A decades-old debate over how better to connect one of London’s most isolated river-side boroughs has been reignited at a fiery meeting of Bexley Council.

Tory councillors, led by a motion from Cllr Gareth Bacon, backed a call to lobby London Mayor Sadiq Khan to renew efforts to bring forward two new river crossings in the borough at Belvedere and Gallions Reach.

Cllr Linda Bailey moved it on behalf of her Conservative colleague, who was absent from the meeting, saying that prior to 2016 Bexley “did a lot of work with Transport for London on potential river crossings in the borough”.

She said work with residents and businesses showed strong support for new crossings – with a two-lane each way bridge a popular suggestion – which was fed into the borough’s future growth strategy.

She told the virtual meeting of council the crossings would “greatly benefit growth in Bexley” – unlocking large areas for housing development, as well as easing traffic on the A2 and the entrance of the Blackwall Tunnel.

“Having done all this policy work, Sadiq Khan was then elected to mayor of London,” she said, saying the London Mayor “dropped both river crossing proposals…within weeks” in what was a “slap in the face for residents”.

The Crook Log ward member said now was the time to revisit the proposals.

“Covid-19 will not always be running our lives…growth is very important for our borough, home jobs and wealth creation,” she said.

It saw the Labour opposition table their own amendment, with Cllr Stef Borella leading the charge, requesting the Conservatives instead prioritise the extension of the DLR to Thamesmead and Belvedere over river crossings.

Cllr Borella highlighted the Tory’s opposition in 2012 to a Thames Gateway bridge project, saying: “It appears Bexley’s Conservatives have gone on a total U-turn to support traffic crossings”.

“What is clear if we were able to unlock connectivity, better affordable housing and economic development, we need better transport links across the Thames now,” he said.

“Despite the politics of a mayoral election next year, if they vote against this amendment today, they will be voting against the DLR to Thamesmead and Belvedere, and improved transport links,” he said, accusing the Tory’s original motion of merely being “another stick to beat the Mayor with”.

The Tory’s John Davey responded he opposed the amendment given it would “put priority of the DLR over road crossings”, saying he had spoke to “many thousand of people over the years” who instead wanted a road crossing they could drive over.

Labour’s amendment didn’t pass without the backing of the Tory majority, with the original motion instead passed despite Labour voting against it.

Deputy council leader and cabinet member for growth Louie French had the last say on the proposal, saying “the calls for better transport connectivity in various forms remain a clear demand to the Mayor of London”.

He said there had been a “dramatic” increase in south-east London and north Kent’s population without the accompanying infrastructure and a quick response was needed.

He said the delay of Crossrail – which is likely to blow-out again beyond its previously mooted 2020 completion date – had been noted with “dismay” and had helped colour their support for river crossings instead.

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