Thames Barrier would allow you to reach the same destination in 20 minutes, walking or you could cycle there in half that time. It would be the only bridge east of Tower Bridge (other than the Dartford Crossing), where half of London’s population now lives, compared to over 20 bridges in west London.

Thames Barrier Bridge
The bridge would create opportunities for communities on both sides of the Thames

In the late 1990’s, Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands came up with the idea of a bridge connecting the South Bank to Charing Cross station and slung off the existing Hungerford Railway Bridge, creating minimal obstructions to river traffic. Completed in 2002, the Golden Jubilee Footbridges have become the Thames’s most popular crossing with about 8.4 million pedestrian journeys each year.

Our idea for the new bridge at the Thames Barrier is similarly opportunistic. Like the Golden Jubilee Bridges, its supports would shadow the piers of the existing structure and hence create only a small additional impact on navigation and the flow of the river. In fact, like our bridges further upstream, it would also provide the barrier with protection from impact on whichever side it is placed. Its low height (about 15 metres above Mean Water High Springs) makes it easier to access by cycle, foot or wheelchair, with minimal shore taken up by its relatively short ramps rising from the parks at either side. It would be around nine metres wide with separate lanes for walking and bikes.

Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands came up with the idea for the Golden Jubilee Bridge, linking the South Bank with the West End (image: Mary and Andrew via CC BY 2.0)

It would totally transform the accessibility of the Charlton and Woolwich waterfronts including existing occupants such as the Thames-Side Studios and the many new homes and businesses planned for Charlton Riverside. Looking further afield, it would link the Green Chain, including Maryon Park and Charlton Park on the south side, to the Lee Valley and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Parks to the north.

Like Tower Bridge, the Thames Barrier Bridge is an opening bascule bridge, so allows passage for boats and barges by raising its deck. The elegant structure is a series of small spans that use a minimal amount of material (especially steel), making it both cost-effective and environmentally friendly. With shorter, multiple openings, the bridge is less prone to the risk of malfunction compared to a single point of opening, and can be raised at the last minute for ships to pass, minimising disruption to cycles and pedestrians. The bridge would serve journeys to and from work but also attract visitors and tourists, bringing economic benefits north and south of the river.

Thames Barrier
A bridge would connect new developments, transport links and green spaces on. both sides of the Thames

The idea is receiving support from local MPs and councillors, residents’ groups, cycle organisations, developers, environmentalists and transport experts. What we need are local political champions, including the Royal Borough of Greenwich and the London Borough of Newham, the Greater London Authority and statutory agencies like the Environment Agency to pick up the idea and help us run with it.

Of course, we are only at the concept stage and much testing needs to be done. Curiously, once it has political support, funding the design work – and ultimately the £300 million structure – is less difficult than you’d expect as there is a large amount of green finance available at the moment, given government and corporate climate initiatives.

So what can you do to help? Click on the website – www.thamesbarrierbridge.com – to find out more and send us your comments, or write to your local council.

The pandemic has shown us that we can rapidly change our behaviour to counter a virus; we can use the same energy and enterprise to counter the even more dangerous threat of climate change and, in doing so, make better lives for ourselves.

ALEX LIFSCHUTZ is the founder and principal of Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands.

This comment piece is also appearing on our sister website 853.


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Architects suggest Thames Barrier bridge for Charlton riverside

Thames Barrier Bridge
The Thames Barrier Bridge could be positioned either side of the barrier

A firm of architects has unveiled a proposal to build a cycling and pedestrian bridge next to the Thames Barrier, with lifting spans to allow shipping to pass through.

Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands’ suggestion of a Thames Barrier Bridge would connect the Charlton Riverside with the Royal Docks, two areas undergoing huge redevelopment schemes. It would put many Charlton residents within walking distance of the Docklands Light Railway and, slightly further away, the Crossrail station at Custom House.

The proposal, worked up alongside Beckett Rankine, a marine engineering company, was unveiled this morning at the press launch of the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy on Piccadilly, Architects Journal reports.

It would feature four lifting sections with each 61m span capable of being individually opened or closed to allow river traffic to pass.  It is anticipated the bridge would have to open and close 10 times a day.

A proposal was submitted to Transport for London in late 2017 and both practices are currently engaged in “exploratory conversations” with a number of “relevant stakeholders”, according to Architects Journal .

The bridge could sit either side of the barrier “so impact on the flow of the river would be minimised”, the firms said. A bridge just west of the barrier, could affect the plans for 500 homes at what the developer Komoto is calling Flint Glass Wharf on the old Johnsen and Jorgensen factory site, but would lead directly to Thames Barrier Park on the other side of the river. Designs showing a bridge on the west side show it landing at the Thames Barrier control buildings on the south side and slotting into housing developments on the north side.

Thames Barrier Bridge from above
The bridge would have to open and close 10 times per day

Alex Lifschutz, founding director of Lifschutz Davidson Sandilands, told Architects Journal: “There is really only one location in east London for a relatively low bridge suitable for cycles and pedestrians.

“Construction would take about 18 months and phasing would mean that at least two of the barrier openings are always open for navigation, so no river traffic would be stopped. And because the majority of the construction can be done from the river, it will minimise disturbance to residents.”

While both Charlton Riverside and the Royal Docks are both designated regeneration areas, there have been no official plans made to link the two – despite the claims made for the Silvertown road crossing a mile west. Greenwich Council’s Charlton Riverside masterplan contains no plans for linking the area with its docklands counterpart.

Three years ago, another architecture practice, Farrells, suggested a series of six low-level crossings of the Thames, with designs showing one linking Anchor & Hope Lane with what would now be the Royal Wharf development on the north side of the Thames.

Four major development schemes for the Charlton riverside are on the cards, with plans to eventually build 7,500 homes in total – a figure which will likely increase. After years of delay, the Royal Docks has already seen development alongside the Docklands Light Railway, with the giant Silvertown Quays development yet to come.

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