Who'd live in BarkingRiverside? Not enough people, as it turns out... not because the location is Barking but because there aren't enough houses.
The area in question is the site of the defunct Barking Power Station, a huge expanse of land beside the Thames roughly halfway between the River Roding and Ford's Dagenham works. At 443 acres it's approximately two-thirds the size of the City of London, which is big, indeed big enough for an intended eleven thousand homes. The site was snapped up by a housing developer twenty years ago, with City Hall coming onside in 2004. How can it be, then, that a decade later the site holds barely one thousand homes? And the answer is trains, or the complete lack of them.
Back in the day, before the turn of the century, there were plans to bring a tram service to Barking Riverside. It'd be part of a project called the Thames Gateway Transit, and would link Barking to Thamesmead via this new housing estate and a brand new bridge across the estuary. The tram idea was later downgraded to a segregated busway, to make up for which a DLRextension was planned, snaking out from the Beckton branch to link the new estate to the rail network. Plans had almost reached the public enquiry stage when Boris came to power, and he promptly pulled the plug on the project for not providing value for money. At the same time the Thames Gateway Bridge was scrapped - a project only recently revived - and the guided busway curtailed to a part-segregated bus route with limited capacity. No more transport, no more homes, simple as that. Until now.
Yesterday TfL launched another consultation for bringing trains to Barking Riverside, but this time via the Overground rather than the DLR. The line from Gospel Oak to Barking would be extended along the line of the existing c2c railway to Dagenham Dock, before turning off on a raised viaduct to a new terminus at Barking Riverside. They've provided a very rough map to show the route, but very little more, because this is a particularly minimal consultation which essentially asks "So, this extension, a good idea or what?"
And it is a good idea, indeed a better idea than the DLR extension scrapped five years ago. That would have seen Riverside residents linked to Newham rather than Barking, and taken ages to ply its way through about ten stations to Canning Town. Instead the Overground would link directly to Barking town centre and its decent range of shops, and from here to a variety of rail links including fast services to the City. If there is a disappointment it's that no intermediate station is planned along the four kilometre extension, just a single outpost by the Thames. That'll be great for houses yet to be built, but the northern end of the Thames View estate could surely do with an extra station to improve connectivity, and that's not on the cards. It seems the only drivers for new stations these days are fresh residential developments, and existing communities be damned.
If you've ever been to Barking Riverside, for example by visiting Dagenham Sunday Market, you'll know that the site is currently about as bleak as London gets. Part of the site is decommissioned power station, a large area of fenced off tarmac and transformers. The waterfront starts as smelly ex-industry and switches to patchy vegetation growing on spoil heaps. Lines of pylons cut across the sky, occasional horses graze, and resilient forms of bird life flit across polluted hillocks. A lonely footpath winds from the warehouses on Choats Road down to the Thames and then along the waterfront to a futuristicenvironmental centre, with less than gorgeous views of Thamesmead across the river. I'm never certain whether the path is public or not, but I love the walk for its isolation, at least until the promised wall of flats arrives.
The new Overground plans already have funding - the government stumped up the cash in a Budget announcement last year. If all goes to plan construction could begin in 2017, and the extension could be up and running by 2019. That's only two years slower than the proposed completion date for the original DLR extension, because that would have required an awkward river crossing whereas this is much more straightforward.
And this is all part of a massive expansion of the Overground network in northeast London. Suburban lines to Cheshunt and Chingford are coming under the orange umbrella next year, along with an entirely separate branch line between Romford and Upminster. As part of this consultation TfL have provided a map of the proposed network by 2026, depicting an increasingly disjoint collection of lines that all too rarely intersect, potentially spelling confusion for passengers trying to work out which route to take to where. Careful study reveals a proposed new Overground station at Old Oak Common in West London, but alas no new station at Surrey Canal Road which lost out on funding in 2010 and it seems will never be built. Best therefore that we all get behind Barking Riverside in the latest consultation so that ten thousand new homes can be unlocked... far too late, of course, but better late than never?