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Farrell: 'Why are we not building new bridges in East London?'

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Terry Farrell sets out his wish list for the next mayor of London – including more bridges east of Tower Bridge and a plea to turn the capital into a National Park

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One of the most important conclusions from the Farrell Review was the need for more proactive planning in this country. With predictions that a city the size of Birmingham will be added to London’s population in the next 10 years, this has become even more critical for the capital to grow and maintain its quality of life at the same time.

It was in this context that I was asked to launch RTPI London’s new Mayoral series at the NLA, and to offer my thoughts on priorities for the new mayor.

A number of recommendations from the review have been adopted by the GLA, like the PLACE Review panel recently set up for Old Oak Common. But there is more that can be done by the public and private sectors working together to solve the big issues.

For example, why aren’t there any low-level river crossings in east London? Having worked with Buro Happold on our own, self-funded research into this issue, we were struck by the fact that only high-level bridges or tunnels are currently being consulted on for East London. Both of these options have long approach ramps and connect cars with roads, effectively sterilising the river banks.

However low-level bridges, which lift a few times a day to let tall ships past, are a much cheaper alternative which connect communities through cycling and walking. They would act as instant catalysts for mixed-use development on either side of the river and turbocharge existing plans for areas like the Royal Docks and Thamesmead.

I was shocked to learn that of the 34 bridges in London only one of them is east of Tower Bridge – and it is a high-level bridge. It’s no wonder that regeneration has been happening at a much slower pace and that the majority of opportunity areas identified as ‘difficult to bring forward without support from the GLA’ are in East London.

Only one of the 34 bridges in London is east of Tower Bridge

We’ve started discussions with the Port of London Authority about these proposals and hope to bring all of the stakeholders together at an event in the new year.

Another independent initiative which has really caught the imagination – and which we are supporting and advising on – is the idea of making London a National Park City. Self-proclaimed guerrilla geographer Daniel Raven-Ellison has proved how effective thought leadership can be by campaigning tirelessly to get this on the agenda for policymakers, including the GLA and mayoral candidates.

For me, the idea goes to the heart of a key issue and widely held misconception that new development diminishes access to and quality of public space. In fact, the opposite is true. The regeneration of previously industrial areas like Greenwich Peninsula and the Pool of London, which were gated and completely inaccessible to the public, have opened up miles of new riverside walks and landscape. Urban London has created a biodiversity that exceeds much of the countryside around it, particularly rural areas which have been depleted of hedgerows and damaged by pesticides.

There are 4 million back gardens in London which have been created as a result of built development. With 8 million trees there is almost one per person, and any new mayor could pledge a new tree for every new resident in the years to come. These ideas are powerful for all sorts of reasons, not least education and the ability of schoolchildren to interact with the richness of nature that surrounds them.

More than 47 per cent of London is green space which makes it truly exceptional for a World City. Let’s celebrate London’s assets and plan intelligently and proactively for the future.

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Readers' comments (4)

  • Both Zac Goldsmith and Sadiq Khan are apparently in favour of the 'garden bridge' project, but I don't know whether their enthusiasm for a bridge that's more folly than anything else indicates that they're bridgaholics - and have the vision to push for more bridges downstream - or whether they're just two more politicians jumping on a vanity 'bridgewagon'.

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  • Terry Farrell's low level bridge idea is brilliant. The Dartford crossing has the effect of a neutron bomb on a square mile of land at both landing points. So will the current plans for East London river crossings. The Port of London Authority will need to be bombed into submission of course. But low level bridges will infuse life into both north and south landing points.

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  • How many low level bridges could we afford for the cost of that pointless, vanity project called The Garden Bridge?

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  • To the question "How many low level bridges could we afford for the cost of that pointless, vanity project called The Garden Bridge" the answer is none. An eastern crossing will be longer, bigger, wider, structurally more robust to cope with heavy traffic and must incorporate a mechanism to allow river traffic upstream. So, comparing it with the Garden Bridge project is pointless and distracting. Eastern crossings have great merit but they won't be inexpensive. Nothing of such scale is.

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