Jill the Silvertown tunnelling machine
Tunnelling work at Silvertown has begun, TfL has confirmed

Tunnelling work on the £2 billion Silvertown Tunnel has begun, a decade after Boris Johnson first proposed the crossing and four years after it was given the go-ahead by the government.

Jill, the 82 metre-long tunnel boring machine being used to dig the crossing has been launched, Transport for London confirmed today, putting it on course to open as planned by 2025.

Critics have warned that building the road link between the Greenwich Peninsula and Royal Docks, which will include special lanes for buses and HGVs, will add to congestion, worsen air quality and contradict current mayor Sadiq Khan’s net-zero targets.

But Khan and TfL insist that the new tunnel will “virtually eliminate” persistent queueing at the northbound Blackwall Tunnel and that tolls on both the Blackwall and Silvertown tunnels will mitigate any potential increase in traffic.

Jill – named after Jill Viner, the first female London bus driver – will make her way south from Silvertown to Greenwich at a rate of about ten metres per day, before being turned around to head back north to the Royal Docks.

Helen Wright, the head of the Silvertown Tunnel programme at TfL, said: “The start of tunnelling is a huge step forward for this project and we are committed to working hard to ensure that it is delivered with minimal impact to Londoners. As well as reducing congestion and providing better cross-river bus opportunities, the new tunnel will also help deliver a wide range of local improvements, including dedicated walking and cycling infrastructure and new landscaping. We are working actively on these designs and we hope we can share these with local residents and stakeholders shortly, ahead of starting work on them within the next year.”

Green Party London Assembly member Sian Berry, who has been a vocal opponent of the scheme since it was first proposed, said that it was a “vast new road building project” which will “increase car dependency and risk new traffic and pollution” for those living in the vicinity of the tunnel.

Jill the cutting machine
Jill will progress under the river at about 10 metres every day

Berry said: “The opposition to this scheme comes from the spectrum of political parties and local councils who know what a mistake it is to build new roads in a climate emergency.

“The start of tunnelling does not end the campaign to stop this project from causing huge damage to Londoners’ health. A new tunnel could provide a new river crossing for walking, cycling and public transport links, and we are already working with local people to put better ideas to the mayor. He should start to listen to us.”

In addition to councillors and assembly members from the Greens and Liberal Democrats, Sadiq Khan has faced opposition to the Silvertown Tunnel from members of his own party.

In July, it was reported by the BBC that Khan had complained about the conduct of Newham Council leader Rokhsana Fiaz after she shared a post on social media accusing the GLA of “lies and half-truths” over the project.

Earlier this year, Labour-led Greenwich Council – which had backed the project through the planning phase – passed a motion calling for work on the tunnel to be halted. Newham Council, which had also supported the scheme before Fiaz became mayor, passed a similar motion two weeks earlier.

Labour-led Lewisham and Hackney councils voted to oppose the scheme in 2015 before it had officially received Government approval.

Khan has said that opponents of the tunnel are “living in never-never land” and “want to put off tough decisions”.

As part of the long-term funding settlement agreed between TfL and the Department for Transport last week, the Government has said it expects TfL to “continue to deliver the committed major projects in its capital programme”, which includes the Silvertown Tunnel.

Riverlinx, the consortium building the tunnel, will be shortly commencing work on the road network around the new tunnel.

From 17 October, lane restrictions will be imposed on the A102 south of the Blackwall Tunnel, with one lane closed in either direction for two weeks. After that, the southbound A102 between the Blackwall Tunnel and the slip road off to Blackwall Lane will reduce from three lanes to two from 31 October until summer 2023.

Riverlinx says the start of the works has been timed to tie in with the October school holidays, when traffic levels are usually lower.

Additional reporting by Darryl Chamberlain

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Joe Talora is the Local Democracy Reporter for the Greater London Authority, based at the Evening Standard. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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