Another cable car to the Dome – but will it really fly?

A cable car to the Millennium Dome, you say? Ready to take thousands of people to one of the UK’s most popular attractions, and give them first-class views over the Thames and across London? Backed privately, and talked up as an attraction in its own right? What a magnificent idea. Shame, though, that it got binned in October 1998, amid a bitter wrangle between the firm behind the scheme and the state-backed organisation due to back it.

Nearly 12 years on from the failure of the Skyway project, history’s repeating itself with Boris Johnson and (more importantly) Transport for London boss Peter Hendy talking up the possibility of a new cable car link. The original idea was well advanced when it was scrapped by promoters Meridian Cable Cars after a row with the New Millennium Experience Company over anticipated patronage. It was due to run between the Dome and East India DLR station in three minutes, and had already been given planning permission by both Greenwich and Tower Hamlets councils, which enthusiastically backed the scheme. The above image is taken from a late-90s British Steel brochure of millennium projects it was involved in.

This new proposal could connect what’s now the O2 with the Excel centre in the Royal Docks – which will both be Olympic venues in 2012. More importantly, if Crossrail gets built, it could also link North Greenwich to the station at Custom House, making the emerging business district by the Dome a little bit more attractive.

Just like the ill-fated millennium scheme, this will be built privately – but so far no firm has been publicly linked with the scheme. That said, in 2006 Dome owner AEG wanted a cable car between its new acquisition and Canary Wharf. Privacy concerns over passengers being able to peer into Docklands apartments helped scupper that, but the Royal Docks remain relatively undeveloped – there’s probably at least one Silvertown scrapyard on that route released by TfL on Sunday.

Will it work? I imagine both Greenwich and Newham councils will be enthusiastic, and unlike the days when it was just the Dome up on the peninsula, there will soon be plenty of reasons to visit the area around North Greenwich stations. Just catching the view alone will be enough to tempt many people, although many vertigo suffers won’t be too keen. If private enterprise thinks it’ll work, it’ll happen – with the backing of a mayor who’s keen to leave a physical legacy on the capital.

That said, though no public money has been earmarked for the scheme, a fair amount is likely to go on promotion – as it does with riverboat services – and it’s a shame that a flashy tourist-friendly scheme appears to be being prioritised over improvements to boring things like bus services. I’d argue Ken Livingstone misses the point when he says a road bridge “is really needed” in the area – that’d only bring more congestion and pollution without further road expansion, whereas a cable car would probably be more of a novelty (at least at first) and could help share some of Greenwich’s tourist money with unloved spots like Silvertown, Canning Town and Beckton. Together with a Crossrail station at Custom House, it could, however, make a sharp difference to public transport in this area.

The unknown factors, mind, include quite what people will find on the north side of the Thames once they get out of the cable car – and who will invest in what’d be a high-profile project carrying a fair bit of risk – especially if it went wrong? And would the cable car be Oyster/Travelcard friendly?

The historical precedents for the Greenwich cable car aren’t encouraging – while I’ve a feeling we may still be discussing this in a decade’s time, the backing of the mayor could see this plan fly. The next few months could be interesting.

(See also Tory Troll, the Greenwich Phantom, and London Reconnections.)

6 comments

  1. According to the leaflet on the website, which says very little other than a sketchy outline of a potential proposal, states that the operator would need to make the system Oyster friendly. It’s too early to think about the cost I imagine, but it might work in a similar fashion to the Thames Clipper.May have to keep the Oyster card topped up after all…

  2. It’s telling that this cable car links two privately-run developments – the O2 and ExCel.

    Like the proposed Northern line extension to Battersea Power Station, it seems that London’s future transport links are to be built where the money is, not where the need is.

    Outside the Olympic fortnight, it’s hard to imagine why thousands of people would want to travel between Royal Victoria and North Greenwich, at premium cost, when there’s already a DLR/tube route between the two.

    What I fear we’ll get is a mere tourist attraction, running between two cafe-packed corporate clusters. It’ll be enormous fun for Londoners, and I can’t wait to use it, but it won’t be day-to-day useful for many local people.

  3. True. If it’s near enough to Custom House for Crossrail (when/if), then that may change things. But otherwise we’re in novelty territory.

    The cable car pictured in the TfL leaflet is along the riverside in Lisbon – I travelled on it last year, and it’s purely a joyride to get you to an aquarium and shopping centre.

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