MPs demand Sadiq Khan reviews Silvertown Tunnel as Assembly declines to investigate

A102 southbound traffic jam
The Silvertown Tunnel will feed into the southbound A102 through Greenwich towards Kidbrooke

The two MPs for each side of the planned Silvertown Tunnel have again called on mayor Sadiq Khan to pause the project – saying Transport for London’s financial crisis means the £1.2 billion scheme should now be reviewed.

Matt Pennycook, MP for Greenwich & Woolwich, and Lyn Brown, MP for West Ham, say that the Labour mayor should look again at the scheme as part of his independent review of TfL’s finances, which have been seriously affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Khan set up the review in response to the Conservative government setting up its own investigation into TfL’s funding, as part of a wider battle between City Hall and Westminster over the future of the capital’s transport body.

The money for the Silvertown Tunnel is coming from a private consortium – Riverlinx – which will be paid off by tolls on both the new road and the Blackwall Tunnel when it opens in 2025.

But Pennycook and Brown have said that the risk of the project overrunning could present a further threat to TfL’s finances.
Pennycook has been a longstanding opponent of the tunnel – between the Greenwich Peninsula and Royal Docks – while Brown, who represents the west Silvertown and Canning Town areas that will take the brunt of traffic heading north of the river, spoke out against the scheme in a parliamentary debate in February.

Khan promised a review of the scheme while campaigning to be elected mayor in 2016, but approved the project within five weeks of taking office. He and deputy mayor for transport Heidi Alexander insist the project will “virtually eliminate” congestion around the Blackwall Tunnel; opponents say it will fail to do that and will lead to traffic increasing in neighbouring areas.

The Silvertown Tunnel will branch off from the existing A102 at the site of the old No 2 gasholder, at he centre of this photograph which was taken during lockdown

The new road, which will also allow HGVs that are too big to fit in the 123-year-old northbound Blackwall Tunnel, was approved in May 2018 after six months of public hearings.

The two MPs write: “We appreciate … that there are doubtless financial penalties for terminating the contract with the Riverlinx consortium. However, given the significant construction and maintenance costs and the fact that even the most well-conceived major infrastructure projects have a tendency to overrun, with significant cost implications, we are concerned that the financial risks may ultimately be borne in whole or in part by TfL itself.

“As such, we believe the perilous financial situation in which TfL now finds itself in is reason enough to review the case for embarking on a major capital project of this scale, particularly given that the future health and prosperity of our city is more and more dependent on us reducing our reliance on cars.”

The tunnel would emerge on this site opposite Greenwich Peninsula

Meanwhile, the body charged with scrutinising the mayor’s activities has said it will not review the decisions leading up to the tunnel being given the go-ahead. The Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition says that several key mistakes were made in the decision-making process.

In a letter to the coalition, Len Duvall – the Labour assembly member for Greenwich & Lewisham, chair of the London Assembly’s oversight committee and a longstanding supporter of the project – said: “ I – and the majority of the committee – see limited value in the committee reviewing the specific events leading up to the agreement of the Tunnel. In regard to assembly scrutiny of the tunnel, I am content with the work that the transport committee has done on the project over previous years.”

However, he added: “Some members of the committee do have concerns about transparency surrounding the cancellation costs of the tunnel, as well as about the assessment of the financial viability of the project at this time. The committee will write to Transport for London to request information regarding those concerns.”

The coalition has now written to TfL’s external auditor to request a review of the project. It says that several alternative options were not considered, such as solely tolling the Blackwall Tunnel or introducing a London-wide road pricing scheme.

“Even the very low economic benefit that might accrue from actually building the tunnel is dependent on traffic being maintained at existing levels,” the coalition’s coordinator Victoria Rance says in a letter to Karl Havers of EY. “Maintaining this level of traffic is entirely inconsistent with the Mayor’s own carbon-reduction targets.”

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