A102 southbound queue
The Silvertown Tunnel would funnel more traffic into southeast London

Labour campaigners are starting 2021 with a new campaign to push Sadiq Khan, their party’s London mayor, to cancel the £2 billion Silvertown Tunnel.

The renewed drive comes eight years after Labour councils in Greenwich and Newham launched a ‘Bridge the Gap’ campaign to get the tunnel built, and four years after it gained planning permission.

Large-scale construction work has yet to begin on the new road, between the Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks, which is due for completion in 2025. It will have a lane for buses and HGVs, including those which are too big to fit in the existing Blackwall Tunnel.

The tunnel is opposed by Lewisham, Southwark and Hackney councils, while Newham reversed its support in 2016. Greenwich has not followed suit, though Labour councillors did write to Khan in 2019 asking him to pause his plans. Khan refused.

Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook and West Ham MP Lyn Brown – whose constituencies cover both ends of the proposed tunnel – are also opposed to the scheme, which would be funded by a toll on both the new road and the Blackwall Tunnel.

Bridge The Gap press launch, 4 January 2013
Eight years ago: Newham cabinet member Conor McAuley (in dark glasses to the right) joining Greenwich counterpart Denise Hyland and anti-roads protesters in January 2013 to launch their campaign to build the Silvertown Tunnel. McAuley later came out against the scheme

Both Khan and his deputy mayor for transport, Heidi Alexander, insist the new road will eliminate jams at Blackwall; opponents say it will fail to do that and will increase traffic levels in surrounding neighbourhoods.

Now activists are putting forward a motion which it wants all Labour party branches in London to sign at their January meetings. Branch parties choose candidates for council elections.

“If Labour are truly committed to clean air and tackling climate change there is no justification for the tunnel,” the motion reads, calling on the mayor to cancel the scheme and for local MPs and councils to support the campaign.

“Evidence shows that the tunnel would worsen air pollution, traffic congestion, carbon emissions and is also financially unviable. One impact would be to enable HGVs to cross the river into one of London’s most polluted areas, passing dozens schools and nurseries where 10,000s children play and learn.”

There will also be a campaign launch on Monday.

Screengrab from mayoral fireworks
Khan’s social media team tweeted this image from the mayor’s New Year display, which saw fireworks launched from where the tunnel will be built. Labour members against the tunnel will be hoping for a better hearing in 2021

Khan faces re-election in May in the rescheduled London mayoral poll, with the capital’s 25 London Assembly members also up for election.

The newly-announced Liberal Democrat candidate for Greenwich and Lewisham, Chris Annous, has called for the tunnel to be cancelled Silvertown Tunnel and for the money saved to go towards the completion of the Woolwich Crossrail line and the Bakerloo line extension to Lewisham.

“I look forward to campaigning with Chris against the polluting Silvertown Tunnel. Lewisham and Greenwich residents don’t want a £2 billion road, they want Crossrail to open and a commitment to the Bakerloo line extension,” Luisa Porrit, the party’s mayoral candidate, said.

The Green candidate for mayor, Sian Berry, is a longstanding opponent of the tunnel; the Tory Shaun Bailey supports the scheme.

Across the Thames, campaigners against the tunnel have suffered a setback with the departure from politics of one of its most high-profile opponents.

Jon Burke, a senior Hackney Labour councillor, announced his resignation on New Year’s Eve to spend more time with his family. In 2019 he tried to launch a cross-borough campaign against the tunnel, but the idea was rejected by Greenwich leader Danny Thorpe, who feared the campaign – rather than the tunnel itself – would be used by Labour’s opponents.

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