diamond geezer

 Monday, November 21, 2016

Blackfriars Pier has moved. It's a sign.

It's only been in place since 2000. The City of London Corporation and TfL provided the money as part of the Thames 2000 project, a plan to kickstart river bus services between the centre of the City and a certain millennial attraction at North Greenwich. It's still called Blackfriars Millennium Pier, or at least it was, because it closed three weeks ago after 16 years of service.

Here's the former pier at the eastern end of the Victoria Embankment, close to Blackfriars Bridge. It wasn't particularly special, architecturally speaking, more a double-decker box on a wooden platform, plus a short ramp down to a landing stage. Now its minimal footprint is sealed off behind a short blue hoarding, and a thin blue river bus flag flutters forlornly until somebody remembers to take it down.

You probably haven't used Blackfriars Pier. It's a rush hour only facility aimed at commuters, closed between 10.30am and 4pm, and all day at weekends. Boats head in from Woolwich and Greenwich, and also from Putney and Chelsea, allowing City employees to skim to work via a jam-free river route. But with journeys charged at eight quid a shot, which is the going rate these days for Thames travel, the closure of Blackfriars Pier has probably passed you by.

It's OK, a new Blackfriars Pier has been provided, now with the word Millennium dropped because that would be anachronistic. It's on the other side of Blackfriars Bridge - that's both the road bridge and the railway - about 250 metres east of the original. I'd say it's harder to get to, on Paul's Walk off the concrete flank of White Lion Hill, but it might be more convenient for some depending on where their office is located.

The new Blackfriars Pier is extensive, at least in comparison to what came before. A short ramp leads out above the river to a small fixed platform, where a timetable and electronic display board have been provided. If boats are running the onward gate is then unlocked, leading to a long latticed walkway which rises and falls with the tide, leading to a substantial permanent pierhead. Out here are a ticket machine, some seats and three boarding points, two of which are currently operational. I'd say it's possibly a two minute walk from the tip of the pier to the embankment, above the sloshing waves, and maybe five minutes to the station.

But why go to enormous expense to shift an under-used pier to a less accessible location? The answer is the Tideway Tunnel, Thames Water's controversial solution to excessive sewage outflow, a 21st century update to the comprehensive Victorian network of outfall pipes bequeathed by Bazalgette. These generally still function well, but are overwhelmed several times a year and end up discharging their excess into the Thames rather than funnelling it all down to Beckton and Crossness.

By 2023 the Tideway Tunnel will zigzag down the Thames from Hammersmith to Rotherhithe, before following the Limehouse Cut to Abbey Mills where it'll feed into the already-finished Lee Tunnel. Along the way it'll join up the outflows of several long culverted rivers, including the Westbourne and the Effra, acting as a safety valve at times of storm flow. And London's most famous lost river is of course the Fleet, which historically disgorges from an outlet underneath Blackfriars Bridge. This needs diverting, as does the Northern Low Level Sewer which runs beneath the Victoria Embankment, and this is why the old Blackfriars Pier had to go.

Once it's gone, 200m of riverside will be transformed - that's from HMS President, which has been temporarily shifted, to the opposite side of Blackfriars Bridge. Thames Water's contractors need to dig a deep shaft down to tunnel level, connecting two key sewers to the new overflow, and that shaft is planned to be an impressive 24m in diameter. When it's built it'll be in the river, but will then be covered over to create a new wedge of foreshore so that future tourists need never guess it was there. You'll notice. You'll think blimey, where did that new sticky-out promenade come from, but not until 2022 which is how long all this work is scheduled to take.

The end result will be "a new area of public space", basically a paved triangle with landscaping offering realigned riverside access. A freestanding kiosk and "info point" will be provided, as well as a stepped planted terrace at the eastern end with plane trees, a reflective pool and rainwater cascades. What perhaps won't surprise you are the plans for the undercroft beneath the end terrace, which is for a run of shops and a café, because no new development these days is complete without a commercial opportunity. The City of London is getting fractionally bigger, and part of the extension will be somewhere new to buy a coffee.

All of this is five years work, kicking off over the next couple of months with the installation of a new set of stairs and a lift to link Blackfriars Bridge to the new pier. Once they're in place "the pedestrian Thames path along Bazalgette Walk will be diverted to the northern ramp footway outside Unilever House." Also in January "the existing east-west Cycle Superhighway along Bazalgette Walk" will be closed, and cyclists redirected "to the new diverted route along Victoria Embankment". All of this was known when the Cycle Superhighway was in its planning stages, so TfL should have everything worked out. But "this diversion will be in place for approximately 4 years", which is a heck of a long time for a diversion, and all to make the Thames less brown.

I blogged back in 2005 how if you want to see the outfall of the River Fleet you should wait for low tide then stand at the bottom of the staircase down from Blackfriars Bridge and hang out over the edge, or stand on Blackfriars Pier and peer into the gloom beneath the first arch. If you've ever wanted to do that, get here soon. The staircase is being removed, the waterside walkway is being closed, the old pier is being demolished, and the Fleet sewer outlet is being realigned along the new foreshore wedge.

Blackfriars Pier has moved. It's a sign of major Thameside change. Further details here.

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