A diagram showing the proposed Lochnagar Bridge. Design by Broadway Malyan ⓒ Tower Hamlets Council

Council approves new River Lea bridge crossing without funding plan

Tower Hamlets Council has greenlit a proposal to build a pedestrian and cycling bridge connecting Poplar to Newham but has yet to outline how the project will be achieved.

Tower Hamlets Council has approved plans to build a new pedestrian and cycling bridge over the River Lea. Though this is a promising step for the area, it is unclear when or if locals will benefit, due to a lack of clarity over the project’s funding and timeline. 

Lochnagar Bridge is set to be one of three new bridges connecting Tower Hamlets to Newham as part of the Lower Lee Valley priority bridges programme. Plans for the arched suspension bridge detail a hydraulic mechanism lifting the bridge and allowing boats to pass underneath. 

Tower Hamlets Regeneration Team will lead the project, in partnership with Newham Council, Transport for London and the Greater London Authority.

Former industrial land with scraps and waste in front of the River Lea in Poplar, East London.
Brownfield site to be converted into Calico Wharf on the Tower Hamlets side of the proposed bridge. Photo by Holly Munks ⓒ Social Streets CIC

According to the council’s report, the bridge will connect an area of brownfield land to Newham’s river path. On the Newham side of the river is an industrial park home to Amazon and DPD warehouses among others. The Tower Hamlets land includes addresses on Lochnagar Street, Bromley Hall Road and Ailsa Street, E14 0LE. 

Property developers Riverlea One Ltd. own the brownfield site, which borders the A12 dual-carriageway. They are currently advertising a housing development called Calico Wharf, to feature the designs of architectural firm Broadway Malyan.

However, the Council-approved plan published last week refers to the same postcode as Ailsa Wharf. This was the development’s name under its previous owner, a firm called Country Garden. Country Garden acquired the former industrial site in 2018 but sold it to Riverlea One Ltd. in 2021. 

Pavement and sign for Calico Wharf development with graffiti in Poplar, East London.
Calico Wharf advertisement next to an underpass on the A12 road. Photo by Holly Munks ⓒ Social Streets CIC

According to Newham Council’s updated timeline, construction will begin next summer, with the bridge expected to be open to the public by summer 2027.

But the project has already suffered delays. Live pages on Tower Hamlets Council’s website reference a now out-of-date timeline. It suggests construction on Lochnagar Bridge, and two others known as Poplar Reach and Mayer Parry, was slated for 2022, with all three opening in 2025. 

In April this year, a local blog reported that Newham Council had redirected funds for the project. Money received via a levelling-up grant will now be used to renovate the Canning Town Old Library and Will Thorne Pavilion. 

Tower Hamlets council has said it cannot pay for the bridge’s construction. It has indicated it will seek private funding. 

It is still unknown whether the current landowners on either side of the river will supply the money, or if it will be sought elsewhere. 

The mechanism to lift the bridge will be its most costly feature. Danny O’Sullivan, owner of City Wood Services on Lochnagar Street, suggested landowner disputes and concerns about lifting the bridge for river traffic have contributed to the delays. He claims:

‘It isn’t happening. The landowners have objected to it. I was in a meeting about it last night.’ 

When asked about this dispute, a representative of Tower Hamlets Council provided this response:

‘We have fulfilled our duty as the local planning authority. I’m afraid this isn’t something that we would comment on.’

There has been an uptick in housing developments around the site. Cultural hubs like Cody Dock have grown further along the River Lea. An improved footpath would be a valuable addition to the area. 

The busy A12 road and industrial usage of the land have made it unappealing to pedestrians and cyclists thus far. A severe lack of river crossings has also prevented Tower Hamlets residents from accessing the river path on the Newham side. The bridge would improve wayfinding and access to DLR stations like Star Lane. 

Swans in the River Lea with the Newham riverside path in the background in Poplar, East London.
View of the River Lea and towpath from a private development on the Tower Hamlets side. Photo by Holly Munks ⓒ Social Streets CIC

The planning application adheres to guidelines for reducing flood risk outlined in the Thames Estuary 2100 plan. Better connectivity for cyclists and walkers in the area would reduce vehicular traffic. Ultimately the proposal supports environmental goals for London as a whole. 

At present its trajectory is uncertain. 

Riverlea One Ltd. and Broadway Malyan have not responded to requests for comment.

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Old car in a scrapyard in front of the River Lea in Poplar, East London.
Former industrial land blocks pedestrians from accessing the River Lea’s west bank. Photo by Holly Munks ⓒ Social Streets CIC

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