Conservative and Labour council candidates have joined the Greens in criticising the Silvertown Tunnel – despite it being officially supported by their own parties at City Hall.
The £2 billion crossing, instigated by Boris Johnson and carried forward by Sadiq Khan, was lambasted by all candidates at a hustings for the Greenwich Council elections held last week.
The Greens – who have targeted East Greenwich ward for their first Greenwich Council seats – have always opposed the scheme.
But asked from the floor if the candidates agreed with their parties’ stances on the tunnel, the Conservative and Labour representatives also spoke out against the scheme.
Labour mayor Sadiq Khan has insisted the tunnel between Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks will “effectively eliminate” congestion at the Blackwall Tunnel and accused critics of living in “never-never land”. At last year’s election, his Conservative rival Shaun Bailey also supported the scheme, which is under construction.
Opponents – who include the area’s local MP Matt Pennycook – say it will increase congestion and pollution across a wide area and is incompatible with London’s climate change targets.
Maisie Richards Cottell, one of three newcomers standing for Labour, told voters how she had helped the Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition by designing posters.
“Personally, I am against the Silvertown Tunnel – I have been a long-term opponent, as has been our MP,” she said.
“We do need more crossings in east London, but they should not be here and not so close to the Blackwall Tunnel.
Greenwich Council, which has been run by Labour since 1971, had enthusiastically supported the scheme, but it called for work to be paused last month. Richards Cottell said she would continue to push for a pause in construction.
Council leader Danny Thorpe – who could effectively be Cottell Richards’ boss next month – has refused to give a personal opinion on whether he supports or opposes the scheme, and current councillors have been threatened with sanctions for speaking out against the project.
Andrew Bell, the sole Conservative candidate, also spoke out against the tunnel – even though it is officially supported by the Greenwich Tories – saying that he thought the new tunnel would just bring more traffic.
“I use the Blackwall Tunnel all the time and the congestion is horrendous,” he said. “I can see the congestion [from another tunnel] will just back up down Blackwall Lane and make the congestion on Trafalgar Road even worse. It’s an ill-thought out plan.”
He said he could not understand Greenwich Labour’s stance on the tunnel, adding: “They wanted it, now they don’t want it.”
Green candidate Karin Tearle said that the scheme contradicted the council’s declaration of a climate emergency.
“This new tunnel will bring hundreds of HGVs down inadequate approach roads,” she said. “In effect, it’s going to be an HGV tunnel. It seems this Labour mayor is hell-bent on it, and I will continue to campaign against it.”
Bell said that the Greenwich Conservatives had called for a DLR route to be run through the Silvertown Tunnel seven years ago, and would continue to press for that.
Greenwich Council had commissioned two feasibility studies into the idea of a DLR link to Kidbrooke and Eltham a decade ago, but never submitted them to TfL.
Richards Cottell made a similar point: “We could look at repurposing the Blackwall or Silvertown tunnels for a tram, for DLR extensions, for buses only, or for pedestrians or cyclists. We should be really imaginative about that. Just because a tunnel is built doesn’t mean it has to be used by cars.”
While Khan has insisted that the use of tolling at the Blackwall and Silvertown tunnels will end congestion there, Green candidate Tearle said she was concerned that a future mayor would simply scrap tolls.
There was another challenge to existing Labour policy from one of its own candidates when an audience member raised the relatively low sums of money that Greenwich Council receives from developers compared with other London boroughs.
The council has been criticised for sticking with a low level of Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) – a mechanism which has given other councils windfalls to spend on local projects. Developers in Brent pay more than twice as much their counterparts in Greenwich, which is only now starting to review its rates.
“I completely agree that CIL is low and needs to be reviewed as a matter of urgency. It affects us directly and we want to make sure that residents get what they need from developers,” said Rowshan Hannan, also standing for Labour.
For the Greens, candidate Matt Browne said that the council had “really mucked up” on the issue. A decision not to review the low rates “cost our borough millions of pounds”, he added.
“That money should be going to greener streets. As Greens, we will not rest until we get the money the community is owed.”
For the Conservatives, Bell said he thought that while the CIL rate was “too low”, it was only one issue and that developers were “gaming the system” by not including enough social housing in their development. “The council needs to focus on that,” he said.
All three Labour candidates – Richards Cottell, Hannan and Majid Rahman – appeared at the hustings last Wednesday, along with all the Greens: Browne, Tearle and Stacy Smith.
The Labour trio said they would be “independent-minded” councillors, but the Greens emphasised that they would not be subject to a party whip, as Labour councillors are – forcing them to toe the party line or face expulsion.
Bell was the only Conservative to attend; his fellow candidates are Andrea Borberly and Elliot Whittingham. The remaining candidate, Liberal Democrat Rupert Wainwright, was also not at the event, which was organised by the East Greenwich Residents’ Association and Christ Church East Greenwich.
Only a handful of hustings are being held by community groups in the borough for next Thursday’s poll. Residents in the new Greenwich Peninsula ward can quiz their candidates at St Mary Magdalene School this evening (Tuesday 26th) from 7pm, while there are hustings for Greenwich Park ward at St Mark’s Church Centre this Friday from 7pm.