Cancelling the Silvertown Tunnel would only add to Transport for London’s financial crisis, Sadiq Khan has insisted – but the London mayor has refused to reveal how much it would cost to axe the £2 billion new road.
Construction work is under way on the controversial tunnel between the Royal Docks and the Greenwich Peninsula, which the mayor insists will eliminate the notorious queues for the northbound Blackwall Tunnel.
Opponents say it will fail to cut queueing and will make congestion worse elsewhere, as well as make it impossible for London to meet its climate change commitments.
The tunnelling machine is currently being shipped to the UK in parts so it can be assembled and put to work in the spring. Although the tunnel was approved in 2018 and contracts have already been signed with the builder Riverlinx, campaigners are still pushing for a last-minute cancellation of the project.
Khan was challenged by Green Party assembly member Sian Berry, who has campaigned against the tunnel since it was first proposed by Boris Johnson nearly a decade ago, to come clean on how much it would cost to scrap the scheme so the issue could be raised when City Hall’s budget is discussed next year.
“The costs are not fixed and are commercially sensitive as they would have to be negotiated with Riverlinx should a termination be discussed, or decided by the courts, in compensation for breach of contract,” he said.
Riverlinx is building the tunnel, and TfL will pay the consortium back through tolls on both the Silvertown and Blackwall Tunnels.
“Cancellation would not save TfL any money,” he said. “Cancelling would, in fact, incur significant costs, placing additional pressure on TfL’s finances at what is already an extremely difficult time.”
The tunnel would bring “widespread benefits to London, particularly east London, and would be much cheaper than cancellation”, he said.
Berry said the question of costs was “a democratic one – the assembly has the power to amend your budget”.
“You have a duty to be transparent with the assembly,” she told him, asking for a “usable estimate”.
Khan, who is the chair of TfL, said the costs had been shared with an assembly committee, but Berry said that they had been completely redacted.
“TfL have shared full details that they are able to do so,” he responded.
“The idea that you would make public the costs of a breach of contract is completely nonsensical. Who would want to do that?”
Berry said that she had estimated the cancellation costs at £350 million, and asked Khan if this was a suitable figure to use in a budget proposal.
The mayor responded: “I don’t want to appear patronising but the naivety of the chair of TfL saying publicly a figure that could be claimed for breach of contract – I’m not giving you an estimate, I’ve got a fiduciary duty, I hope that as a member of the assembly, you’d have an idea of the consequences of what the consequences would be of a potential breach of contract.
“The idea of negotiating through mayor’s question time what could be liable to a company demonstrates why Londoners were right to reject you twice when you stood for mayor.”
Berry said after the meeting: “The mayor is hiding the true cost of the Silvertown Road Tunnel contract, and this tramples on the assembly’s power to amend his budget each year.
“Elsewhere, the governments of both Wales and Scotland are reviewing their road-building plans in response to the climate emergency, and yet in London our mayor’s response to this crisis remains to break ground on a new urban motorway.
“There are now dozens of MPs, local authorities and councillors – including many from his own party – who are calling for the Silvertown road tunnel to be stopped. The Assembly must be able to work on their behalf and propose this in the formal budget process with the information we need.”
Earlier this month a panel of Greenwich councillors called for their town hall leaders to demand the scheme be halted and reviewed. Council leader Danny Thorpe refused to allow campaigners to address his cabinet on Wednesday.
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