Opponents fear east London scheme will increase traffic and pollution and heighten risk of flooding
Jessica MurraySat 2 Nov 2019 08.00 GMT
Campaigners and politicians are making a last-ditch attempt to halt the Silvertown Tunnel project over fears of increased traffic and air pollution, as the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, prepares to sign a contract for construction work to begin.
Plans for the tunnel in east London, which will connect the Greenwich peninsula to west Silvertown and is designed to ease congestion around the Blackwall Tunnel, had been stalled after a legal challenge from the losing bidder, Silver Thames Connect.
However, following a successful application to the court, the halt was lifted and Transport for London says it plans to move ahead with the project “as soon as possible”.
The contract between TfL and winning bidder, the Riverlinx consortium, is expected to be signed imminently, meaning construction could begin next year with the tunnel forecast to be open from 2025. It was originally scheduled to open in 2023.
TfL has claimed the tunnel will ease congestion in the area, provide better access to jobs and services, and improve the resilience of the road network in response to new developments in Greenwich and the Royal Docks.
The Silvertown Tunnel will be tolled, along with Blackwall Tunnel. It will also fall within the extended Ultra Low Emission Zone, so drivers of the most polluting vehicles will be charged.
However, many local residents, councillors and politicians have criticised the project, arguing that it will increase traffic and therefore air pollution, and will attract more HGVs. They are also concerned about the fact the tunnel will be built on a floodplain and believe it could increase the risk of flooding in the area.
Matthew Pennycook, Lthe abour MP for Greenwich and Woolwich, said: “It will increase congestion, it will make the air quality in the area worse overall, and that’s to the detriment of the health and quality of life of my constituents. That’s why I’ve been opposed to it and I’d still like them to reconsider at this late stage.”
While he agreed with TfL on the need for better cross-river connections, he said the lack of improved public transport alongside the tunnel was disappointing. “Is this really going to be a tunnel for local businesses and local residents, or is it just going to be a huge strategic road through London?”
A spokesperson for the mayor said the scheme would “effectively eliminate congestion” by reducing the number of idling cars and improving overall air quality. “As the number of cars is not expected to increase there is no forecast increase in carbon emissions. There will also be extensive monitoring of noise and air quality during and after construction.” The consortium also said it would work with local flood authorities and build a new river wall to maximise flood defences.
Caroline Russell, a Green party member of the London assembly, said the tunnel was a “dinosaur” project. “The mayor is locking in high levels of traffic pumping through south-east London, which is completely inappropriate if you are trying to fix the air pollution crisis and tackle a climate emergency.”
The project is being privately funded by Riverlinx, with TfL repaying the costs using revenue from tolling its future users, a funding model that Russell says will tie the area into further emissions. “Future mayors will need that traffic to pay off the construction debt.”
She warned that, if rushed through, the tunnel could end up like the Garden Bridge saga, in which £43m of public money was spent on an abandoned project.
Three candidates for the 2020 London mayoral election, Siân Berry from the Green party, Siobhan Benita from the Liberal Democrats and independent candidate Rosalind Readhead, have written to Khan asking him to pause the development and allow time for alternatives to be discussed during the election.
Lewisham, Newham, Southwark and Hackney councils oppose the plans, and Greenwich council’s ruling Labour group called for the project to be paused after discussions last month.
Victoria Rance, the coordinator of the Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition, branded the project “hypocritical”. She said: “To be putting a tunnel between two boroughs who don’t want it is unbelievable really – who’s it for?” The coalition, set up in May, has the backing of local residents groups, Extinction Rebellion and Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, whose daughter died of an asthma attack possibly linked to air pollution.
They are calling on councils to back a judicial review into the project if the contract signing goes ahead, claiming TfL did not fully explore the option of tolling Blackwall Tunnel to reduce congestion without building the Silvertown Tunnel.
Tfl disputed these claims, saying “only charging Blackwall would offer much lower benefits but at a much lower cost … this option would not achieve the core project objective of improving the resilience of the local network, would be less effective at reducing Blackwall Tunnel congestion and would offer significantly lower potential for public transport improvements”.
The Blackwall Tunnel, built more than 120 years ago, was closed more than 700 times in 2017-18, and a six-minute closure in peak time causes a tailback of three miles, affecting commuters, deliveries and bus routes.
Danny Thorpe, a Labour councillor and leader of Greenwich council, has asked Khan to explore better public transport options for the project, such as extending the DLR to Thamesmead and Eltham, and improving walking and cycling routes, as well as experimenting with tolling on the Blackwall and Rotherhithe tunnels to try to ease traffic.
Plans for a pedestrian and cycle bridge from Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf were dropped earlier this year due to the cost, and there are no plans for walking or cycling facilities in the Silvertown Tunnel.
Before the tunnel opens, TfL is required to set up the Silvertown Tunnel Implementation Group, which will hold TfL to account for the impact of the tunnel and will include representatives from all the affected local boroughs.
A TfL spokesperson said: “We are absolutely committed to ensuring that the project is delivered with minimal impact to local residents. We will be undertaking further modelling, monitoring and, if required, appropriate mitigation, of the effects of the scheme to ensure the outcomes are not materially worse than we forecast in our environmental statement.”
Silvertown Tunnel campaigners gear up for last stand | The Guardian
Opponents fear east London scheme will increase traffic and pollution and heighten risk of flooding Jessica MurraySat 2 Nov 2019 08.00 GMT Campaigners and politicians are making a last-ditch attempt to halt the Silvertown Tunnel project over fears of increased traffic and air pollution, as the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, prepares to sign a contract… [Read More]