Greenwich Council’s new leader has backed away from his pledge to try to get the Silvertown Tunnel halted, seven weeks after he told Labour councillors that he would work with his counterpart in Newham on the issue.
Anthony Okereke was elected leader on the promise that he would meet Rokhsana Fiaz, the elected mayor of Newham, to thrash out a way to persuade their Labour colleague Sadiq Khan to stop the tunnel.
Transport for London, which is chaired by the London mayor, says the £2 billion crossing will eliminate congestion at the northbound Blackwall Tunnel. But critics, including Fiaz, say that it will simply bring more traffic problems to the wider area.
Okereke beat his predecessor, Danny Thorpe, by just one vote after a meeting of newly-elected Labour councillors on May 11, formally taking up his role at the head of the council a fortnight later.
His mini-manifesto, seen by this website, said: “In my first ten days, [I will] convene a meeting with the Mayor of Newham to establish a joint stop, pause and review strategy for Silvertown Tunnel with a focus on the public health impacts.”
However, Okereke’s pledge now appears to have become a commitment to set up a working group of councillors to assess the impact of the tunnel, rather than a push to halt the project.
Both Newham and Greenwich backed the tunnel when plans were revealed by Boris Johnson a decade ago. Newham reversed its stance six years later when Fiaz became mayor.
Greenwich took until March this year – with construction work already under way – to demand a pause to the project.
When Okereke met Fiaz last Friday – 20 working days into his new role – the focus was not the tunnel, but a possible DLR extension to Thamesmead, and photo with the Newham mayor alongside Seb Dance, Khan’s deputy mayor for transport, and Abena Oppong-Asare, the Erith & Thamesmead MP.
The Thamesmead DLR extension was first announced by Khan when he confirmed his support for the tunnel, in an attempt to mollify critics. The extension would also serve Beckton Riverside, a development site in Newham.
However, six years on, there remains no route or funding for the scheme, with Greenwich and Newham councils recently helping fund a study into the project, and Oppong-Asare launching a Next Stop Thamesmead campaign to push the project forward.
853 contacted Greenwich Council last Wednesday to ask if Okereke had met Fiaz and how his tunnel strategy was going.
The council responded on Friday with a statement from Okereke, which said: “It was great to meet Rokhsana Fiaz again today as well as Seb Dance and Abena Oppong-Asare to discuss the extension of the Docklands Light Railway to Thamesmead.
“I am also grateful for the Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition meeting me and organising a health summit that a delegation of Greenwich councillors attended.”
Okereke said the tunnel had “a long and complex history predating the council’s current administration”.
He continued: “On March 16, 2022 a motion was submitted to full council, calling on the mayor and TfL to pause work on the Silvertown Tunnel project immediately. The motion was agreed.
“As new leader, my priority is to improve the quality of life for our residents and work towards our ambitious target to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2030 – as set out in the council’s carbon neutral plan.
“Newham and Greenwich share the same mutual aims and I look forward to collaborating for the benefit of both of our boroughs.”
The Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition told 853 that it had met Okereke, and that he had promised to set up a working group of councillors to address the impact of the tunnel.
It said: “We had a constructive meeting with Councillor Okereke last week on our concerns about the scheme and on the outcomes of our health summit.
“We told him that we and the health summit hoped that he would talk with the mayor of Newham and jointly make a formal approach to the mayor [of London]. We are looking forward to hearing back and we will be monitoring progress closely and emphasising to all parties that there is no time to waste.”
The group added: “Cllr Okereke promised that he would form a working group of councillors to address issues in relation to the Silvertown Tunnel bearing in mind especially the health of children in Greenwich, and he was very interested in what we told him about the actions of the Welsh government in relation to future generations and climate change.
“He heard our concerns about the lack of air quality monitoring, specially regarding the smallest and most harmful particulates (PM2.5s).
“We also asked him to reinforce the motion passed by the London Assembly asking TfL for monitoring of a no-tolls scenario, and an assessment of the political and legal risks of it happening.”
Fiaz spoke at the coalition’s health summit earlier this month, telling attendees she was “confident we can make interventions to slow down construction of the Silvertown Tunnel, or stop it altogether”.
Despite Khan claiming opponents of the tunnel live in “never-never land” she has become one of the most vocal objectors to the scheme, retweeting the coalition’s criticisms of TfL’s “relentless campaign of lies and half-truths” at the weekend.
Earlier this month the first parts of the tunnelling machine, which has been named Jill, were lowered into place at the worksite in Silvertown. It is due to begin burrowing its way under the Thames in August, and the tunnel is due to open in 2025.
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