Open Letter: ‘A Bridge Too Far’

In an open call to the community, Citizen Journalist Ben Priestley argues against the London Legacy Development Corporation’s plans to convert Old Ford Road’s footbridge into a road bridge.

Dear readers,

At the eastern end of Old Ford Road you will find a pedestrian and cycle bridge which allows people to cross the busy A12 to reach Fish Island. You may have used it to get to and from the Olympic Park. 

It’s a very useful bridge and as a regular user I really appreciate the connections it opens up for those of us who live in Bow. It’s a bit neglected and unloved, but it’s a fine bridge and it does its job well. And lots of local people cross it on foot, or by cycle, every day.

But the neglect into which the bridge has fallen tells us much about the uncertainty which now hangs over its future. Because there’s a battle looming between the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) which wants to turn the footbridge into a road bridge and those, including myself, who are firmly opposed to this.

So, what’s the story about the LLDC and the Old Ford footbridge? Ten years ago in 2011, a year before the London Olympics Games, Tower Hamlets published its ‘Fish Island Area Plan’. During consultation over the plan, Tower Hamlets found that there was no support for creating more vehicle crossings onto Fish Island. So, the Plan settled on an ‘…upgrade of the existing pedestrian and cycle bridge over the A12 linking Old Ford Road to Crown Close with improved signage and public realm improvements on the landing site on Crown Close’. So far so good.

In June 2013 Old Ford Housing Association applied for planning permission to build 45 affordable dwellings on the brownfield land to the north of the Old Ford pedestrian/cycle bridge, to the east of Wendon Street and Candy Street. You can see the proposed site for these buildings if you look to your left when crossing the footbridge towards Fish Island. 

But, in November 2014, LLDC put in a holding objection to the plans for affordable homes saying that planning permission should be deferred. This was to give the LLDC time to review the application and its impact on what it called ‘…potential enhancements to the Old Ford pedestrian and cycle bridge’. The planning application did not proceed to approval.

And in 2018, LLDC came clean about their plans for the bridge. In its Hackney Wick and Fish Island Supplementary Planning Document, adopted in March 2018, LLDC made clear that they want to replace the Old Ford pedestrian and cycle bridge with an ‘…all modes link…’ between Roman Road and Fish Island. For ‘…all modes link…’, think road bridge; this to allow motorbikes, cars, vans and lorries to exit and enter Fish Island and to access Roman Road via Old Ford Road.

In its 2018 election manifesto, Tower Hamlets Labour pledged: ‘We will continue to campaign against the plans for new bridges in Fish Island, which we believe will dramatically increase rat running and pollution in the area.’ The Borough duly opposed LLDC’s plans to replace the Monier Road pedestrian and cycle bridge between the Olympic Park and Fish Island with a road bridge. As LLDC runs Fish Island the road bridge was built anyway, even if only buses are allowed to use it for the time being. Once there are 400 dwellings built on the Sweetwater development site on the Olympic Park side of the bridge, planning consent allows it to be opened to all vehicles. So it is only a matter of time until it can be used by all traffic as a rat run into Bow.

LLDC controls the land on each side of the Old Ford Road pedestrian and cycle bridge. Once the new Monier Road bridge, now connecting the Olympic Park to Fish Island, is opened up to all traffic in a few years’ time, it’s easy to understand why LLDC might want a road bridge to replace the Old Ford pedestrian and cycle bridge. Most likely this is to give the vehicles coming onto Fish Island from the east an exit route to the west, with Bow expected to host all this new traffic. There are already too many commuter vehicles on the residential streets of Bow. We can’t accommodate any more. The last thing we need is a bridge too far.

If the thought of even more commuter traffic clogging up and polluting the residential streets of Bow makes you angry, you can contact your Tower Hamlets councillor and let them know that you don’t want LLDC to replace the Old Ford pedestrian and cycle bridge with a new road bridge.


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