Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has admitted he is “not familiar” with the arguments over the controversial Silvertown Tunnel – even though the project is being championed by his party’s London mayor.
Tunnel opponents were baffled by Starmer’s reluctance to discuss the project in an interview with ITV News – especially as the Labour leader is a London MP and the delegates from the capital recently voted to oppose the project.
The £2 billion road project – which will link the Royal Docks with the Greenwich Peninsula – was first brought forward by Boris Johnson in 2012, three years before Starmer became MP for Holborn & St Pancras. Labour’s Sadiq Khan – despite pledging to review the scheme while campaigning – has carried on with his predecessor’s project since being elected mayor, and construction work is under way in Silvertown.
Khan argues that the project will “virtually eliminate” congestion at the Blackwall Tunnel, while opponents – who are holding protests this morning on both sides of the Thames – say it will fail in that aim, will create congestion elsewhere and contribute to the climate emergency.
Labour-run Newham, Lewisham, Southwark and Hackney councils all oppose the plans, as do Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook, who is also shadow climate change minister, and West Ham MP Lyn Brown.
.@UKLabour leader Sir @Keir_Starmer admits he's 'not familiar' with the long running row between air quality campaigners and @mayoroflondon @SadiqKhan over the planned Silvertown tunnel pic.twitter.com/0tT4tB6JI4
— ITV London (@itvlondon) September 23, 2021
Starmer was asked by ITV News London’s political editor, Simon Harris, if he backed the tunnel. “I’ll need to look at the proposal,” he said of the plans, which have been public for nine years.
“There’s a lot of opposition from Labour voters on both sides of the river and Sadiq Khan is still going ahead with it,” Harris pointed out.
“I’m not familiar with the arguments one way or the other, I’ll certainly look at them,” Starmer said.
“It’s been a topic of discussion in London for a few years,” Harris responded.
“I accept that, but I’m not across the detail of it. I’m supportive of Sadiq as mayor – he’s doing a very good job and he takes air quality very, very seriously.”
Green Party London Assembly member Sian Berry – who lives in Starmer’s constituency and has long campaigned against the tunnel – tweeted: “What is going on here?
“The Silvertown Tunnel is one of the most controversial issues in London within Labour, with several Labour councils at odds with the Mayor. Can the party leader possibly be unaware of all this, or where >£2 billion is going?”
“Quite incredible for a London MP to admit total ignorance on this issue,” said Caroline Pidgeon, a Liberal Democrat Assembly member.
In 2019 it was revealed that Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe blocked a proposal from his counterpart in Hackney to launch a cross-borough campaign against the tunnel, claiming it would be used by opponents to discredit Khan.
Help 853 continue reporting on public interest issues in Greenwich and southeast London – we are the only outlet regularly producing original journalism in the borough, and we can only do it with your funding.
Please join over 130 donors who use Steady, PressPatron or Patreon to give a little towards our costs every month. The money pays the bills, a wage for the editor and pays others to write for the site. Thank you.