Silvertown tunnel: Boris sacrifices Greenwich to win votes in Bexley

Where the tunnel will emerge - next to Boris's cable car, under construction

Well, you know there’s an election coming when the incumbent gets ready to put his hand in his pocket. (Well, it’s our pockets, but you know what I’m saying.) Finally, Boris Johnson has shown his cards about a third Blackwall Tunnel – the “Silvertown link” between the Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks. He says it’ll be built by 2022 at a cost of £700 million.

That’s £700 million more than has ever been given to south-east London’s public transport system over the past decade. Readers unlucky enough to have been here for a while will know my point of view on this – I wrote something in 2009 on why trying to squeeze more traffic up and down the A102 is crazy.

So, for a moment, all I need to do is repeat myself.

Worryingly, [a TfL report] backs more work on the Silvertown Link – a proposal for either a bridge or a tunnel which would run from Edmund Halley Way (between the Dome and the David Beckham Academy). Land is already safeguarded for such a scheme.

The Silvertown Link would be a disaster for Greenwich – merely giving people more reasons to drive up the A102, creating more congestion and pollution. How could you build a third crossing on the peninsula (after the two Blackwall Tunnels) without expanding the 40-year-old dual carriageway that struggles with the two that are there already? It’s insane, and threatens to blight the lives of hundreds of people in Greenwich and Blackheath. It’s bad enough they have motorways at the bottom of their gardens – the last thing they need is the threat of that motorway expanding.

Boris Johnson has long backed the Silvertown Link – and it’s the Labour party in Greenwich borough’s dirty little secret too; Eltham MP Clive Efford is keen on the idea of sending more traffic through neighbouring Greenwich. But nobody seems to have thought about asking the people of Greenwich and Blackheath whose homes and livelihoods would be threatened.

If you live in Greenwich, Charlton or Blackheath – you should be thinking of acting now to make sure the Silvertown Link, the laziest and most damaging idea of them all, never happens.

But there’s more. East Greenwich is already one of the most polluted areas of London – emissions at the Woolwich Road Flyover and Trafalgar Road already exceed safe limits. Things aren’t too bright over in Canning Town either. A new tunnel will only make things worse.

How on earth will the tip of the Greenwich Peninsula be regenerated if it’s cut off by a road tunnel? How is traffic meant to get into and out of the O2 if its access roads are given over to a hole in the ground? The strip of parkland that stretches up the centre of the peninsula – intended to be a “car-free zone” just 12 years ago – won’t be very pleasant if there’s traffic roaring out of the end of it.

New roads will mean more traffic. So how will the A2, which is only two lanes in each direction through Eltham, cope with the extra traffic when it struggles during the rush hour as it is? This just moves a bottleneck three miles further south. The A102 was at a standstill southbound at 8pm last night because of an accident at the Sun-in-the-Sands roundabout. Can you imagine how big the queue would be if two tunnels fed into this road, instead of one?

Building a third crossing at the Blackwall Tunnel doesn’t provide anyone with an alternative route if you still have to go up the same road to get there.

There’s also going to be nothing in a tunnel for cyclists. Cycling mayor? Nah, I don’t think so.

So, I hear you cry – we need a new crossing because I can’t get my car across the Thames! Well, the more sensible place to build one – if you think we need a new river crossing at all – would be at Thamesmead. But the old Thames Gateway Bridge scheme was scrapped, partly because of political pressure in Bexley, partly because the road network leading up to Thamesmead isn’t up to much. The main route from Bexleyheath through to Abbey Wood, for example, isn’t much more than a side road.

That said, this hasn’t stopped Boris planning a ferry at the same site – possibly taking over from the Woolwich Ferry, which conveys hundreds of heavy lorries across the Thames each day.

Most of the pressure to build a new crossing comes from car drivers in areas like the borough of Bexley, and other suburbs. If Bexley wants a bridge, perhaps it should learn to live with the consequences and have it in its own back yard. A bridge at Thamesmead would at least provide the flexibility to include other modes of transport – extensions of east London’s mainlines, the Overground or even the Hammersmith & City Line from Barking to connect with Crossrail at Abbey Wood, for example. Granted, Greenwich Council harbours dreams of running the DLR through Boris’s tunnel towards Eltham – but where trains would run from hasn’t been made clear yet.

So, with Tory mayor Boris Johnson and Labour Greenwich Council backing a tunnel – along with Eltham Labour MP Clive Efford – who’s going to oppose it? Last year, Ken Livingstone – who’d planned a bridge at the site – said a tunnel would be “mad”. Will the real Labour line on this please step forward?

