Silvertown Tunnel campaigners barred from addressing Greenwich Council cabinet

Silvertown Tunnel worksite
The tunnel will run from the Royal Docks to the Greenwich Peninsula

Campaigners against the Silvertown Tunnel have been told they cannot address Greenwich Council’s cabinet tomorrow evening – just days after a panel of councillors recommended that the town hall call for the new road to be put on hold.

The Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition had been hoping to address a full council meeting tomorrow, but that has been called off following the steep rise in Omicron coronavirus cases. Meetings are held in a cramped and poorly-ventilated chamber at Woolwich Town Hall.

However, a cabinet meeting scheduled for 5pm is still going ahead, and campaigners hoped to speak to senior councillors instead.

Council leader Danny Thorpe has refused their request, saying that “it would not be appropriate” because the matter is now going to another scrutiny panel.

The £2 billion tunnel, between the Royal Docks and Greenwich Peninsula, was approved in 2018 and construction work is under way on both sides of the Thames. But with the tunnelling machine not due to start work until the spring, campaigners believe they can win a last-minute U-turn from London mayor Sadiq Khan with enough backing.

They also want the council to join with other boroughs to challenge a loophole in the law giving permission for the scheme that means a future mayor can scrap planned tolls on both the new tunnel and the Blackwall Tunnel. Transport for London says that the new tunnel’s success depends on a user charge.

Last Thursday the regeneration, transport and culture scrutiny panel agreed with the campaigners, and called for the council to shift its position.

A102 in evening rush hour
Campaigners argue that the tunnel will worsen existing queues, like this southbound jam in the evening rush hour

“We believe that the council would be failing in its duty to the public if it did not give full consideration to the scrutiny panel’s decision,” wrote the coalition’s Simon Pirani wrote in an email to Thorpe.

But Thorpe responded earlier today to say: “I have been advised that the scrutiny panel’s recommendations will be reported to the overview and scrutiny committee for consideration.

“For this reason, the matter will not be considered by the cabinet on Wednesday and it would not be appropriate for me to agree to your request for a deputation to speak at the meeting.”

The overview and scrutiny committee sits above six smaller panels, including the transport panel which spoke out against the tunnel last week. It can refer issues back to the cabinet – but the next meeting is not until February 15, effectively kicking the transport panel’s recommendation into the long grass. It also puts the chair of scrutiny, Chris Lloyd – who has spoken out against the tunnel in the past – under pressure. He represents Peninsula ward, where the southern exit of the tunnel will be.

The Labour-run council has backed the controversial new road between the Royal Docks and Greenwich Peninsula since it was first mooted by Boris Johnson as mayor in 2012. But the matter has never been discussed in open council, only in behind-closed-doors Labour group meetings.

In 2019, the year after it was given government approval, Thorpe wrote to Johnson’s successor, Sadiq Khan, on behalf of the council’s Labour group, calling for the project to be paused and reviewed. Khan refused.

Thorpe later declined to join a cross-borough campaign on the issue, saying that it could be used against the Labour mayor.

Khan and his transport deputy, Heidi Alexander, say that the tunnel will eliminate the notorious northbound queues at the Blackwall Tunnel; but campaigners say it will fail to do that and will worsen existing congestion. They also say the tunnel will make it impossible for London to meet its climate change commitments.

Pirani told 853: “I pointed out in my email to councillor Thorpe that the council would be failing in its duty to the public if it did not consider this issue urgently. He is effectively putting his hands over his ears and saying ‘blah blah blah’.

“It’s astonishing that, with time being so tight, the cabinet can not spend a few minutes listening to our arguments, that the scrutiny sanel found so convincing. This project has never been discussed at full council, despite the huge damage it could do to Greenwich residents for years into the future.”

A Greenwich Council spokesperson told 853: “Last week, the regeneration and transport scrutiny committee had a presentation on the Silvertown Tunnel and agreed to make two recommendations. The process for deciding what happens to these recommendations is something which all members of that panel would have been aware of.

“In following those procedures, the recommendations will need to be brought forward in the new year for consideration by the council’s main scrutiny committee.

“The recommendations from that panel would never have gone to this cabinet meeting, or council meeting but will follow the route which is set out and I hope that the members on that panel would have made that clear to members of the public who attended their meeting.”

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