Silvertown Tunnel architects ‘want to make new road more sustainable’

A102 southbound traffic jam
The Silvertown Tunnel will feed into the southbound A102 through Greenwich towards Kidbrooke, a route which is usually congested each evening

The architecture practice that has signed up to work on the Silvertown Tunnel says it is working on the controversial new road “ to try to make the project more sustainable”.

dRMM, which signed up to an industry pledge to to evaluate all its projects on their effect on the environment, told Architects’ Journal that it was convinced by Transport for London that the new road from Greenwich Peninsula to the Royal Docks was “not a project promoting private car traffic”.

The company, which won the Stirling Prize in 2017 for its work on Hastings Pier, is part of the Riverlinx consortium that has signed up to build and operate the £1.2 billion tunnel for TfL.

It will design portal buildings on the Greenwich and Silvertown sides of the Thames, as well as a new foot and cycle bridge over the A102 to replace the existing 1960s structure.

TfL has insisted the new road will end congestion at the Blackwall Tunnel, however opponents – who include Newham, Lewisham and Hackney councils – say it will fail to achieve that aim, and will merely add traffic to the area and feed existing jams. It was approved by the government two years ago and, before the coronavirus crisis, was due to be completed in 2025.

The tunnel will have two lanes in each direction, with one of those lanes being reserved for buses and HGVs. It will be able to accommodate HGVs that are too big to fit in the Blackwall Tunnel. It will share a southbound approach road with the Blackwall Tunnel, and both crossings will be tolled.

The Silvertown Tunnel approach is due to branch off the A102 at the site of the former East Greenwich gas holders

dRMM has traded on environmental principles in the past, signing up less than a year ago to Architects Declare, a pledge to “evaluate all new projects against the aspiration to contribute positively to mitigating climate breakdown”, wile last September, the company boasted it was downing tools to take part in a global climate strike to “as a demonstration of our commitment to fighting the climate emergency”.

The company’s co-founder, Alex de Rijke, told Architects’ Journal that “it is correct that we are challenged about our involvement on the Silvertown Tunnel project. This does appear to contradict the practice’s long-held position on environmental issues… But the inverse is true.”
He added: “After much consideration and debate amongst the directors and team at dRMM, we took the decision to be involved in order to try to make the project more sustainable.

“Improved infrastructure connections are needed within and across London. Tower Bridge is the most easterly Central London bridge. The Rotherhithe Tunnel was designed for horses, and is too small to allow vans and trucks. The Blackwall Tunnel is routinely jammed. There is no other east London crossing until the eccentric Woolwich Ferry and the faraway Dartford Bridge. At the moment, another bridge will not be built. The new tunnel will be built.”

“dRMM joined the Riverlinx consortium competition team, convinced by TfL’s brief that the Silvertown Tunnel is not a project promoting private car traffic; that its role is to facilitate and improve public transport and the distribution of essential goods, and will work with successful congestion and ULEZ charges and accommodate increasingly electric commercial vehicles and buses taking bicycles.

“This project is all about how people move across our capital and food to our shops.”

Sian Berry, the Green Party’s mayoral candidate, responded: “If you have pledged to design buildings, cities and infrastructures with a more positive impact on the environment, then getting involved in building a toxic urban motorway tunnel would seem to break that promise.”

853 has contacted dRMM to ask if it engaged with local communities in the areas affected before the tunnel before joining the consortium; this story will be updated when it responds.

The coronavirus emergency has pushed TfL’s troubled financial situation into a full-blown crisis, yet there are no plans to cancel the tunnel as the Riverlinx consortium will be paying for most of the £1.2bn cost of the project, a sum which will then be paid back by tolls. However, while that goes ahead, a possible government bailout could put the Bakerloo Line extension to Lewisham at risk, The Sunday Times reported at the weekend.


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