Plenty happening in the battle against Mayor Boris Johnson’s plans – endorsed by Greenwich Council – to build a third Blackwall Tunnel, adding extra traffic to the A102 and A2 through Greenwich, Blackheath, Charlton, Kidbrooke and Eltham.
Firstly, there’s a public meeting this Monday, 28th January, at the Forum on Trafalgar Road, Greenwich; to hear arguments against the crossing. It starts at 6.30pm, even if you can’t make the start, please come along. Speakers will include Dr Ian Mudgrave of King’s College, which runs the London Air Quality network of pollution monitors.
I went to the east London meeting on the Monday just gone, sliding along an icy Poplar High Street to get there. Dr Mudgrave’s been doing some work north of the river with schools in Tower Hamlets and Hackney boroughs, and his evidence of how pollution affects the area around Poplar – where he’s following childrens’ routes to school – is hair-raising. The air on the Blackwall Tunnel Northern Approach is so bad, clean white sheets put out to dry at the flats there quickly turn grey.
The Guardian’s environment editor, John Vidal, was also there.
Dr Mudgrave has been researching the effects of air pollution on hundreds of children in three schools in the Tower Hamlets area for several years and has found that their lung capacity is reduced significantly by the age of eight or nine. He himself walks the streets of the borough to measure the pollution and says there is nowhere in Tower Hamlets within the legal limit set by the EU, largely because no one is less than 500m from a busy road.
“Did you know that if you live in a polluted area you will have smaller lungs? They will not reach capacity and will be stunted. When, or if, people move to a cleaner environment they still do not recover the function they lost. We have good evidence that every child born in Tower Hamlets will have a reduction in the volume of their lungs by the age of eight. The point is, people die of lung disease later on. You store up a problem that will affect you later.”
Between the A2, A206, A207 (Shooters Hill Road) and A102, much the same will apply through Greenwich, Blackheath and Charlton. Dr Mudgrave will be able to say more about this on Monday. Hopefully Greenwich cabinet member for public health John Fahy will be able to make it, after his views earlier this month…
As for the transport side of things, ex-GLC transport engineer John Elliott also spoke in Poplar, and he’ll be speaking in Greenwich too.
Far from clearing congestion, his calculations suggested this proposed new tunnel would worsen traffic jams and pollution, increase journey lengths, and encourage more trips from outside London.
“TfL says it will be able to design tolls to manage the traffic [through the tunnel]. Well, they could toll everything out which would make it pointless building the tunnel. Or they could have no tolls which would probably increase traffic by 100%, and lead to widespread congestion throughout east London and beyond. Or they could go for something in the middle which would result in, possibly an extra 2,000 vehicles per hour which would significantly worsen congestion throughout east London and beyond.”
Again, hopefully Greenwich councillors will be able to make it along – the evidence from these two experts is much more compelling than the demands from the council leader’s friends to be able to make more money.
I asked John Elliott at the meeting why sensible people – like these councillors – would back an insane plan like the Silvertown Tunnel. His theory’s somewhat complicated to explain, but rests on the fact that the private transport route through the Blackwall Tunnel has been improved throughout the years, but the public transport has not been.
Which rings true – the Blackwall Tunnel was doubled and gained the motorway through to Homerton in the late 60s, which was widened in the 1990s as well as being extended to meet the M11. But public transport through the tunnel has remained the same – the 108 bus, almost a century old, has been the only route through the tunnel since 1970, and doesn’t offer the same kind of choice. So in their minds, the idea of public transport is a non-runner because it has been degraded so much, even though it’s actually their responsibility to push for improvements.
Monday’s meeting is orgaised by Friends of the Earth, which is against both Silvertown and Gallions Reach crossings, but the Poplar meeting concentrated on Silvertown and there’s no reason to expect the Greenwich one won’t do the same (especially if lots of people against Silvertown turn up).
Secondly, I’m hearing all kinds of reports of local Labour parties rebelling against the council leadership’s backing of Silvertown; and there’s even more evidence of Newham Council backing away. In a head-to-head piece with environmental campaigner Alan Haughton in the Newham Recorder, Newham’s executive member for regeneration Conor McAuley says: “A new road crossing at Gallions Reach would… relieve pressure on a new Silvertown Tunnel, helping the local road network so traffic flows more freely.”
We already know Newham Council thinks a Silvertown Tunnel on its own is a bad idea, and McAuley makes no other reference to it in his piece. Yet a Silvertown Tunnel on its own is just what Greenwich and Newham are likely to get, considering Boris’s opposition to a road crossing a Gallions Reach. Conor McAuley’s comments highlight what a disaster Greenwich Council risks blundering into.