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Bridging the gap – London must get to grips with Thames crossings

Legend says that the song ‘London Bridge is falling down’ originated when Henry III gave control of the tolls on the bridge to his wife, Queen Eleanor.

She, being keen on the best handbags the 13th century had to offer, duly frittered it away rather than spending it on the upkeep of the bridge.

This led to embittered Londoners taking up the lament for their poorly maintained river crossing.

Indeed, Eleanor’s toll-pinching habits tarnished an already bad reputation (on one occasion, onlookers pelted her with dung, rotten eggs and even loose paving slabs as she travelled up the river).

“Make no mistake, the city really needs more crossings”

So the question of paying tolls to cross the River Thames is not a new one, but it could soon become as hotly debated as it was around the time of the Great Dung Slinging of 1263.

This is because Transport for London has just launched a consultation on river crossings in east London.

Eastern promise

There are now five potential road-based river crossings on the table and, make no mistake, the city really needs more crossings.

Much of the capital’s future growth is planned for the east of the city, but a lack of cross-river connections means more congestion and less incentive for people and businesses to move in.

There are just three road crossings east of Tower Bridge, compared with 16 crossings over the equivalent distance to the west.

And so we come to the issue of tolls, as one of the central questions is whether the new crossings will be subject to charging to finance their construction (there is currently no funding set aside for these projects).

We commissioned polling organisation YouGov to ask Londoners whether they’d be keen to put their hands in their pockets.

Respondents were divided right down the middle in terms of whether motorists should pay a toll: 46 per cent yes, 43 per cent no.

“These results show urgent work is needed to secure Londoners’ backing for a realistic funding package”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, in geographical terms, adults living in east London had the highest opposition rate (51 per cent).

We also asked them, if new crossings were subject to a toll, whether motorists using nearby existing routes should also pay in an attempt to even out usage.

This was less popular, with 54 per cent of respondents saying motorists should not also pay a toll on nearby crossings. This compared with 32 per cent who were on board with the idea.

Work needed for realistic support

I should be clear that TfL consultations have consistently shown very high public support for new crossings… in theory.

But these results show urgent work is needed to secure Londoners’ backing for a realistic funding package so these vital new crossings can be built.

There are, of course, other questions to be answered – not least why those going through east London should pay to cross the Thames when west Londoners can do so for free.

We must get consensus quickly and avoid any more dung-throwing – if for no other reason than Boris will have a miserable time getting it out of that mop of hair.

Baroness Jo Valentine is chief executive of London First

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