Silvertown Tunnel site
The tunnel would emerge on this site opposite Greenwich Peninsula

Piling work has begun on the Silvertown Tunnel, nine years after plans for the £2 billion road link between the Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks were first mooted by Transport for London.

Work has begun on the construction of the launch chamber for the tunnelling machine that will burrow under the Thames from Silvertown to Greenwich, before being turned around and returning back to east London.

“Construction of the launch chamber has begun, with more than 15 per cent of the total number of piles required for the work now in place,” a report to TfL board members ahead of a meeting on Tuesday reveals.

Trees have been felled on both sides of the river and a work site on Millennium Way was daubed in graffiti by protesters last month. The tunnel will include a dedicated lane for HGVs and buses that cannot fit in the Blackwall Tunnel and will be paid for by a toll on both crossings. The TfL paper says that the Silvertown Tunnel will “support planned redevelopment in the coming years, aiding London’s recovery”.

TfL has also published a review of the scheme by the accountants EY, which will go before its audit and assurance committee on Wednesday.

The EY review largely gives the proposals a clean bill of health, but says that TfL should have considered updating its traffic modelling in light of its policy to encourage more people to ditch their cars for journeys in London. “Further scenario analysis and an update to the 2016 traffic modelling would have been beneficial,” the report said.

Thank you for visiting Newham – where we’re shredding all the trees ready to welcome the Silvertown Tunnel

— Dan Karran (@dankarran) March 5, 2021

The first consultation into the tunnel plan was launched by TfL in February 2012, with Greenwich Council launching a “Bridge the Gap” campaign to push for the tunnel’s construction when a second consultation began in December of that year.

A campaign against the tunnel’s construction grew from a petition launched on this website at Christmas 2012; with Lewisham, Hackney and Southwark Councils declaring their opposition along with Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook and his West Ham counterpart Lyn Brown.

However, the tunnel was given planning approval in May 2018, after which a new campaign – the Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition – was formed to fight the plans, taking a focus on the carbon impact of the scheme.

While plans were first unveiled by Boris Johnson as mayor, his successor Sadiq Khan promised a “proper joined-up review” of the tunnel during the election campaign in 2016. However, he backed the scheme within five weeks of taking office, 853 revealed four years ago.

Khan, who faces re-election in May, insists the tunnel will eliminate congestion at the Blackwall Tunnel and provide new bus links; opponents say it will bring new traffic and pollution to the area, and will be incompatible with the Paris agreement on climate emissions. Newham Council later joined opponents of the tunnel, after originally campaigning for it.

More recently, Labour Party members have also mounted a late charge against the tunnel, with a push to get constituency parties to sign motions calling on Khan and his transport deputy Heidi Alexander to cancel the scheme.

Greenwich & Woolwich party members signed their first motion against the scheme in 2013, rebuking their council for campaigning for the project. Six years later, Greenwich councillors wrote to Khan requesting a delay in the project, but the council has never reversed its support for the scheme. Council leader Danny Thorpe declined to join a pan-London Labour campaign against the scheme.

Earlier this month, its cabinet member for transport, Sizwe James, said it “would not be helpful” to discuss the tunnel in a scrutiny meeting on the council’s climate change policies.

Both Khan and the Conservative candidate for mayor, Shaun Bailey, support the tunnel; the Green candidate Sian Berry and Liberal Democrat Luisa Porritt have said they will scrap it.

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