Correspondence on the Greenway

I’ve been badgering elected representatives for a while about the ongoing disruptions to the Greenway. I’m going to post a full status update and comment piece later. But for now, here’s the letter I sent, and responses from John Biggs and Darren Johnson at the London Assembly, which contain some interesting information and pointers on the Greenway’s future.

My letter:

Hi Jenny, Darren,

I'd like to take an issue up with you that I've been trying to raise, mostly to my frustration, with the London Borough of Newham.

You may be aware of The Greenway, a sort of linear park that doubles up as a (mostly) high quality cycling and walking route along the top of the Northern Outfall Sewer. I'm informed that this is a key strategic cycling route, and a priority for the Cycling Commissioner. I can see why, given that it runs through densely populated areas where cycling provision is otherwise poor, and connects at several points to the Cycle Superhighway network, as well as to the River Lea. 

While there are plans to enhance this route by installing lighting and opening it 24/7, I'm concerned that large sections of this route are often subjected to lengthy closures at critical points, with no reasonable diversions, which deeply undermine it as a sustainable piece of transport infrastructure. I have written about the current situation here, and here.

While this is probably a poor time to make predictions about the political future of projects involving the GLA, it seems to me that realising this strategically important route requires contingency planning to keep it functional in the circumstance that other critical infrastructure projects cause major disruption to it, as Crossrail, the Olympic Park and repairs to the Northern Outfall Sewer have done recently. Current planning seems to give the continuity of this route basically no priority at all, treating it as a revocable optional extra, further complicated by its status as a permissive path belonging to Thames Water, rather than any kind of public right of way.

I'm not overly hopeful, and appreciate that this sort of thing could be politically difficult, however I would be very grateful if you could outline whether this sort of effective planning is likely to happen, and on what sorts of things it depends.

Regards,
Richard Stevenson

Response from John Biggs

Good morning
Further to your email to John of the 26th January, he has now received a response from Newham Council. He has asked me to copy this to you.

Dear Mr Stevenson

Thank you for your recent correspondence regarding the closure of the Greenway.

As you are aware, the asset is entirely owned by Thames Water Utilities, with a permissive agreement with Newham Council to permit its use by pedestrians and cyclists between prescribed hours.  There is also an agreement for Newham Greenspace to litter pick the route and to open and close the gates at a number of locations daily.

Without any change to the Greenway’s current legal status and ownership, I am afraid that Thames Water are able to close it at any time ‘for operational reasons’ and neither Newham Council or the GLA can do anything about it. In fact, Thames Water are not required to suggest or sign any necessary diversions as a result of any closure they implement along the route, and it is only in the interest of public relations that they choose to do so – although sometimes their commitment to this and the quality of diversion signage implemented as a result is questionable.  But in general terms, they are normally helpful in providing advance notice and a signed diversion route.  (It should be noted that Thames Water could also close, for example, Stratford High Street for essential utility works at any time and there is nothing the Council could do other than require adequate advance signage and diversion routes to be put in place.  So when it comes to maintaining their equipment, unfortunately, as a statutory utility, no-one can prevent them from implementing a closure if it is required.  And any change in this situation is unlikely without a change in Government legislation.)

The Crossrail works for the tunnel portal at Pudding Mill Lane (and the relocation of the DLR station) have been ongoing for some time, with a long-standing signed diversion via Marshgate Lane and Stratford High Street currently in place. These works are due to end in July of this year, when this section of the Greenway will be returned.

The works at the Channelsea River bridge, by Abbey Lane, are by Thames Water’s own contractors (Optimal) and are to strengthen the bridge structure.  The works were originally intended to last for a few months, but on investigation, the bridge was found to be in a serious state of disrepair, with the Northern Outfall Sewer pipes effectively preventing the bridge from major structural failure.  As a result, the works have taken much longer than expected, and the latest estimate for completion is now April 2016.  However, Thames Water have made the decision to allow a partial re-opening as far as Canning Road, as was suggested in your blog and elsewhere. However, no addition safety measures have been implemented at the junction of Canning Road and Abbey Lane, so there will be some small risk for a period of 10 weeks before the full re-opening.  This small risk was deemed to offset the inconvenience of the existing diversion.

Unfortunately, however, Newham Council have recently heard from Thames Water that a similar structural issue has been identified with the Waterworks River bridge, in the currently closed section between Stratford High Street and Pudding Mill Lane, just north of Stratford High Street.  We will encourage Thames Water to get the work started as soon as possible so as to complete before this section is due to be re-opened in July 2016, but if the bridge is in as poor condition as the Channelsea bridge further south, there may be an extension of the closure of that section beyond July.  Naturally we are working with Thames Water to minimise this.

