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.
An excellent piece, as you say, it will be interesting to see what if any change that the post-Roberts council will bring on the issue.
I had never spotted before that the van in the background is emblazoned with the logo ‘softheads’.
Posted without comment.
I believe someone was impertinent enough to point out the van in the background when the photo was first used Paul.
Must confess, I missed it the second time around too!!
So traffic is gridlocked in Greenwich very often and will become more so once Ikea opens yet there is a campaign *not* to improve the North/South link.
I can see what the campaign is against (and on the face of it, reasons why) but I can’t see what it supports. What is the plan to lower pollution if letting traffic flow more freely is off the table? I’m not baiting, this is a genuine question.
Another Steve – another tunnel will simply bring more traffic. For a start, it’ll only exacerbate the southbound bottleneck at Kidbrooke. And then it’ll build as people realise it’s become a bit easier to drive, and then the benefit will be lost.
New transport infrastructure has a habit of filling up, and this has been proved with new roads (1994 report: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http:/www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/economics/rdg/nataarchivedocs/trunkroadstraffic.pdf). This is the case with the M25, and was the case with the second Blackwall Tunnel in the late 1960s.
A new tunnel will solve nothing, pile extra pressure onto the A102/A2, and make the whole thing worse. It’s a lazy cop-out which doesn’t solve the problem of the congestion we already have.
Solutions? Here’s one from me – for a start, building a pedestrian/cycle crossing from North Greenwich to Canary Wharf would cost 1/6th of a road tunnel, but would bring untold benefits to the peninsula.
Darryl – Like Another Steve, not baiting but genuinely interested in what the campaign proposes as an alternative to the tunnel – as you say it doesn’t solve the problem of congestion.
I agree a pedestrian tunnel from the Peninsula to Canary Wharf would be great – but that doesn’t solve the problem of road traffic.
As a non-driver, I’m a layperson in terms of knowledge and opinion on this. Surely the problem is that people need to cross the river to get from A to B, e.g. to visit friends in Hertfordshire? So less about encouraging people onto the road locally in Kidbrooke/Greenwich? There are some journeys that can’t be resolved by public transport and people will make car journeys nevertheless, and as Another Steve suggests, we should encourage free flow through a second tunnel to reduce pollution from waiting vehicles?
Shivanee – you won’t get a free-flowing tunnel. It’ll clog up like the others have.
There’ll always be some element of congestion in this area. But proper investment in public transport, and carrots/sticks to discourage needless car use is a start. None of us are experts, but what we’re being sold with Silvertown is a crock. And if we don’t fight, it’ll just lead to this area declining.
Thanks for the reply Darryl but I’m no further on.
A pedestrian and cycle crossing is fine but the cost/benefit analysis argument needs to be made and on that point, I wouldn’t be confident of it going ahead and for good reason.
I’m also not convinced as to carrot and sticks to get people out of cars. It may happen to a small degree but social engineering for the sake of not building new roads is not something I would want to be part of and who decides the criteria of what is and isn’t a needless car journey (please don’t give GC ideas!)?
The Blackwall tunnel was reasonable during rush hour before Livingstone abandoned the tidal flow and it’s reprehensible that Boris caved in on its reinstatement. It’s not just a case of people wanting to transit the river but also needing to in the manner that they want.
Sorry but I still can’t see what the alternatives are.
The simple problem is that the Silvertown Tunnel will not work as a solution. It simply defers the problem for another few years.
There are no magic bullets. But it’d be be cheaper to can the toll at Dartford, for example – why is a bypass tolled but the route through the city free?
Shivanee – The real problem here is that south east london is extremely poorly served by the underground and rail networks. In some cases, we’re actually moving backwards (witness the loss of service after 2014 on the Greenwich Line to Charing Cross and Waterloo east – http://deptforddame.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/no-more-charing-cross-trains-after-2014.html).
The fact is that the only sustainable (and globally proven) solution to growing transit needs is mass public transport. The Silvertown tunnel will just fill up as roads always do, and just make the already appaling pollution levels worse. Not to mention the effect it will have on the quality of life for locals – some of whom already feel like they’re living on the central reservation of a motorway
The money being spunked on the Silvertown white elephant should instead go towards an extension of the tube/rail network
This tunnel is not the answer. But I wouldn’t bank on regime change riding to the rescue. It needs pressure, pressure, pressure and preferably some high status (even celebrity) support to make them even think about re thinking
Esskay – I agree that the lack of public transport in SE London is a key issue, and for me, trains to Charing X is very serious (for current and future residents). Having lived in N and W London, even local bus services are inferior (as the report upon which this article is based on seeks to address). Even in suburban outer west London, I never really had to wait any more than 5 minutes for a bus whereas in Greenwich, you can easily wait for 20mins.