Long-time readers of this site will also be aware that I stood as a Green Party candidate in council elections in 2010. Frustratingly, I couldn’t persuade the local party to take the threat of a third Blackwall Tunnel up as an issue. But they were very proud of the fact that they played a part in the public inquiry which helped kill off the original Thames Gateway Bridge scheme. Several years on from that, and with Boris now threatening east Greenwich, I wonder if they shot themselves in the foot by opposing the lesser of the two evils?

Anyhow, I think this is Boris sacrificing Greenwich’s air quality and quality of life to win over votes in the suburbs, instead of investing in a proper transport network. In 2008 he ran on a policy of scrapping the Thames Gateway Bridge, targeted at residents in Bexley, and in 2012 he wants to give them that bridge, but in our back yard instead. It’s time we moved to stop him.

Whatever you think, I’d be interested in your views.


  1. As a motorist, cyclist, pedestrian and father living in Blackheath I am firmly against the building either the Silvertown Link or the Thames Gateway Bridge. Both schemes make no sense without upgrading the roads which the feed the new crossings, but it is impractical to build new roads or widen existing ones on this side of the river.

    How do I protest? Do I contact my MP? My councillor? My GLA Assembly Member? Or do I need to start a protest group?

  2. who says the thames gateway bridge is dead – its suspended re its decision till 2018.
    the approaches to the thames gateway bridge are all dual carriage way and with that and another dartford crossing we will be getting there……
    we need more crossings so there is no bottleneck issues anymore, there is no other solution
    its good to have the WA DLR and crossrail to come but being realistic people like cars and wont be leaving them behind in my lifetime, not everyone can/will get on a bike or take public transport no matter what financial punishment is bestowed on them
    bridges/tunnels NOT ferry’s borris and more of them asap!!

  3. Let’s be honest, there isn’t another road that could cope any better with an additional crossing than the A102 and an additional crossing is what is needed.

    Furthermore, there are three lanes on the A102 up to the proposed exit for the new tunnel. With one lane diverting off to the new tunnel, there would be no more need for traffic to merge, removing the cause of much of the congestion approaching the existing tunnel.

  4. Darryl – you’re spot on about the Bexley nimbyism + Livingstone’s bridge at Thamesmead could have been up and running by now. Sacking it was one of the first things BJ did when he became Mayor and now with an election due he decides SE London needs a crossing. Surely all he has to do is resurrect these plans? Or is that far too logical?

  5. Nelson’s Left Eye – what happens to all this traffic when they come back the other way, and hit two lanes of A2 at Eltham?

  6. If tfl spread the load with both silver town link and Thames gateway bridge ( this project is not dead like some seem to believe, believe me ) then the 2 lanes of the Rochester way relief road should cope. As we saw the other night 1 screw up means no one can move from Greenwich to plumstead. The traffic isn’t going anywhere and we have to think ahead rather than carry on with our head in a bucket of sand pretending there isn’t a problem or everyone is going to leave there car/van/lorry at home all of a sudden. We need more crossings for public transport and vehicles. ASAP

  7. Yep maybe Daryll, I walk to work so don’t And never have commuted by car but plenty won’t or can’t ( tools to carry or no direct links? ) and will continue to drive regardless of cost or time so more crossings equals less congestion which means better flow of traffic and less c02.
    I used to come home on a Tuesday at 1am and waiting at the Blackwall tunnell for 1 hour in a jam to cross is ridiculous in a modern city like London. We should have 3-4 crossings in s e london minimum

  8. Hi Darryll. One thing that has been missed in all the talk about a road bridge at Gallions Reach is that it could never have been built. It would have needed to be in excess of 15m high to allow shipping underneath. The location would have been within 1Km of London City Airport. Under International air law it is illegal to build any structure in excess of 15m high within 1Km of an airport – no exceptions.

  9. These road plans have been around for years – a hang over from the days when traffic was expected to keep growing and growing. In the last decade we have had the DLR crossing the Thames and then the Orbital railway system on its way to completion – real progress. The new road has become less and less needed.

    Car travel in London is on the decline, why spend £700m on this?

  10. Iwin1961 is spot on. The number of vehicle kilometres driven per year in London dropped 7% between 2000 and 2010. London was booming for most of that decade – there was an 8% increase in population and a 5% increase in jobs. But with improvements in public transport people don’t need to drive as much as they used to do.

    With people driving less and using public transport more, we should be providing more public transport capacity instead of building new roads.

    Source for figures: TfL – Travel in London – Report 4 – page 1

  11. I strongly agree that the added volume of cars on the A102 and A2 would add to the extensive pollution in the area.

    To negate this problem the new tunnel should be for electric or zero emissions car,vans and Buses only. The tunnel is a ten year project and would allow time for the electric cars to improve and for regular users of the tunnel to invest in new zero emission transport.

    Any thoughts?

