diamond geezer

 Tuesday, July 16, 2019

On 18th May 2009 the Greenway was sealed off between Stratford High Street and Marshgate Lane for pre-Olympic accessibility work. Yesterday it finally reopened.

Initially the plan was to reopen the Greenway in spring 2010, but by then Crossrail operations had taken precedence as part of a major worksite for the Pudding Mill portal. These were supposed to be finished by September 2013, sorry December 2014, sorry July 2016, but at that point Thames Water turned up to carry out strengthening works to the bridge over the Waterworks River. Initially their plan was to complete by July 2018, but asbestos removal slowed things down and somehow the entire closure contrived to last ten whole years.

The reopening took place at 10am in the presence of two Newham councillors, with very-local residents invited along too so that the ribbon-cutting photo would look more inclusive. Thames Water provided pink and blue balloons, and also set up a gazebo stocked with refreshments, souvenir biros and display boards praising community engagement. At the appropriate time the official photographer cajoled everybody into place and the rep from the waste-plastic-roadmaking company made sure his marketing collateral was in full view. After the ribbon was cut workmen finally removed the last row of plastic barriers, opening up access to the street and breathing life into the adjacent seven year-old pedestrian crossing. Most of the representatives then hung around for a bit of congratulatory networking, and only a small minority of pedestrians and cyclists actually went off to explore.

I was particularly excited to go off and explore because I've been waiting to do that since 2007/2009/2012. I last walked through here on my way home from the Paralympic Closing Ceremony, this being one of the alternative entrances to the Olympic Park during the Games. If you got security frisked at the Greenway Gate, that was here. But other than those few weeks nobody's passed this way in ten years, creating the only break in the sewertop path between Hackney Wick and Beckton. Here's a map showing precisely what's just been opened up (and what still hasn't).

The main drag starts by crossing the Waterworks River and proceeds along the alignment of the Northern Outfall Sewer. The surface has been split into a footpath and a cycle path with chunky sea level markers alongside, a revamp which occurred on neighbouring sections of the Greenway way back in 2010. The surrounding vegetation's recently been cut back, but through the fence buddleia and shrubbery thrive. I remember I brought Matt Baker up to this very stretch in 2009, six weeks before they closed it off, back when there was much more wildlife for Radio 4 listeners to enjoy. At the far end the Greenway opens out somewhat with freshly-raised brickwork, planks for seating and a Newham-branded waste bin. The intention appears to be to create somewhere to pause and reflect above the City Mill River, or maybe stop for a picnic, but you can also stand here and watch DLR and purple Crossrail trains whoosh by.

The Greenway path can't cross the railway tracks, never did, so breaks off here to return to ground level and pass underneath. Formerly this was via steps but the new connection is down a long ramp, which construction workers finished in 2017 and has been barriered off ever since. This connects directly to Pudding Mill Lane station, the echoingly dead DLR hub, whose piazza won't spring to life until the LLDC finally builds a new neighbourhood around it. Until then, West Ham United continue to use the footprint of Pudding Mill to store all their surplus seating during the athletics season.

Pudding Mill will eventually have a satellite neighbourhood called Bridgewater, connected across the newly-opened Greenway, i.e. pretty much back where we started. This will cover the triangular wedge where the Greenway Gate was located, and feature stacked maisonettes, apartment blocks and one particularly tall tower. At present it's a pre-building site, accessed only by the hardhatted, plus a flank of steps that's become increasingly overgrown over the last seven years. The track spectators followed into the park, parallel to the Greenway and alongside the City Mill River, won't open until the neighbourhood is complete... the very last stitch in the hem of the southern Olympic Park.

A separate footpath breaks off and follows the edge of the Waterworks River. This was the first to be sealed off, way back in 2005, and I last managed to trespass along it in 2007. Back then you got a lot closer to the water's edge, and it was ridiculously overgrown, whereas the new path is a bland stripe of tarmac dotted with half a dozen wooden benches. It emerges by the Pudding Mill allotments, now living up to all their verdant promise, and then continues into the Olympic Park between the Orbit and the Aquatics Centre. This key connection has been ready for years and years, but Thames Water's machinations ensured it remained blocked until yesterday morning.

A peculiar touch, left over from 2012, is this cluster of Jubilee Greenway paving blocks. Look carefully and you'll see they've been arranged into the shape of a crown with the monogram EIIR underneath, like a particularly chunky piece of Ceefax art. It looked pristine seven years ago, but subsequent civil engineering works have cracked tiles and damaged the surrounding tarmac so it now looks an illegible mess. Importantly if you are following the Jubilee Greenway long distance path, or more likely Capital Ring section 14 which goes the same way, do not divert over these tiles, stick to the main sewertop track.

There's one last connection, minor and most likely overlooked, alongside the first hundred yards of the Waterworks River. It always used to be there, indeed it's been signposted off Blaker Road since the turn of the century despite being closed off for most of that time. I walked it frequently before 2009, following the edge of the waterway then climbing steep steps to the sewertop, something I was delighted to finally be able to do again. It's the restoration of this irrelevant link which reassures me that the reopening of the Greenway has been done properly, even if it has taken an abso-utterly-ridiculous long time to achieve.

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