Story by Tom Bull and Jessie Mathewson, Local Democracy Reporters
Transport for London has been suspended from awarding a contract to build and operate the highly contentious Silvertown Tunnel, it emerged on Friday afternoon – hours after demonstrators blocked traffic in east Greenwich to protest against the scheme.
One of the two bidders to build and operate the tunnel, STC, is taking TfL to court over its decision to award the £1 billion project to a rival consortium, Riverlinx. The contract had been due to be signed within weeks, but will now be held up by the legal wrangle.
The new road, linking the Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks, has been heavily opposed by activists and residents who fear it will lead to more congestion and pollution. They also say it contradicts London mayor Sadiq Khan’s declaration of a climate emergency.
TfL insists the road will clear congestion at the Blackwall Tunnel and lead to less pollution.
Delays in seeking the legal consent to build the road have already seen its opening date slip from 2023 to 2025.
A spokesman for TfL confirmed to the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “We are disappointed that our reserve bidder, STC, has decided to challenge the outcome of our procurement process for the design, build, finance and maintain contract for the Silvertown Tunnel.
“We are awaiting further details about the claim and will respond to them in due course.”
It is understood TfL will be looking to award the contract and begin construction as soon as possible.
The challenge means TfL cannot award the contract later this summer as planned – news which delighted the Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition, which took part in an Extinction Rebellion “swarming protest” at the Woolwich Road roundabout this morning, holding up traffic leaving and joining the A102.
Its spokesperson Victoria Rance described the news as “brilliant” and said she was “thrilled” to have more time to campaign against the tunnel.
She said: “We’re incredibly interested in why this happened and we celebrate more time to continue the campaign. There’s a climate emergency, everything changes in a climate emergency and the carbon spend on this project is way too high. Everything has to be reconsidered.”
Rance said there had been “overwhelming support” for the anti-tunnel campaign from the community, and many locals did not know about the plans for the new tunnel.
Swarming for #nosilvertowntunnel. Local resident says: It’s more for my children that I am doing this. rather than myself. I live up the road, this is the most polluted zone, it’s insane. Thank you for doing this. pic.twitter.com/i6SVHmCXDt
— Extinction Rebellion Greenwich (@XRGreenwich) August 9, 2019
The controversial tunnel has drawn fierce local criticism on both sides of the water. Hackney Council has recently reiterated its opposition to the new road, writing to transport chiefs calling for it to be abandoned. Greenwich Council is committed to supporting the tunnel, however local Labour branches have begun pressuring the council leadership to change its stance.
Green assembly member Caroline Russell welcomed the delay as “a real opportunity” for the Mayor to reconsider the project.
She said: “This toxic tunnel proposal locks in decades of extra polluting traffic driving through south and east London rather than helping people get around in a better way.
“The Mayor should cancel Silvertown Tunnel now and get around the table with residents, campaigners and councils to discuss alternatives fit for a greener, cleaner London.”
Her Liberal Democrat counterpart, Caroline Pidgeon, said: “Both the mayor and TfL are now in the position where they have been blocked from awarding a major contract for the Silvertown road tunnel.
“The mayor now has an important window of opportunity to review whether it even makes sense to proceed with a road building tunnel that will merely generate more traffic and pollution in future years.
“I hope he uses this opportunity wisely and changes his mind. We will only reduce congestion and air pollution in London by investing in public transport, not an expensive road tunnel.”
Additional reporting by Darryl Chamberlain
Tom Bull is the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich, while Jessie Mathewson is the Local Democracy Reporter for the Greater London Authority and London Assembly. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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