  12. A MEGA two tier bridge would be the way to go at thamesmead–becton with a DLR crossing included .
    Theyve done all the research already (how much did that cost)
    , you could see the drilling barge last year from the woolwich ferry,

    The only troubling thing is they can find the cash to build crossrail , and yet the average commuting londoner cant have a tunnel for cars and lorries ANYWHERE
    . That would include FORWARD thinking there is only EVER going to be more vehicles (electric/ lpg/ biomethane/ biodiesel) So as there is almost no where to build anything maybe they should go underneath.the existing road infrastructure. A continuous investment in our road network and some real TASTY emissions standards for every vehicle.
    HOW many tunnelling machines have we paid for already?? london-paris for example.

  13. Paul – restricting the tunnel to vehicles with zero emissions from the tailpipe might improve air quality around here, which would be welcome. Pollution figures for East Greenwich and Blackheath are pretty dire, and have been for years. The problem with electric vehicles is that they do nothing to reduce congestion. Traffic congestion can only be reduced by building new roads (which tend to fill up quickly, requiring yet more new roads to be built) or reducing the number of vehicles on the road (which, happily, is happening anyway).

    Is there any word from Mayor Johnson on the potential level of tolls for the Silvertown Link? There’s going to have to be tolls as long as there’s a charge to use the Dartford crossing, otherwise a lot of traffic will divert from the M25 via the A2/A13 to the Blackwall/Silvertown crossing thus negating any improvements in journey speeds and reliability.

  14. methers, thank for your thoughts, I agree congestion is a problem, but it doesn’t effect the innocent pollution kills and harms 1,000 London. I lost my Nan to Asthma (a Westcombe Hill resident for 50 Years) My Children’s school is close to the A102 with a high percentage of pupils with Asthma.

    At present there is congestion every day along the A102, if the cars, vans and lorries had zero emissions there would not be any of the related illnesses in the area. If the jams along the A102 where full of Zero emission cars then the area safer for our elderly and children.

    We agree the won’t widen or build another road into the new tunnel so we must lessen the impact of the cars, vans and lorries that use it. Then the only health risk is that the drivers in the daily jam may die from boredom.

  15. Paul – there’s over 4000 deaths in London every year caused by air pollution (see My son will be starting primary school in September, and is likely to be going to Halstow, Millennium or Invicta, all of which are very close to the Blackwall approach. So I care very much about air quality in East Greenwich and Blackheath.

    But congestion on the roads is also a big problem. Having people and goods stuck in traffic every day holds our economy back.

    The solution: London-wide road charging. I would support generous discounts for low emission vehicles…

  16. methers, we are on the same page, One radical solution would be to extend the Jubilee line from North Greenwich to the south to the following location, Enderby’s Wharf, Old Greenwich Hospital site, Royal Standard, Kidbrooke Station, Eltham station.

    All of the above sites except for the Royal Standard are at present empty and are awaiting new developments that with a little tweaking can accommodate a Tube station. The royal Standard station could be located under the grass and old public toilets and landscaped back to how it is.

    The new Jubilee line extention would then take a large amount of commuter traffic of the roads.

  17. Sadly, you wouldn’t get away with a Jubilee Line extension because the tunnels point in the wrong direction at North Greenwich – they point north-east, with a little stump heading east in case anyone ever wanted to build towards the Royal Docks and Thamesmead. I expect that idea is gone forever now the Stratford leg is so busy.

    Possible Bakerloo Line extensions have been discussed on this blog before – Lewisham Council commissioned a study in 2010, which included heading to Canary Wharf (and presumably could then take your route via Greenwich, Blackheath, Kidbrooke and Eltham) although Greenwich is obsessed with having the DLR via North Greenwich to Eltham instead – using Boris’s tunnel.

  18. Darryl, it dosen’t have to be an extension it could be a branch line which connects with a little leg work to the Jubilee line and cable car at North Greenwich.

  19. Congestion WON’T be reduced by building more roads. It will simply encourage more people to drive, who will simply fill the new roads to capacity.

    As I walk my kids to school, and look at the glum people, one of them per car, stuck in traffic round the Greenwich one-way system, jumping red lights in an attempt to save an extra 10 seconds, working their way towards their first executive heart attack, it’s pretty obvious that driving to work for most of them is an irrational addiction they need to be weaned off. Improving public transport (and giving us back our damn foot tunnels!) is the first step in doing so.

  20. You seem to know a lot about the people driving their cars Pedro – were you one of them before you became holier-than-the-rest?

  21. Pedro’s exactly right Steve and from the unpleasant reaction he’s got from you, it sounds like you know it. Most people who drive to work don’t need to they just love their cars and the er, ‘freedom’ it gives them. Generally they over-react when challenged, a bit like any other addict.

