ULEZ map
The ULEZ boundary will divide both Greenwich and Lewisham boroughs

The Greenwich councillor in charge of air quality is “slightly optimistic” that Sadiq Khan’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone will not damage air quality in Woolwich, she said last night.

Denise Scott-McDonald, whose portfolio covers both transport and air quality, said she had been reassured by reports that 74 per cent of vehicles inside the current central London ULEZ comply with strict pollution limits and do not have to pay to drive within the area.

The current ULEZ sees drivers who enter the central London congestion charge area charged at least £12.50 if their vehicles do not comply with the limits. In October 2021, this will be extended to the South and North Circular Roads, leaving Woolwich on the border – raising fears of increased pollution from vehicles avoiding the charge.

Traffic using the Woolwich Ferry will be exempt from both ULEZ and the charge being introduced at the Blackwall and Silvertown tunnels

John Edwards, of the community group Speak Out Woolwich, raised fears that the combined effect of the ULEZ boundary, the Silvertown Tunnel and tolls at it and Blackwall Tunnel, and commuters using Woolwich as a park-and-ride for Crossrail could cause a “perfect storm of pollution in one of the most deprived areas of the borough”.

Greenwich has always pushed for the ULEZ to cover the whole borough rather than just the area inside the South Circular, which would also exclude Plumstead – where the area around the station is one of the borough’s most polluted spots – and most of Eltham.

Scott-McDonald said pollution in Woolwich would be monitored for effects from the Silvertown Tunnel, and added: “So far 75 per cent [sic] of the cars using the current ULEZ are compliant, and there is a prediction that the air quality should start to increase. You do need a lot more data [but] the work that Sadiq is doing is starting to work.

“So I am slightly optimistic about Woolwich. But we will keep it on the radar, I did raise it with the deputy mayor [for environment], Shirley Rodrigues, and I said it’s really important, because in terms of air quality it’s sometimes the poorest areas of our city that are affected.”

“I’m not sure that I’m reassured that you’re slightly optimistic,” Edwards responded, “we’re deeply pessimistic.”

Silvertown Tunnel questions shrugged off

The meeting also saw Scott-McDonald bat off questions about the Silvertown Tunnel – which she and the council support – by asking questioners to send their questions to TfL. When Edwards asked if any independent air quality studies had been done into the effects of the tunnel, Scott-McDonald referred to what would happen after it was built. Earlier this week, Exctinction Rebellion activists blockaded a concrete plant in Bow which will play a key role in construction of the tunnel.

At the last council meeting, Scott-McDonald had claimed the tunnel, which will open from 2025, would help tackle greenhouse gas emissions. A question from Simon Pirani, a visiting research fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, asked her what research she had used to come up with that conclusion; she did not cite any in her written response.

“Since you have a lot of questions about TfL data, I would suggest you take your concerns to TfL,” she told Green Party member Victoria Rance.

“Since I’ve taken on my portfolio, one of my key concerns have been mitigation, mitigation, mitigation with this project.”

Bridge The Gap campaign launch
Former council leaders Denise Hyland and Chris Roberts plugging the council’s pro-tunnel campaign in 2013

Scott-McDonald’s message was at odds with a message written on staff water bottles that had been offered to councillors to replace the plastic cups they had been using when declaring a climate emergency last month. They featured a list of council values, one of which was “taking ownership”.

However, Scott-McDonald continually referred to the scheme as the “TfL tunnel”, even though in 2012 the council launched a campaign to have the tunnel built.

Water bottles urged councillors to “take ownership”

Greenwich is under increasing pressure to change its position, with councillors even citing the tunnel as a reason to oppose plans for a major housing scheme next to Kidbrooke station. The Eltham constituency Labour party, which traditionally has the upper hand in running the council, recently voted to oppose the tunnel.

Silvertown lorry facility fears

G Park
This lorry facility is proposed for close to the Silvertown Tunnel northern entrance – yet Greenwich’s air quality cabinet member was unaware of it

The cabinet member also seemed stumped by a question about a planned three-storey lorry park in Silvertown, close to the planned tunnel’s northern entrance, whose developers have applied to Newham Council for planning permission. The Silvertown Tunnel will have a dedicated lane for HGVs.

Even though Greenwich Council has been told by Newham about the plans, Scott-McDonald said she did not know about the G Park London Docklands scheme next to West Silvertown DLR station, reported by From The Murky Depths last week.

Newham Council has already received over 140 objections to the scheme, said to be the first three-tier lorry park in the UK. Comments from the public – including non-Newham residents – can be submitted via that council’s website.

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