Labour members on both sides of the Thames have united to condemn Sadiq Khan’s plans to build the Silvertown Tunnel, with just weeks to go until the mayor stands for re-election.
Constituency parties in Greenwich & Woolwich and West Ham, covering each end of the proposed road crossing, have passed motions calling on the Labour mayor to cancel the £2 billion crossing, which will run from the Greenwich Peninsula to the Royal Docks and will have dedicated lanes for HGVs and buses.
Site clearance works have already begun in both Greenwich and Silvertown for the tunnel, which is expected to be finished by 2025. Anti-tunnel graffiti was daubed on a Greenwich worksite last month.
In total, eight local parties across east and south London have passed motions against the scheme, including Eltham, which will bear the brunt of extra traffic heading south from the tunnel.
Labour members in Dulwich & West Norwood, Hackney South & Stoke Newington, Hackney South & Shoreditch, Islington South & Finsbury and Leyton & Wanstead have also opposed the scheme.
In addition, 28 branch parties – mostly covering local council ward areas – have also condemned the scheme. They include the local parties in the Greenwich wards of Abbey Wood, Blackheath Westcombe, Charlton, Glyndon, Greenwich West, Middle Park & Sutcliffe, Peninsula, Woolwich Common and Woolwich Riverside. The Newham ward of Canning Town North has also passed the motion, as have parties in the Lewisham wards of Downham, Telegraph Hill, and the Lewisham Deptford BAME Forum.
Both Khan and his deputy mayor for transport, Heidi Alexander – a former Lewisham East MP and deputy mayor of the borough – have insisted that the tunnel is needed to clear persistent northbound traffic jams at the Blackwall Tunnel and will bring improved bus links. Opponents say the tunnel will fail in that aim and will pile more traffic onto local roads, and will also make it impossible for London to meet its climate change targets under the Paris agreement.
While most of the cost will be met by tolls on both the new tunnel and on the Blackwall Tunnel, documents presented to Transport for London’s board this morning show upfront costs of nearly £200m.
The scheme was first announced by Boris Johnson nine years ago and received planning approval in May 2018, after a campaign by Greenwich Council and Newham Council to get it built. Khan pledged to review it after he was elected in 2016 but he announced his backing for the project within weeks of taking office.
Newham has since reversed its stance and now opposes the tunnel; Greenwich Labour councillors asked for work to be paused but the council still formally supports the crossing and leader Danny Thorpe declined to take part in a campaign against the project. Lewisham, Southwark and Hackney councils oppose the scheme, as do Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook, Erith & Thamesmead MP Abena Oppong-Asare and West Ham MP Lyn Brown.
While both the Greenwich & Woolwich and Eltham parties have passed anti-tunnel motions before, this is the first time there has been a concerted attempt to co-ordinate Labour opposition across London.
Lauren Townsend, a spokesperson for Labour for a Green New Deal, said: “Building a massive road tunnel with a dedicated lane for lorries can never be part of a credible Labour policy on fighting climate change. Party activists across London are calling on Sadiq Khan to cancel this polluting project before it’s too late.”
“Sadiq Khan has a prime opportunity to show his green credentials in action. Given that Sadiq Khan has done so much to try to lower air pollution in the capital, it is puzzling that he’s backing a project that will negate the good work he has done so far,” said Izzy Hickmet, of the campaign’s SE London branch.
“As Labour campaigners, we are concerned that the party cannot be credible on green issues if its representatives at the London level are pushing a polluting tunnel with a dedicated HGV lane. It just doesn’t make sense and would be tragic if this was Labour’s legacy – to be paid for in health consequences and damage to the environment for decades to come.”
Help 853 continue reporting on public interest issues in Greenwich and southeast London – we are the only outlet regularly producing original journalism in the borough, and we can only do it with your funding.