Silvertown Tunnel worksite
Piling work is taking place north of the river for the tunnel’s construction

Sadiq Khan’s re-election was an endorsement of the Silvertown Tunnel by Londoners, the mayor insisted yesterday after saying that the public had 10 opportunities to have their say on the controversial road scheme between Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks.

The mayor spoke as another London Assembly member put pressure on him to pause the £2 billion project, which he insists is needed to eliminate congestion at the Blackwall Tunnel.

Opponents say the tunnel, which includes dedicated lanes for HGVs and buses, will fail to do that and will simply bring more traffic and pollution to neighbouring areas. They also say it will break climate change commitments.

Recently-elected Green assembly member Zack Polanski asked if the tunnel had undergone enough public scrutiny before Khan’s decision to continue with the scheme, inherited from Boris Johnson’s time as mayor.

Pressed by Polanski on when he would meet opponents of the tunnel such as local Labour MPs Matt Pennycook, Lyn Brown and Abena Oppong-Asare, and Newham’s Labour elected mayor Rokhsana Fiaz, Khan said the numbers of votes for him and his Conservative opponent Shaun Bailey showed the public approved of the scheme.

“The huge consultation I didn’t mention was the mayoral elections,” he said.

“The two main candidates – and the second candidate [Bailey] got far more votes than the candidate [the Greens’ Sian Berry] – both were in favour of the Silvertown Tunnel. When the Green candidate had the chance to speak, and there were many debates, she raised the Silvertown Tunnel.

“Another response of the Londoners that you care about was the return of votes for both the Conservative candidate and the Labour candidate.”

Neither Khan nor Bailey mentioned the tunnel in their manifestos.

Khan did not respond when Polanski asked him if he was “proud” of the project, but the mayor earlier insisted that the project had been improved from the one he inherited from Boris Johnson with “better public transport, walking and cycling provision, discounts for local people, support for local businesses and stronger environmental commitments during construction”.

Pedestrians and cyclists will not be allowed in the tunnel, which is due to open in 2025, although TfL has committed to a “cycle bus” service through it or the Blackwall Tunnel. Both crossings will be tolled.

“We’ve long needed a new crossing in that part of London and I’m confident we have the right scheme for Londoners,” he said.

Polanski – who kept firing questions at the mayor – pressed Khan to meet local residents’ groups to discuss the tunnel, something he has not done since taking office. Khan said there had been “copious amounts of consultation”.

Pushed to answer the question by the assembly chair, Andrew Boff, Khan replied: “The deputy mayor and I regularly meet residents in that part of London, including the MPs that [Polanski] seems to care quite passionately about, and the councillors as well, and I’ll continue to meet with representatives from the community.”

Silvertown Tunnel protest
Protesters marched against the tunnel earlier this month

The 10 occasions on which Khan said Londoners had their chance to comment on the tunnel were: Boris Johnson’s transport strategy in 2009; Johnson’s London Plan consultation in 2009; river crossing consultations in 2012 and 2013; a Silvertown Tunnel consultation in 2014; the statutory consultation into the tunnel in 2015; the public hearings in 2016 and 2017; Khan’s transport strategy in 2018; Khan’s 2021 London Plan; and his environment strategy.

Polanski said after yesterday’s meeting that the mayor should follow the example of the Labour-run Welsh government and suspend all road-building because of the climate emergency.

“We are facing a climate emergency and we cannot carry on with business as usual,” he said. “The mayor needs to pause and review all future roadbuilding, including the Silvertown road tunnel. Londoners need new crossings to let them cross the river by rail, walking and cycling – not more roads in a heavily congested area.

“Earlier this week the Welsh Government suspended all new road building, and the Committee on Climate Change have also said road investment should only be allowed if it will lead to cuts in carbon emissions.

“The mayor has provided no evidence that Silvertown Road Tunnel will do this, and people are right to be worried that traffic and emissions may increase.”

Hundreds of people marched through Canning Town earlier this month to protest against the tunnel outside the Crystal, the Royal Docks landmark which will become the home of City Hall at the end of the year, while at the start of the month it was revealed that the Labour Party had blocked one of its assembly members from asking Khan “embarrassing” questions about the tunnel.

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