As you correctly point out, the Greenway is a priority cycle and pedestrian resource for the Council and for TfL, with substantial funding allocated from the Quietways programme. It is an excellent resource, cutting directly through the borough diagonally and joins the Olympic Park with Beckton via an entirely traffic-free, linear park route and both the Council and TfL have high aspirations for it as a high quality cycling and walking route  This funding will allow for much improved lighting and CCTV coverage  along the whole route from Wick Lane to Beckton, full 24 hour access and some improvements to the connections with the surface network on some of the elevated sections.  In order to allow 24 hour access, a change will be required to the existing permissive legal agreements and it is the Council’s intention to attempt to consolidate these (as there are a number of agreements for sections of the route) as part of the Quietways project.  It is also the Council’s intention to attempt to formalise a closure procedure and to ensure mitigation plans are implemented within this revised legal agreement, although this will be subject to Thames Water’s agreement.  Beyond that, legislation prevents us from being able to force any change in the current situation.

I am sorry I cannot be more helpful about the current status of the Greenway and our inability to prevent any closures that are deemed necessary by Thames Water at this time, but we are trying to revise the existing arrangements in the required revisions to the legal agreements as a result of the 24 hour access. We are therefore hopeful that some increased protection of the route in planning terms will arise from these negotiations.

Regards

Susan Jeary 
Research Support Officer to 
John Biggs GLA Member for City & East

Reply from TfL (via Darren Johnson)

Dear Rachel

Thank you for your email.

As Darren’s constituent points out, we are investing in the Greenway as part of the Mayor’s Quietways programme to improve this important walking and cycling link in East London.  The plans – including trials of lighting and CCTV as well as improvements to some of the access points – are being led by LB Newham and are in the early stages of development.

The borough is responsible for coordinating all works along the Greenway. Whilst we can encourage LB Newham to minimise disruption to users whilst Quietway works are being implemented, the borough is responsible for coordinating all works (their own and third party) and clearly communicating any diversions / temporary arrangements which might be necessary.

I hope this clarifies our position on this matter.

Kind regards
[TfL]

 

 

A Greenway Users Group

The Greenway needs a users group, let’s start one.

Why

The greenway is great, and it’s under threat.

It’s Fantastic…

The Greenway is a walking and cycling path that cuts diagonally right across the London Borough of Newham, here’s a map. It lets you cut right across Newham while barely even seeing a car:

More than that, because TfL are finally building a decent cycle network, people living near the Greeenway should soon be able to just hop on a bike and get to any of the places on this map without fearing for their lives!

…when it’s open

The Greenway gets closed, a lot, for ages, with no reasonable alternative. Two sections are closed right now. One part has now been gone for over a year, and another part since at least 2009. It also closes every night. Having a usable route to get where you want isn’t a lot of good if you can’t go back the other way when you’ve finished.

The situation is complicated by the fact that the Greenway is a permissive path, meaning that it’s private property and that walkers, runners and riders are only allowed to use it at the whim of its owners, Thames water. In the words of Newham Council, responding to a query I made of John Biggs AM:

"Without any change to the Greenway’s current legal status and ownership, I am afraid that Thames Water are able to close it at any time ‘for operational reasons’ and neither Newham Council or the GLA can do anything about it. In fact, Thames Water are not required to suggest or sign any necessary diversions as a result of any closure they implement along the route, and it is only in the interest of public relations that they choose to do so ... It should be noted that Thames Water could also close, for example, Stratford High Street for essential utility works at any time and there is nothing the Council could do other than require adequate advance signage and diversion routes to be put in place ... as a statutory utility, no-one can prevent them from implementing a closure if it is required."

There’s a lot in here. I’d like to make a few points about this:

  1. Why not change the legal status or ownership? When roads or railways need to get built, landowners get forced to sell, and homes and businesses get demolished. Why should pedestrians and cyclists have to beg to use a thing that already exists?
  2. Diversions, signage and a reasonable route need to be put in place if there’s a closure, and I don’t care who does it. However, the ultimate responsibility is with our local political institutions, not a privatised utility. Everyone should expect private companies to selfishly serve their owners, that’s what they’re for. It’s government’s job to shape the world to channel that self interest into something useful.
  3. Thames Water may well be able to close Stratford High Street for a year, but would the council simply moan pathetically that there was nothing it could do? I don’t think so.

These are the issues that a user group would need to tackle if the Greenway is to become a serious, reliable route. Greenway users need to get together to speak with a common voice to pressure Newham and Thames Water to keep the it open and respect its users.

How?

I’m going to plan this one step at a time, so I’ve only got two first steps on my list to get this off the ground:

  • Flyer people on and around the Greenway to build a contact list. I’ve created a calendar to co-ordinate any collective activity, although it’s empty at the moment!
  • Interview people for stories about how important the Greenway is to them, and then publish them on this site.
  • I’ve created a facebook group

I’ve made the most basic possible flyer. Think it’s rubbish? Feel free to make it better! Want to hand some out yourself – please do. Have any better ideas for how to organise? Skill to add? Want to be kept updated? Want to flyer, but not alone? Get in touch. If you want to get involved, leave me a comment in the thread below or email me at greenway@easternism.co.uk, or contact me on twitter.