A senior Greenwich councillor declined to discuss the town hall’s policy on the Silvertown Tunnel last night when asked about the new road’s contribution to the climate emergency.
Sizwe James, the cabinet member for environment, sustainability and transport, was quizzed last night by councillors on the regeneration scrutiny panel about the borough’s plans to become carbon neutral by 2030.
Greenwich is consulting until Sunday on its aims to reach net zero emissions 20 years ahead of the national target, including making all council homes run on non-fossil fuels, creating heat networks to serve 13,000 homes and recycling 70 per cent of waste.
The council also wants to cut car use by 45 per cent – but former deputy leader David Gardner said that Greenwich’s failure to oppose the £2 billion road link to the Royal Docks undermined that ambition.
Preparatory work is under way on the Greenwich Peninsula and in Silvertown for the tunnel, which will include an HGV and bus lane for traffic which is too big and heavy for the existing Blackwall Tunnel. Both roads would be tolled to pay for the scheme. Critics say that construction of the tunnel, plus the additional traffic it could attract, would make it impossible for London to meet its climate change targets under the Paris agreement.
“I wonder how on earth we can do that when we’re still not opposing the Silvertown Tunnel,” Gardner said. “The Silvertown Tunnel will generate far more traffic, particularly HGVs, through Greenwich and I’d be interested in the cabinet member’s comments on what we can do about the tunnel, particularly the huge impact it will have on our communities.”
But James would not even address the issue – despite it being brought up repeatedly in residents’ responses to the consultation.
“Everyone has different views and the council has a position,” he said. “I don’t think it’d be particularly helpful for us to go there this evening.”
The Labour council campaigned for the tunnel to be built when Boris Johnson first outlined plans as mayor in 2012; it has never formally reversed that position despite Newham, which also pushed for the tunnel to be built, changing its mind in 2018 – just as the tunnel received formal approval.
Lewisham, Southwark and Hackney councils have long opposed the tunnel, as has Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook, who is also the shadow climate minister. Abena Oppong-Asare, the Erith & Thamesmead MP, is also opposed, as is Lyn Brown, the West Ham MP whose constituency covers the north side of the proposed tunnel.
In 2019 Labour councillors wrote to Khan asking the mayor to pause and reconsider the scheme, but that position has never been formalised by a council motion. But council leader Danny Thorpe then rejected a request from Hackney to join a pan-London campaign against the tunnel, claiming it could be used to damage the Labour mayor.
Khan and his transport deputy, Heidi Alexander, have insisted that the tunnel will clear persistent queues at the Blackwall Tunnel and enable better public transport. But Labour members are still mounting a last-ditch battle to stop the scheme, with eight London constituency parties passing motions against the project.
The mayor began his re-election campaign in north London yesterday. He and Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey support the tunnel, while Green contender Sian Berry and Liberal Democrat Luisa Porritt are opposed.
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