Unfortunately, I think the reason why TfL overlooks SE London/Greenwich is due to the relatively lower population than other parts of London. They don’t seem to be interested unless there’s severe overcrowding (by London standards). Hopefully, this will be eventually addressed as more developments go up, though I think worsening rail links poses a real risk there. Unfortunately, I don’t think RBG presented a strong enough case for DLR/improved bus services in the linked report (probably why it didn’t go anywhere). Living locally I know the merits, but can see TfL’s ‘helicopter’ perspective of lacking evidence of demand in Greenwich, compared to even Lewisham or Southwark.
Darryl – from what I understand, TfL are developing proposals for Silvertown so not even at planning permission stage. As Silvertown is infrastucture, will it not require Dep. for Transport passing legislation, the Treasury ringfencing investment etc, as similar to Crossrail? If so, we have a general election next year and then a mayoral election. Very complex legislation needs to be passed through Parliament before any cheer/defeat. Look at HS2, Crossrail….realistically the making of Silvertown is still a distant horizon? Why the urgency/focus when rail services are being decimated now?
Shivanee – TfL want to get it built by 2021, which means putting it through planning at the end of 2015. It doesn’t need legislation, but funding is an issue.
Thanks Darryl. I think we can all agree that past experience suggests The 2021 date is over-optimistic, especially given the funding and political situation, not least construction. Remember, Ken Livingstone said Crossrail would be ready for the 2012 Olympics!
The current mayor only has two years left and seems less interested by the day. The current government only has a one year. We are supposedly still in austerity, there is growing malcontent about money and London, and the future government and mayor – whatever political party, will have their hands full with HS2 and Heathrow. By the time a new government settles in and sets out spending priorities, we may not even be looking at any real movement until the 2017 budget. I reckon TfL may have provisionally proposed so they can begin to garner business/economic support for future lobbying.
Surely, the scaleback of rail services is the big issue that will have a real detrimental impact for Greenwich residents and businesses? Cannon St is not a major station; poorly connected to the rest of the underground; mostly closed; arguably only relevant to City of London workers; and not on the tourist map. The economic consequences could be disastrous – direct impact on tourism and new developments which are marketing 20mins direct access into Central London.
As mentioned previously, I am neutral non-driver so only trying to understand the argument. Which is also why I am surprised/interested why the loss of rail services to Charing X and London Bridge has not galvanised local campaigners such as yourself, particularly Green Party members etc? You do cite investment in public transport as the best way forward – which I agree with. Why not campaign for increased rail/tube networks?
Also, please can you/the no campaign address my point about people crossing the river for business/leisure trips, visiting friends, UK holidays, getting to airports, etc. Also, the impact for businesses in Greenwich and south of the river. Thanks.
Shivanee–With the state of the railways at the moment I have no idea at all about who was responsible for withdrawing the Greenwich Line Charing Cross services. But it was essentially bulldozed through; I’m tempted to say on the sly, but that’s contradictory! Us Londoners lose services to central London so people in Peterborough and Bedford get better ones to London Bridge and Brighton!
AFAIK there was very little opposition to the proposals from council or MPs. Sloth? Broken promises? Ignorance? I don’t know and I stand to be corrected. We were the mushrooms.
When I first became aware of the plans it was too late. They held a ‘consultation’ last year and I had a chat with the Network Rail chappie who turned up at Charlton station. He knew there had been a previous consultation with Greenwich Line passengers but couldn’t tell me when.
He did tell me he hadn’t had a good reception telling people that losing direct access to Charing Cross and Waterloo East was an improvement in service and was decent enough to admit this…..
I’m extremely tempted to blame council/MPs (largely Raynsford) for this farce. Is that fair?
“I’m extremely tempted to blame council/MPs (largely Raynsford) for this farce. Is that fair?”
Yes, I think it us. The changes to service patterns on the Greenwich line have been under open discussion for many years. These changes were discussed and planned years ago. I’d have expected the Transport officer(s) at Greenwich/Southwark Councils to have been following this and engage with Network Rail – but there is every indication that they didn’t.
I should clarify that. Open discussion in specialist Transport press – but that’s exactly the sort of documents I’d expect Council transport officer(s) to read assiduously.
@Shivanee You write “I am neutral non-driver so only trying to understand the argument. Which is also why I am surprised/interested why the loss of rail services to Charing X and London Bridge has not galvanised local campaigners such as yourself, particularly Green Party members etc?”
As Chris says, there’s been a consultation for years (the project was originally called Thameslink 2000, because that was when it was going to be done. But it got halted by John Prescott when he was transport minister. So there was in effect more that a decade of consultation. Didn’t Greenwich council or the MPs notice? What were they doing with our money? (Yes, it’s that John Prescott whose son was angling to be Labour candidate for Greenwich.)
But the work on the restarted Thameslink project is already well under way. It’s too late to change the plans now without another long delay.
I’m a non driver too, and I’m going to find the disruption to services through London Bridge a hassle over the next few years (and the fact that Thameslink services to/from Brighton and to/from the north will be moved away from London Bridge for a few years).
