Transport for London seems determined to double the cost of new Tramlink loops in the centre of Croydon – to around £48 million of public cash – and all at the behest of local council planners who want to reduce the number of trams heading across Wellesley Road.
That’s according to a local expert, who believes that the plans – which were subject to a public consultation last autumn – will split the Tramlink network in two, and all to help more cars drive into the car parks of the proposed £1 billion Hammersfield super-mall.
Shopping centre developers Hammerson and Westfield are contributing, between them, just £15 million to the changes in the tram network, which appear to be instigated mainly at their insistence.
TfL announced today the findings of that consultation on the building of a loop via Dingwall Road and Lansdowne Road, stating that, “An extension would enable us to run additional tram services to and from the east of the town centre to a new tram stop on Lansdowne Road, without creating a bottleneck at East Croydon Station or overloading the existing town centre loop; the most congested part of the network.
“This proposal would enable us to deliver the same levels of reliability by 2030, when passenger demand is expected to have nearly doubled from 2013-2014 levels.”
TfL claims that 72 per cent of respondents to its consultation last year said they “supported an extension in principle”.
This seems odd. A local petition which raised serious questions about the premise of the TfL proposals received four times as many responses as the official consultation, with more than 2,000 asking for the proposition that the “Westfield money to be spent on MORE or LONGER trams instead of the Dingwall Road Loop”.
It is worth noting that in their public email today, TfL have not reported how many of those who backed a Tramlink extension favoured any of the (essentially very similar) schemes which they put forward.
And so Boris Johnson’s TfL has opted to go ahead and do what they always wanted to do in the first place: “We have decided to take forward Option 1, anti-clockwise up Dingwall Road, along Lansdowne Road and south along Wellesley Road.” The new loop could be operational by 2019 – so possibly 12 months before the new Westfield super-mall opens its doors for business.
“We would like your views on a more detailed proposal,” says TfL, for all the difference that it might make. The proposals can be viewed here.
John Jefkins, a leading figure in Croydon’s Liberal Democrats, had meetings with TfL last year accompanied by London Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon, the chair of the transport committee at City Hall.
Then, Jefkins said that around one-third of all tram passengers would have to change tram to reach North End. Nothing that his group has seen since has altered that view – and there remains a risk that Hammersfield will reclaim its £15 million contribution to the costly scheme.
“People from Wimbledon would have to walk half a mile from Old Town to reach Westfield,” Jefkins said. “Many trams would not run around the existing town centre loop or cross town to Valley Park or Wimbledon, or cross town to East Croydon from the west.”
Of itself, this inconvenience may be enough to dissuade people from using public transport, and end up driving more people into using cars, Jefkins said then.
Jefkins has continued to have meetings with planners from TfL and from the council, and has noted how spokespeople for the Town Hall have been stating publicly that there will not be any impact on tram traffic across the centre of town.
“There does appear to be a difference of opinion between Croydon planners and TfL directors over Wellesley Road,” Jefkins said today.
“At our meeting with TfL directors last month, Tramlink director Sharon Thompson described Wellesley Road as an ‘urban motorway’ and said that Croydon Council wanted fewer trams across Croydon than now and also to slow them down to only 20mph.
“They say that Croydon thus forced TfL to plan these two loops (at Dingwall Road and Reeves Corner) at a total cost of two doses of £24 million – and all so that half the trams running by 2030 would fail to cross Croydon.
“Croydon Council has verbally refuted this – saying that current tram traffic would not be cut by them. But so far they have failed to say this in writing.”
Jefkins favours simply lengthening the trams serving the network – a technique often used in continental Europe to cope with increased demand. Such changes would incur some costs, to enable the rail system and platforms to cope with the longer trams. It is something which TfL has already been considering, and which could be delivered for a fraction of the £48 million bill that seems likely to be paid under the loop schemes so favoured by Hammersfield.
“It is still far cheaper to lengthen platforms and couple our existing trams together than it is to build just one of these two proposed loops,” Jefkins said.
He says that longer trams are already needed on the Elmers End route. “It happens where frequency gets under five minutes. Trams bunch up like buses, but cannot overtake each other.”
TfL has shown Jefkins its growth projections for passenger demand by 2020 – which shows a 45 per cent increase, from 31 million passenger journeys per year to 45 million, meaning that in addition to the four new trams already on order, the network will need another 10 more trams within the next five years.
“East Croydon’s third platform is already used to turn-back some trams without need of a loop,” Jefkins said. “Instead of cutting Croydon in two, we could thus have the same number of trams per hour crossing Croydon as now – but have each tram twice as long.”
Jefkins is hoping for cross-party support for a new set of petitions, which will be submitted to TfL, Westfield and to Croydon Council over the next month.
- For more on how the Westfield and Hammerson redevelopment of the largely Whitgift Foundation-owned Whitgift Centre is progressing, click here
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