The plans for a £1 billion revamp of North Greenwich tube station look amazing on paper. A famous architect, 800 homes, a performance venue and 30-storey glass towers… What’s not to love about Santiago Calatrava’s Peninsula Place?
Greenwich Peninsula may finally get a building that replaces the Dome as its symbol. London’s mayor Sadiq Khan even showed up at the launch, purring about “unlocking” the area’s potential.
Peninsula Place is due to replace the Norman Foster-designed bus station that sits on top of North Greenwich underground. The 20th Century Society wants it listed, but it’s no longer fit for purpose. An awkward design leads to buses queuing up to exit the station, particularly during the evening rush hour and major O2 events.
The problems also come from North Greenwich being the only tube station south of the river for miles around. It’s burdened with huge demand even before the 15,000 new homes planned for the peninsula are taken into account.
Peninsula Place won’t stop the battle of the buses
When North Greenwich opened in 1999, few lived nearby. Commuters bussed their way in from neighbouring districts such as Charlton and Blackheath, grateful for an alternative to poor National Rail services to central London. It can be cheaper, too: westbound trips from North Greenwich start in zone 2, neighbouring stations are in zone 3.
That big catchment area now stretches out to zone 4 Eltham, with one bus running non-stop down the Blackwall Tunnel approach to North Greenwich. Unsurprisingly, the 132 is now struggling to cope with demand from cost-conscious commuters.
Another day, another 132. pic.twitter.com/4TcWpfY9F5
— Helen T_m_lynS_ville (@Helsieboo) December 15, 2016
The bus station is now at capacity. It’s packed and chaotic in rush hour. There are occasional reports of fights among passengers, while police sometimes have to supervise queues. A modest expansion – space to fit 17 buses rather than 15 – has been approved in the area’s masterplan. But this is unlikely to satisfy demand.
— Billo (@Billo20Four7) January 25, 2017
Pressure could be eased by improving National Rail services in the area, and maybe tweaking their fares to incentivise people away from North Greenwich. But change seems years off. The UK government is unwilling to devolve these services to the London authorities. So the new facilities will continue to face huge demand from people who don’t live nearby – piling pressure on the Jubilee Line.
The Jubilee Line will soon be at capacity
There’s some room for expansion at North Greenwich station, such as putting new entrances in. But the trains themselves can only hold so many. After the next Jubilee Line upgrade, which should see 36 trains per hour from 2021, there’ll be no more room on the line itself.
With major housing schemes also coming to Stratford, West Ham and Canning Town, it’ll be an almighty squeeze. TfL admitted so much in a submission to Greenwich Council in 2015, when the peninsula’s masterplan was approved, saying: “Jubilee Line crowding is already an issue and is forecast to continue in 2031.”
There are no new plans to provide any significant public transport access off the Greenwich Peninsula – even if Sadiq Khan mistakenly told one TV interview the area is getting Crossrail.
— London Live (@LondonLive) February 2, 2017
So if the Jubilee Line breaks down, you’ll be stuffed. You’ll just be stuffed beneath some £1bn glass towers, rather than in a draughty bus station.
Greenwich Peninsula needs a bridge to Canary Wharf
But a fair chunk of North Greenwich’s commuters are heading only one stop west, to Canary Wharf. So why not build a pedestrian/cycle bridge over the Thames to the business district? One is already pencilled in for the west side of the Isle of Dogs – but one to the east would relieve the Jubilee Line, provide a bit of resilience and bring the peninsula closer to its neighbour across the water.
Building a bridge that could cope with shipping – including cruise liners – would be a challenge, but it wouldn’t be insurmountable. Architect Sir Terry Farrell has suggested a low-level lifting bridge.
In 2009, TfL estimated the cost at up to £90m – but dropped the idea and built the cable car around the other side of the peninsula instead.
Greenwich Council also turned its nose up at the idea when approving the peninsula’s current masterplan in 2015 – even though the planning gain on Greenwich Peninsula could have covered most of the cost.
Repeating the mistakes of the past
Instead, a ferry to Canary Wharf is being mooted. But it’ll be expensive for users, will be vulnerable to the weather and is unlikely to provide round-the clock access.
The controversial Silvertown Tunnel road scheme (declaration of interest: I’m involved in the No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign) is likely to provide some extra buses (watch that bus station capacity). And the much-mocked Emirates Air Line cable car may see fare cuts if the tunnel gets the go-ahead.
But none of these will provide much capacity or resilience for the most popular journeys – and the peninsula will stay isolated from other areas of the capital.
Greenwich Peninsula was meant to be a community of the future. But much of what was built in the late 1990s hasn’t lasted. If Sadiq Khan and developer Knight Dragon want to avoid those mistakes and really unlock the area’s potential, they should think about putting some proper infrastructure in before the glass towers go up.