Silvertown Tunnel protests in sights of law targeting Insulate Britain

Silvertown Tunnel work site
Construction has been taking place for months

Protests against the Silvertown Tunnel are among those targeted by Priti Patel in the wake of Insulate Britain blocking key routes in and around London, it has emerged.

The climate emergency protest group, which is demanding that all social housing in the UK is properly insulated by 2025 and all other homes by 2030, has been blocking motorways close to London over the past three weeks and targeted the Blackwall Tunnel last Monday.

On Tuesday, the Conservative home secretary announced that the government would bring forward tougher penalties and new police powers to crack down on the protests.

The new laws, if passed, would include a new offence of obstructing the construction of authorised infrastructure, with a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine, six months’ imprisonment, or both.

“Authorised infrastructure” would include projects carried out with a development consent order, such as the Silvertown Tunnel, the trade website Construction News reported yesterday.

The new road between Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks was approved three years ago, and construction work has been taking place on both sides of the Thames since the start of this year.

While fences around the Greenwich construction site were daubed with graffiti in February, protesters have not targeted the worksites themselves. However, an A102 slip road was blocked by protesters in August 2019 by protesters while Extinction Rebellion targeted a cement works linked with the project the same month.

A flashpoint could come in the new year when tunnelling work is due to begin from the north side of the Thames. The new road – which features special lanes for HGVs and buses – will run underneath the London Cable Car and feed into the existing A102 Blackwall Tunnel approach road.

Sadiq Khan, the Labour mayor, has insisted the new road is needed to “eliminate” congestion at the northbound Blackwall Tunnel. Opponents – who include Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook, his counterpart in West Ham, Lyn Brown, and Newham’s Labour elected mayor Rokhsana Fiaz, say that it will fail to do that and will create new jams elsewhere.

The Home Office said the new laws would still allow peaceful protests as long as they did not disrupt work, Construction News reported.

The Silvertown Tunnel would be the biggest road-building scheme in London for a generation. It will be the most high-profile new road since the mayoralty was created in 2000.

London’s last major road project, the A12 dual carriageway through Leyton and Leytonstone in the mid-1990s – which was built by the Westminster government – was met with protests which held up construction work for months.

Yesterday, Transport for London obtained a High Court injunction banning Insulate Britain protesters from obstructing traffic at 14 locations, including the Blackwall Tunnel and the Kidbrooke interchange on the A2.

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