Transport for London has announced it will proceed with arrangements for the construction of the controversial Silvertown Tunnel “as soon as possible” following the lifting of suspensions on the process.
The transport network had been blocked from awarding the contract to build and operate the £1 billion project to the Riverlinx consortium after a rival bidder, STC, took legal action over the procurement process. STC has now consented to Riverbank continuing with the contract.
TfL’s determination to press ahead comes in the face of widespread opposition to the plans, including by Hackney Council and most recently from within Greenwich Council.
Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe last week asked that London mayor Sadiq Khan pause works on the tunnel in order that a “full review of alternative options” be carried out, though it is understood City Hall’s position in support of the tunnel currently remains unchanged.
Richard Lufkin, a Hackney Labour councillor who has actively campaigned against the tunnel, said: “We hope that the recent change of mind by Greenwich will cause Transport for London to reconsider. It’s a significant change, as they are the council that’s most directly involved.
“The tunnel remains completely incompatible with the mayor’s air quality agenda. It’s very disappointing that TfL continue to think that adding road capacity will reduce congestion, as evidence from all over the world shows that that is not the case.”
Lewisham Council and Southwark Council have also opposed the project, as has Greenwich and Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook.
Absolutely the right decision. Let's hope Sadiq is listening. Silvertown Tunnel is a hugely unpopular project that will embed vast amounts of alienating, polluting traffic into central London at a time when we need to be rapidly reducing land transport emissions. https://t.co/lS27Ei3yVS
— Cllr Jon Burke (@jonburkeUK) October 16, 2019
Hackney’s elected mayor Philip Glanville voiced his “strong concerns” about the project in a July joint letter with his council’s cabinet member for transport, Jon Burke, to TfL commissioner Mike Brown.
Speaking at the launch of a £6m round of clean air funding in June, Sadiq Khan spoke out in support of the plans, underlining that they aim to tackle the “really atrocious air quality” resulting from the Blackwall Tunnel when it becomes blocked.
But Lufkin, who is also a transport planner, pointed out that the addition of capacity by Silvertown would move congestion onto other parts of the network. He called instead for a single-bore tunnel for buses, walking and cycling.
TfL hopes the new river crossing between Royal Docks and Greenwich Peninsula, planned for opening in 2025, will alleviate 90-minute tailbacks into the northbound Blackwall Tunnel caused by “fast growth in east London”, and has also spoken of the opportunity presented by more cross-river bus routes.
However, the Stop The Silvertown Tunnel Coalition, a cross-party and Extinction Rebellion initiative, petitioned City Hall to rethink the project in May, pointing out that road pricing and tolls on Blackwall Tunnel itself would address the congestion.
A coalition spokesperson accused Khan of “astonishing hypocrisy and doublethink” for highlighting the health costs of dirty air while supporting the project.
A TfL spokesperson said: “We are pleased that STC has consented to TfL’s application to court to lift the automatic suspension on award of the Silvertown Tunnel contract.
“We will now progress the arrangements for award of the contract to the Riverlinx consortium as soon as possible.
“Once open, a new twin-bore tunnel, located within the extended Ultra Low Emission Zone, will remove barriers for people in east London needing to cross the river for work or leisure, enable the introduction of new bus services and improve the reliability and resilience of the local road network.”
Ed Sheridan is the Local Democracy Reporter for Hackney, based at the Hackney Citizen.
The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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