Had plans to extend London’s Docklands Light Railway (DLR) from Gallions Reach to Dagenham Dock gone ahead in 2008, the 6.5km addition would have been operational this year. The estimated £750 million extension was to serve Beckton Riverside, Creekmouth, Barking Riverside, Goresbrook and Dagenham Dock but concerns over funding stalled the scheme before former London mayor Boris Johnson shelved plans altogether.
But the need for improved transport links to support a huge 10,800 housing development at Barking Riverside saw the DLR extension replaced with an alternative scheme. The Gospel Oak to Barking Riverside Overground extension (BRE) will cost £263 million, assuming construction starts as planned in 2017/18, and is the key ingredient to unlocking the development’s full potential. To the delight of many Londoners, the project was given the green light by the Government in August.
AN AREA FOR CHANGE AND GROWTH
Barking Riverside is a designated London Riverside Opportunity Area, a 179-hectare brownfield site on the northern banks of the River Thames that has been identified for its potential to support thousands more homes and jobs. It is the largest housing development site in East London and one of the largest brownfield developments in Europe. Should its masterplan be achieved, a new transport interchange, shops, leisure and healthcare facilities, restaurants and schools – along with thousands of one, two and three-bedroom homes – will be built to create a thriving new community in the capital.
Crucially, however, for the full provision of housing to go ahead, new and sustainable transport infrastructure is required to shuttle the thousands of Londoners that are expected to settle there into the city. The density of the housing means there won’t be enough car parking and there is a lack of public transport currently serving the area. Before BRE was approved, developer Barking Riverside Ltd (BRL) – which is made up of the Greater London Authority (GLA) (49 per cent) and L&Q New Homes (51 per cent) – was limited to building 1,500 homes – a drop in the ocean of the 800,000 new homes that are needed in the capital, according to an analysis from the local government association London Councils in 2013.
THE RAILWAY PATH
Departing south-east out of Barking station, BRE will follow the existing Essex Thameside Tilbury line for around 2.4km. After passing underneath Renwick Road Bridge – but before the DB Cargo freight terminal – a twin-track spur for London will separate from the lines carrying c2c services to Southend and Shoeburyness. The extension will then rise on an embankment and then a viaduct through DB Cargo’s terminal, over Choats Road and above the underground HS1 tunnels.
The new tracks will continue for roughly 1.5km before terminating at a new elevated station near to the waterfront. This new station, which will be situated just south of the planned commercial area, will include shops and will be accessible from a new road off Renwick Road. While the station will remain in Transport for London’s (TfL) ownership, the railway infrastructure will be handed over to Network Rail upon completion.
When you’re building a 4km railway extension in an area as densely populated as London, impacting the local area is unavoidable and the chosen alignment was not the only one considered by TfL. In total there were seven options:
• Two DLR extensions to Barking Riverside, which were deemed to be poor value for money;
• Two options for an increased number of bus services, which could not provide enough capacity for the new development without causing road congestion and lengthy transit times;
• An extension of either the Hammersmith & City line or the District line to Grays, which was snubbed because of physical constraints between Underground and Network Rail lines;
• A new station near Renwick Road on the c2c line, which was deemed to provide only minor improvements to connectivity, but for which provision has been made for future plans;
• The chosen BRE connection.
Underground options were considered but tunnelling to the planned Barking Riverside station site would have cost at least £160 million extra, according to TfL, which it did not favour because additional funding was unavailable. Eventually, TfL committed to BRE because its construction would have less impact on existing residents and because it will safeguard freight development opportunities at DB Cargo’s sidings.
Planning inspector Peter Robottom was appointed by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling in October to independently assess the project. In his report, Robottom said, ‘There is clear evidence that the substantial public benefit from providing a sustainable fixed public transport link to enable the Barking Riverside development to be brought to fruition with its very substantial housing and employment benefits would outweigh the very limited harm to private interests, almost all of which would only be temporary during construction.’
JOBS AND CONNECTIVITY
During construction, it is anticipated that 800 jobs will be created, with around 4,600 provided from the future Barking Riverside. Three parties have expressed an interest in constructing the line: Balfour Beatty, Carillion and a joint venture between VolkerFitzpatrick and Morgan Sindall. A formal invitation to tender is expected in early 2018, construction is anticipated to begin in the summer of 2018 and the first services are to run in late 2021.
Once operational, four trains an hour will run on the Overground extension. It will link Barking Riverside to London’s public transport network through District, Hammersmith & City and c2c connections at Barking station. Gospel Oak to Barking (GOBLIN) services will therefore no longer terminate at platform 1, instead they will be diverted to platforms 7 and 8. Despite the change, no work will be required at Barking. By the time it is operational – and as a result of the planned completion of the electrification of GOBLIN in January 2018 – four-car Class 710 Aventra’s will run on the Overground extension.
BRE might be viewed as the best option to unlock Barking Riverside’s full potential but it hasn’t always been possible. Back when the DLR to Dagenham Dock extension was first mooted in 2007, the option to extend GOBLIN was a new one. It was only in late 2007 that TfL took over the North London railway routes from the train operating company Silverlink.
Also, under GLA’s previous BRL partner, Bellway Homes, it had not been possible to secure the additional funding for transport infrastructure, according to Robottom’s report, to take the development beyond 1,500 homes. That changed in March 2016 when L&Q Homes bought out Bellway’s full stake.
Of the total expenditure for BRE’s construction, £172 million will come from BRL and the remaining £91 million from TfL’s growth fund. Operating costs are estimated to be £3.1 million a year, which has already been accounted for in TfL’s operating budget.
BARCELONA ON THE THAMES
Mayor of London Sadiq Kahn and TfL’s director for city planning, Alex Williams, welcomed Chris Grayling’s approval of the Transport and Works Act Order for the extension, which granted TfL the powers to acquire the land, construct and operate BRE.
Local councillor Darren Rodwell, leader of Barking and Dagenham Council, said the area is now on track to become ‘Barcelona on Thames’ and that the news was a sign that Barking and Dagenham are ‘at the epicentre of London’s eastward shift’.
The ground has not yet been broken but already early plans are in place for further extensions. Passive provision was made for a future station of ‘little to no additional cost’ west of Renwick Road, when warranted by future development nearby, and there’s also talk of extending BRE to Abbey Wood and the Elizabeth line, which could be operational by the 2030s if all goes well.
Either way, it is an exciting time for London, for Barking Riverside, and for the new Barcelona.
Written by Stewart Thorpe