853 exclusive: Greenwich Council suppressed a report which criticised Tory mayor Boris Johnson’s plans for a new road tunnel between the Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks – while the council’s Labour leadership was launching a campaign to push for the tunnel to be built.
Published in May 2012, the Hyder Consulting report into a possible DLR extension to Eltham warns of “exacerbated congestion on the local road network” if the Silvertown Tunnel is built. But this didn’t stop cabinet member Denise Hyland, outgoing council leader Chris Roberts and his deputy Peter Brooks, together with MP Nick Raynsford, launching the Bridge The Gap campaign six months later to campaign for the tunnel, attempting to hijack a public consultation into the scheme.
The document was hidden for nearly two years. Labour councillors were not shown it when they were asked to endorse the Bridge The Gap campaign in December 2012. When a Freedom of Information request to see the report was submitted in April 2013, it was refused as the council was “drafting a report into the matter” and so it was “unfinished”. In the end, it was never presented to Greenwich Council’s cabinet.
It still hasn’t been published on the council website, but this website is now publishing the report for the first time, after it emerged following an enquiry from former Liberal Democrat councillor Paul Webbewood at a council meeting earlier this year.
Greenwich Council has supported the Silvertown Tunnel on the grounds it would provide congestion relief, as expressed in this answer from “Greener Greenwich” cabinet member Harry Singh in January 2013:
But seven months earlier, the Hyder document had repeatedly warned that the Silvertown Tunnel would not be able to cope with increased traffic levels, and would actually draw new traffic to the area.
This reflects established thinking among traffic planners that road building actually generates new traffic rather than relieves it.
But what of those plans for new public transport to take traffic off the roads? Long-term readers of this website will remember the original “DLR on stilts” report from 2011, proposing a DLR extension via the Silvertown Tunnel through east Greenwich, Blackheath, Kidbrooke and Eltham to Falconwood, largely built above the A102 and A2.
At the time, Chris Roberts said it was about “changing the mentality” of Transport for London, justifying the £75,000 cost of the two reports. The first report wasn’t publicly available until this website submitted a Freedom of Information request.
Well, the second, suppressed report reveals that there’s two hopes for Eltham’s DLR extension – after the town’s most famous son, there’s Bob Hope and no hope.
Quite simply, the plan’s been shelved – with the council urged to back an extension only going as far as Kidbrooke on cost/benefit grounds.
But what’s more, TfL doesn’t seem interested. An email from project manager Tony Wilson is included in the report. It states: “If the desire is to bring more passengers to North Greenwich to access the westbound Jubilee line, it is not clear whether this is desirable from a crowding perspective or attractive from a customer perspective.
“At the moment it is unclear what the proposed line is trying to achieve and what alternatives means of achieving this have been considered. That’s not to say that I can’t see any merits in it, but they appear to be fairly minor given the available capacity on the existing DLR options via Lewisham and Greenwich, while it would carry a very high price tag, and would be competing for funding against a great many other capital projects which have established cases.”
Further notes from meetings with TfL staff suggest they still weren’t impressed with the plans – with overcrowding at North Greenwich one of the key worries.
So the report was suppressed. It wasn’t presented to the council’s cabinet as promised, and wasn’t sent to Transport for London as planned – much to the anger of Greenwich’s Conservative leader Spencer Drury, an Eltham councillor.
But perhaps Spencer should have asked just why the report wasn’t submitted to Greenwich Council’s cabinet, never mind TfL. Perhaps the answer’s in another part of Tony Wilson’s email.
Was the Kidbrooke/Eltham DLR extension killed off so Greenwich could pursue the Silvertown Tunnel that’s criticised in the report?
Indeed, cabinet member Denise Hyland and outgoing leader Chris Roberts have some questions to answer over this issue – particularly as to why Greenwich Labour councillors were cajoled into supporting a road scheme that a council report had said would just exacerbate congestion. Rank and file members in the Greenwich and Woolwich party rejected the scheme in January 2013, rebuking their own councillors.
It remains to be seen what line the post-Chris Roberts council will take on the Silvertown Tunnel – the Greenwich Labour party has yet to publish any kind of manifesto for 22 May’s election, although some Labour candidates are privately promising voters they’ll fight to reverse the council’s position.
In the meantime, while the “DLR on stilts” lies dead in the Quaggy, here’s some amazing mock-ups of what it could have looked like – including building the line over homes in east Greenwich.
From yesterday: Air pollution and SE London – the No to Silvertown Tunnel study.