On the positive side, services on the Greenwich line have improved massively over the years. In the mid 1970s British Rail Southern Region provided two trains an hour into London on that line, and a similar number back (08 and 38 past each hour I seem to remember). And there was no DLR in those days. If you just missed one train and the next was cancelled you’d be nearly an hour late.
It’s not brilliant that they’ll just go into London Bridge and Cannon St, and not Charing Cross, once the work is done — but at the end of it I suspect Cannon St will have a higher profile (they’re going to open an escalator down to Bank station, with the Northern, Central and Waterloo & City lines just opposite Cannon St station, so it will also be much better connected).
If lobbyists were to do their work properly — next year’s new MPs and this year’s new councillors note — then they should be calling for Cannon Street to stay open right into the late evening, and all day Saturdays and Sundays, with trains every 10 minutes on the Greenwich line all the way through to the end of services, with the link to Bank, once it’s open, heavily promoted. It doesn’t have to be thought of as just a commuters’ station. Better services will bring more users.
Oxford Circus to Bank 8 minutes, says TfL. Cannon St to Greenwich is 11 minutes, says National Rail. Add in 5 min for changing at Bank-Cannon St plus an average 5 min wait. Result: Oxford Circus to Greenwich 29 min. That’s about the same as Oxford Circus to Turnham Green (which is also on the zone 2/zone 3 boundary). Not fantastic, but not quite so dreadful.
Shivanee, I’m also involved in the No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign. We’re campaigning on this one issue because we see the proposed tunnel as a particular danger to this part of the world – the tunnel will bring greater volumes of traffic, and with that decreased air quality and so dangers to public health. We can’t solve all transport issues in the area, and other campaigns do work to maintain and improve public transport links around here – see for example Charlton Rail Users Group (http://charltonrail.wordpress.com/)
We have to start now because otherwise there is a chance that any public consultation will not fairly reflect both sides of this argument. The local authority has already been explicitly campaigning for the tunnel, and past road development projects have been been argued on the basis of ‘economic benefit’ to the area without any explanation of how or where that economic benefit would arise.
I understand – and this point is addressed to Another Steve above as well – that as we’re all rational people, that we would like our opinions to be informed by as much evidence as possible, whether for the tunnel or for counter proposals. We should expect cost-benefit reports, we should expect public health evidence, we should hear from traffic experts. I’d just ask that when our time comes for public consultation on these proposals that everyone expects those behind the proposal to put their evidence forward too, and challenges TfL – who are after all in charge of transport provision – for their evidence and their alternatives. The Mayor is committed to building this tunnel, Greenwich Council have supported it in the past, and it will be subject to the rules for Nationally Significant Infrastructure projects, meaning that the responsibility for consulting the public is held by the developer. The new process for these projects aims to streamline planning approval, with the intention that the project is approved within a year. This means we all have to be ready to ask what we need to when we need to – whether you want the tunnel or not.
We’re not going to get everyone in the world on our side, we understand. Our arguments include an invisible killer – air pollution – and something that at first glance might seem counter-intuitive: building new roads, particularly in cities, means more congestion not less. We can’t answer every point about every journey that someone might hypothetically take across the river, whether Dartford or Woolwich Ferry, or Thames Gateway, or Blackwall 3, or Silvertown Tunnel would be the best way to get you there. It is clear that people need to be able to cross the river. It doesn’t matter whether it’s for work or visiting friends or family. The question should be rather: is spending £600 million of public money and increasing air pollution and congestion in our area a reasonable and proportionate response to the unserved need for people to get across the river in private vehicles? We hope we’ll persuade you soon that it isn’t.
From TfL’s response to the last consultation: “The principal measure envisaged to date, and put forward in the consultation, to ensure that traffic using the new crossing does not cause congestion is the implementation of user charges.” So if that’s to be true, there won’t be a great increase in capacity – given the levels of congestion back down the A2??
They also talk of congestion-related charges, ie peak rates to go north in the morning & to return south at night. What that will do to the economic benefits for SE Londoners isn’t clear. Using charges to manage the congestion and to fund the project will potentially run in to conflict, and I see which objective will get priority.
Btw the time taken to (not) sort out busway problems around North Greenwich since the O2 opened illustrates another failing in making public transport work from RBG to central/north London. See https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/plans_for_edmund_halley_way_junc
I take Shivanee’s point about the need to campaign about the huge disruption to rail services during the rebuilding works at London Bridge Station.
Blackheath Westcombe Labour party has been doing a lot of campaigning over this for the last year or more, as have the (apolitical) Greenwich Line Users Group and the Charlton Rail Users group – asking for better consultation with (and information for) passengers about service changes, that people do not have to pay more for a more disrupted journey, and that TFL does all it can to increase bus, tube and DLR capacity and further subsidise journeys by riverboat.
You can read more at and sing our petition at http://bwlabour.wordpress.com/2014/05/10/labours-petition-for-a-better-deal-for-rail-passengers-during-london-bridge-station-rebuild/
and sign the petition at http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/impending-chaos-at-london-bridge-take-action-now-to-help-passengers.
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