Reviving Southwark’s tram network has been a popular idea in Southwark for decades.
You can see why – they’re quiet, greener than cars and buses, and relatively quick, cheap and easy to put in. And they would help sort out the large gaps in public transport in parts of the borough.
Southwark Council’s long-term goal for the Old Kent Road area is to build 20,000 homes – a huge undertaking that would transform neighbourhoods. Many of these homes have been built or have planning permission – but the council has said many times that the full scheme needs the Bakerloo Line Extension to be built in order to work properly.
Southwark and Lewisham councils both campaigned hard for the Bakerloo Line Extension, but it looks unlikely to happen now for a long time, if at all.
The Elephant and Castle station upgrade is inherently linked to the extension – the station is the last stop on the Bakerloo line as it currently exists. Improving access and connecting it better to the Northern line would be an important part of making the extension work. But TfL has said that the station upgrade may not happen because it does not have the funds (although it has also said it does not want this to delay the start of the work).
The Lib Dem argument is easy to see – why should Southwark, also hit hard by the pandemic, be spending so much money on something that may never happen, and whose benefits to the people of the borough may be unclear anyway – when they could use those millions for something relatively quick and easy?
The flipside is why the tram revival has never happened, despite its popularity over several decades. Southwark Council did not respond to our report this week – we will have to wait for council leader Kieron Williams’ response to Cllr Damian O’Brien’s question on November 24 to get a fuller idea of Southwark’s plans.