Plans for a bridge from Greenwich to Poplar, above the existing Blackwall Tunnel, are being drawn up by the Department of Transport. Public consultation will begin this spring.
An international design competition could be held if the department heeds advice from the Royal Fine Art Commission, the Government's adviser on aesthetic matters.
Travers Morgan, the consulting engineers currently studying the bridge option for the DoT, said: 'The department wants a bridge that will be very attractive and a bit of a landmark because there are so many prestige developments in that area.'
The most common type of bridge design - the box girder, which looks like a huge concrete or steel beam - has already been ruled out. The department favours the more elegant cable- stayed bridge, of which there are only two in Britain, at Dartford, Kent, and Kessock in Ross and Cromarty. The DoT met officers from the London boroughs of Greenwich and Tower Hamlets last week to discuss the proposed route and its environmental impact. Talks have also been held with the London Docklands Development Corporation, which regards a bridge as highly desirable.
Tower Hamlets' borough engineer, Garnet Woods, said: 'The department doesn't want to go public at this stage because it hasn't briefed ministers yet and is also concerned that there could be panic over planning blight.'
The DoT says the bridge is still only one of several options to relieve congestion at both ends of the Blackwall Tunnel. But Travers Morgan says a bridge would be much cheaper than either an immersed or bored tunnel, which, until last autumn were the only options being considered. This is because of geological factors and the added complication that the land on the Greenwich Peninsula site, owned by British Gas, is highly contaminated - although earmarked for a huge housing and office development.
For the 500 people living in Robin Hood Gardens, Poplar, the bridge poses problems. It would pass within yards of the estate. A spokesman for the Docklands Forum community group said: 'A bridge would add to the blight that has already been caused by the LDDC's road developments and would bring more cars on to already heavily congested roads.'
The proposal comes amid the continuing dispute over the East London River Crossing at Thamesmead. Although given planning permission in 1991 after a public inquiry, work is being held up by two legal challenges. Judgment on the first - by Greenwich council, over the exchange land offered by the DoT - is expected this month. Meanwhile, the European Community alleges that the Government failed to take into account the environmental impact on the Oxleas Wood beauty spot south of the river. The Government argues that the EC environmental directive did not apply when the decision was made.