Revealed: Labour blocked ’embarrassing’ Silvertown Tunnel questions to Sadiq Khan

Silvertown Tunnel worksite
Piling work for the new tunnel is taking place north of the river

A leaked email has revealed that the London Assembly Labour group blocked questions to Sadiq Khan about the Silvertown Tunnel before last month’s mayoral election because they could have been “deeply embarrassing” to the mayor.

The email, which has been seen by both the Local Democracy Reporting Service and 853, revealed that City Hall Labour group officers rejected four proposed questions about the tunnel ahead of a Mayor’s Question Time session in February.

The questions from a Labour assembly member focused on whether Sadiq Khan had paused to rethink the modelling of the project in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, but they were rejected on the basis that “they could be deeply embarrassing to the mayor, especially so close to the mayoral election”.

The £2 billion Silvertown Tunnel will connect the Greenwich peninsula to the Royal Docks, but has been criticised by politicians, activists and climate experts over the potential impact it will have on congestion and local air quality. Piling work is already under way north of the Thames.

One of the questions that was rejected by Labour group officers asked the mayor why PM2.5 pollution, a type of particle pollution caused by vehicle tyres and road wear, was not taken into account in the air pollution assessment for the project.

A spokesperson for the Labour group said that “from time to time we have too many questions for Mayor’s Question Time, and we have to prioritise on the basis of what matters most to Londoners”.

A102 southbound queue
The new tunnel will feed into the southbound A102

The spokesperson added: “This meant that in recent months, we’ve prioritised questions on tackling crime, the capital’s economic recovery, job creation, and cleaning up our toxic air. Labour AMs are committed to delivering full and proper scrutiny – including on the Silvertown Tunnel, on which we’ve submitted written questions for the last two MQT sessions.

“Scrutiny takes place at different levels across the GLA and indeed the GLA Oversight Committee, which was chaired by a Labour assembly member, was looking into a number of issues on Silvertown [Tunnel] during this same period and did that through correspondence with TfL.”

Following Sadiq Khan’s re-election, the Labour members within the London Assembly were accused of having “abdicated their responsibility to hold the mayor to account” by City Hall Conservative leader Susan Hall after a disagreement about the allocation of scrutiny committee chairs.

None of the assembly’s scrutiny committees will be chaired by Labour members this mayoral term after the group rejected an agreement proposed by the other three parties in the Assembly.

At the time, Labour group leader Len Duvall – the assembly member for Greenwich and Lewisham – accused the other parties of forming a “coalition” and said that “we don’t have to chair any committee to play a full part in scrutiny”.

In Greenwich, Labour politicians have also been discouraged from asking awkward questions about the Silvertown Tunnel.

Earlier this year, a Greenwich Council scrutiny committee was told by one of the town hall’s Labour cabinet members that it was “not helpful” to discuss the tunnel, while in December 2019 it was revealed that Greenwich leader Danny Thorpe had blocked a cross-borough campaign against the tunnel because it might be used by “political opponents”.

Additional reporting by Darryl Chamberlain

LDRS logoJoe Talora is the Local Democracy Reporter for the Greater London Authority. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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