  22. I think we can all agree that better transport links are required in the soon-to-be-Royal Borough of Greenwich, but there’s no easy answer to the problem. New roads face big opposition, as they involve knocking down houses and cutting through precious green space. TfL would probably oppose dumping more passengers on the already busy Jubilee line. The Bakerloo extension has been talked about for decades and nothing has happened. Greenwich Council’s scheme for the DLR on stilts looks like madness of the surface, but maybe it’s the best chance we have of adding capacity for not unreasonable cost and the least possible disruption.

    More trams! I’d vote for that. I’d vote the Sustrans pedestrian/cycling bridge between Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf as well.

  23. Pure fantasy Wolfe. You don’t know anything about the people in their cars any more than Pedro does. Do you know where they live and where they are going, or why? I don’t think so.

  24. I reckon of all the car owners i know, AT LEAST 50% of their journeys could be done without driving – they’re just lazy (no, I don’t have a car and manage fine – I just walk more, use public transport and very occasionally get a taxi if I really have to – eg, something heavy from B&Q).

  25. Steve – but we do know quite a lot about how people use private and public transport. A lot of research is done on the subject.

    For example, we know that over 50% of car journeys in outer London are under 2 miles in length*. Sometimes using a car is necessary for a short journey (for example, if you’ve got something very heavy to move) but people often drive when it would be easy and quick to walk, use a bike, get on the bus or go a couple of stops on the train.

    * source:

  26. Surely there is a bit of snobbery attached to using public transport as well?

    My old boss used to drive and complain about the traffic even though he could have taken the train.

    Though that said he was also the type to talk about the plane journey rather than the holiday itself.

  27. Methers
    It was the “Glum people”, “Executive heart attack”, “irrational addiction” phrases contrasted with the “As I walk my kids to school” introduction in Pedro’s post that came across as holier-than-thou. Statistics I’m fine with.

  28. Observation, Steve. Look around you. yes I own a car but I don’t use it for driving to work. And what’s wrong with choosing an option that doesn’t pollute the environment or clog up our cities?

  29. […] Crossing the river by car has never been easy in this part of London and as one of the thousands who has sat for painful hours waiting to go through the Blackwall tunnel I should greet the announcement of a new crossing to Silvertown with open arms. I don’t. Google road congestion and you will come across academic study after academic study that points out the fact that more roads beget more traffic. I am not against cars per se but I do have strong sympathies with the excellent article and views expressed on 853 here http://8…  […]

  30. Any idea when the Greenwich foot tunnel lifts will be working again? It’s been almost 3 years that there has been some issue or the other with the lifts. Last update on the Royal Greenwich council website is that the finish date of March 2011 will not be met. Almost a year from that ETA, no signs yet of the lifts getting back to work. Or is that expected to finish just in time for the Olympics?!
    Building additional tunnels and cable cars is fine, what about the ordinary cyclist- having to carry a cycle up and down ~100 steps on each trip through the tunnel is a nightmare, and nobody seems to be complaining 🙁

  31. I am a Bexley resident and I would actually prefer The Thames Gateway Bridge to The Silvertown Link. The main reason being that coming from LBOB, The Blackwall Tunnel and The Silvertown Link would essentially be the same thing. The Thames Gateway Bridge would be a lot closer and you could also run a couple of buses along it, if not anything else, linking places like City Airport, East Ham and Barking directly with Bexleyheath.

  32. […] Apart from rumours of unhappiness in local Labour parties – will they have the courage to go public? – no politician and no pressure group has stepped forward to champion the cause against the Silvertown Tunnel. Yet every time I’ve mentioned Silvertown on this website, nearly every commenter comes out against it – something that surprises me. Nearly a year ago, 88% of voters came out against the plan in a poll on this website. […]

  33. On this roundabout of death, I have long thought this junction is just superfluous. It is close to both the Blackwall Lane and the Sun in the Sands junction. It should be closed to normal traffic allowing access only for the 132 bus and emergency vehicles. The roundabout can then be removed leaving a simple traffic light 3-way junction with Horn Lane.

    This will take a large volume of traffic off the residential A206 Woolwich Road due for downgrading, speed buses 161, 177, 180, 286 and 422 and encourage more people to cycle. Most importantly, it will remove the current deathtrap for cyclists and grim nightmare for pedestrians.

    We just need to think more inventively to reclaim our streets, bring air quality down to safe levels (currently on an annualised basis the spot is twice EU limits) amd encourage people out of their cars.

    On Labour and Silvertown, the view of Greenwich & Woolwich Labour Party is clear, any tunnel proposal must show it will mean overall air quality, noise and economic improvements.

    My view is, subject to strong counter evidence, as it stands it will just pour even more traffic from two bores into the same funnel at Kidbrooke causing much longer tailbacks and disbursement onto local roads.

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