London mayor Sadiq Khan has insisted he will not cancel the Silvertown Tunnel – and accused opponents of wanting to “do nothing” about persistent queues at the Blackwall Tunnel.
Work has begun on the £2 billion road crossing between Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks, which the mayor says will eliminate the congestion which blights the existing Blackwall crossing.
But opponents – who held a protest march on Saturday – say the tunnel will simply bring more traffic and congestion to the area, and will also break London’s climate change targets.
The crossing, which will include a dedicated lane for HGVs, is due to open in 2025, and will be paid for by a toll on both the new road and the 124-year-old Blackwall Tunnel.
At a meeting of the London Assembly yesterday, Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon asked the mayor whether “it would make sense to pause this motorway under the Thames” in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Khan told the London Assembly yesterday: “The cost of cancelling the contract, without giving away commercially sensitive information, runs to a lot of money and so it’s not an option that I think is sensible.
“This is a contract which isn’t funded out of the TfL budget. It is a design, build, maintain and finance contract, and in fact it’s paid over the course of many years as revenues are raised through the toll, both on Blackwall Tunnel and on the Silvertown Tunnel.”
Pressed further by Pidgeon for an independent review of the project, Khan responded: “I’m really surprised that you’re not aware of the data for the past 15 months over the Blackwall Tunnel.
“There have been as many closures over the past 15 months as there have been over previous periods. The congestion in that part of London was still the same during the worst parts of that pandemic. Poor quality air caused by the status quo remains the same – doing nothing, as is being suggested, is not an option.”
Khan claimed that the 108 bus, which runs through Blackwall Tunnel, was “the most unreliable bus in London”.
“Why? Because it uses the Blackwall Tunnel, which is closed on a regular basis, between 500 and 700 times a year,” he said. Tailbacks at the tunnel deterred people from using the bus, he said, “instead you use other ways to cross the river – driving”.
Transport for London uses “excess waiting time” as its measure of bus reliability on high-frequency services such as the 108. The most recent data from TfL shows that there are routes in all four boroughs that the 108 runs through – Lewisham, Greenwich, Tower Hamlets and Newham – that are more unreliable.
He said the new tunnel would also include a “reserved lane for double-decker buses”, but did not say that it would also be reserved for HGVs.
Khan also claimed that more river crossings for vehicles would prevent a “car-led recovery”, saying that there are just two road crossings within London east of Tower Bridge.
Pidgeon also raised whether particulate matter would be measured around the Silvertown Tunnel approaches. Transport for London commissioner Andy Byford said he believed it would be, but said he would write to her to confirm.
In a later question, Onkar Sahota, the Labour assembly member for Ealing & Hillington, falsely claimed that air quality reports into the Silvertown Tunnel had not been challenged at the public hearings into the scheme, which concluded four years ago. The reports were challenged at the time by a number of parties, including Greenwich, Lewisham, Southwark, Hackney and Newham councils, all run by Sahota’s colleagues in the Labour Party .
Khan said that there were “campaigning benefits” for assembly members from raising questions about the tunnel.
The exchange came after hundreds of people marched through Canning Town – close to the northern exit of the proposed tunnel – to protest about Khan’s project on Saturday.
Speakers at a rally outside the Crystal in the Royal Docks – soon to be the new City Hall – included Rokhsana Fiaz, the Labour elected mayor of Newham.
She told protesters: “We won’t stop until this tunnel is cancelled. I will use every campaigning tool I can to stop this disastrous tunnel which will worsen the already illegal air pollution levels in Newham.”
However, Newham Council did not respond to two requests for clarification this week on what her plans were to oppose the tunnel’s construction. Piling work has already begun within Fiaz’s borough.
Green Party co-leader and London Assembly member Sian Berry spoke too, while the Conservative chairman of the London Assembly, Andrew Boff, also attended the rally, held by the cross-party Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition.
Another demonstration will be held at the current City Hall on Thursday 1 July, before the next session of Mayor’s Question Time.
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