Thames Cable Car Plans Put on Hold


Adam Bienkov, writing at the Scoop, has confirmation from the Mayor’s Office that the Thames Cable Car project is now on hold.

The Scoop quote a Mayoral spokesman as saying:

The Mayor has received letters suggesting that further safety analysis of the cable car application be carried out in relation to the expansion of City Airport. To be certain these concerns are addressed he has asked the boroughs to withdraw their referrals while TfL commission a national air traffic services safety assessment.

The “further safety analysis” in question relates to the Cable Car’s potential location near City Airport. When the idea was first mooted, the Cable Car ran close to, but did not cross, the “Public Safety Zone” for the Airport.

The DfT, through the CAA, mandates that Public Safety Zones are declared at all busy UK airports. These are areas of land at the end of runways in which development (especially new development) is limited in order to minimise the amount of people on the ground at risk during an accident on take off or landing.

Although the line of the Cable Car doesn’t cross the Airport’s official PSZ, the decision last year by Newham Council to allow City Airport to expand meant that the Airport’s PSZ was referred to the CAA for expansion. Until that came into force, the PSZ was also temporarily expanded, in line with the DfT’s standard guidance which essentially stipulates that PSZs should always cover the greatest likely PSZ required by an airport, not the actual. The Cable Car’s route did cross this.

The CAA then issued the officially revised PSZ recommendation for the Airport at the end of the year, which can now be found here and which confirms the new PSZ is likely to remain in line with the expanded temporary one.

This leaves the Cable Car in a rather tricky situation. It is not an existing development, and therefore would be unlikely to be allowed to proceed if the new PSZ was already in place. Technically speaking it is not yet in place though, which makes thing slightly less black and white.

Whatever the legalities, as can be seen above, progressing the plan further is now on hold until a NATS safety assessment has been completed at TfL’s request.

It is tempting to ask why this issue took so long to emerge – the CAA’s consultation appears to have been underway for some time, and both TfL and the Mayor’s Office have previously indicated that the Airport themselves were also involved in discussions over the Cable Car. Newham themselves were also apparently informed of the CAA’s decision before the Cable Car planning decision was made.

Whatever the reasons, a NATS assessment will take time. Given that one of the intentions of the scheme was to have the Cable Car in place before the Olympics and timings were already tight in this regard, it is tempting to wonder whether this effectively renders the project dead whatever the result of that assessment.

When one considers that the project was also intended to be privately funded, it is also worth asking how much of an impact the expanded PSZ would have on that. After all, even if the NATS assessment is clear (as is likely – the CAA’s PSZs are over-generous as they are calculated on stats drawn from all airline’s accidents, not just those on the UK safe list), what company isn’t going to pause at the thought of a tabloid disaster headline containing the words “Cable Car” and their brand, no matter how infinitessimally small the chances of that actually happening are?

Written by John Bull
John Bull is the Editor of London Reconnections. A transport journalist and historian, his writing often focuses on the political or strategic challenges facing London's transport network and beyond.