THE public inquiry into plans for the Thames Gateway Bridge has opened, with Transport for London's (TfL) plans under scrutiny.

TfL claims the bridge is necessary to regenerate the area east of London because of the economic effects of the decline in manufacturing and the closure of the docks.

It says as many as 35,000 higher quality jobs and a population increase of 72,000 could be created by the bridge, which would attract a better quality of housing.

Charles George QC for TfL also suggested the bridge could improve health locally.

The bridge will have a four-lane dual carriageway for ordinary traffic and two lanes for public transport.

Mr George said these could be adapted to take trams and the bridge would be a vital link in the waterfront transit schemes planned for each side of the Thames.

He admitted many more people would be affected by traffic noise when the bridge opens, but suggested they would not notice it.

He also claimed only small increases in air pollution would occur mainly on the A2016 which runs through Thamesmead to Plumstead and Erith.

TfL claims the bridge would improve the local environment.

Mr George accepted there would be increased congestion on Bexley's roads but he said there was cash for mitigation and there could be more if monitoring showed continuing problems after the bridge opened.

Cross-examination of TfL's expert witnesses is now under way.