Jill the Silvertown tunnelling machine
Tunnelling work on the Silvertown side of the Thames began in August last year

London mayor Sadiq Khan has dismissed calls to halt work on the Silvertown Tunnel – branding opponents of the scheme a “vocal minority”.

The machine digging the new tunnel has now completed its journey from the Royal Docks to the Greenwich Peninsula, and will soon be turned around so it can start work on the road link’s second bore.

Green London Assembly member Sian Berry, who has written a report calling for work to stop and the initial bore to be repurposed for sustainable methods of transport rather than private cars and lorries, including trams or a DLR extension.

Both Greenwich and Newham councils have previously also called for the project to be paused and reviewed, a decade after they both campaigned for the link to be built.

Supporters say the tunnel, which will include a lane for HGVs and buses, will end persistent congestion at the Blackwall Tunnel – which will be tolled along with the new road – while critics say it will lead to new congestion, worsen pollution and contribute to the climate emergency.

London Labour members have previously called on Khan to scrap the scheme while Matt Pennycook and Lyn Brown, the local Labour MPs for each end of the tunnel, are also critics.

At mayor’s question time yesterday, Berry said that City Hall was an “ideal pause and review situation” and asked when Khan had last spoken to the council leaders – Anthony Okereke in Greenwich and elected mayor Rokhsana Fiaz in Newham – about the issue.

Khan indicated that Fiaz, who has branded the scheme “madness”, had not raised the issue when the pair met this week.

“There’s no pause and there’s no review, for clarity,” he said. “Listen, I appreciate there’s a vocal minority forwhom this is a big issue. This scheme has undergone years of development subject to regular public scrutiny and reviews including ten separate public consultations.

“I met the leader of one of the councils this week. She didn’t mention the scheme to me. She welcomed our investment in schemes in her borough leading to radically new offers for people who need desperate, affordable housing.”

A102 southbound queue
The new tunnel will bring more traffic into south-east London

Khan’s claim of ten separate consultations into the tunnel includes calls for views on various transport, environment and planning strategies since 2008 as well as the four consultations into the tunnel itself and the public hearings which followed in 2016. The tunnel was approved in 2018 and is due to open in 2025.

The Labour mayor chairs the C40 group of global cities, which says its members “are taking urgent action to address the climate crisis”.

Asked what a global climate leader would do with a newly-built tunnel, Khan said: “One of the things you’ve got to do, whether a climate leader or a leader in other senses is to be honest and candid, and I’m being honest and candid in saying the Silvertown Tunnel addresses the [congestion] problems in this part of London, but also addresses the injustices where in this part of London, there are so few river crossings.

“There are so few options in relation to public transport, and there aren’t the links in public transport that there are in other parts of our city. That injustice is being addressed by this tunnel.”

Just two bus routes are planned to serve the tunnel when it opens, though TfL says it may add more if there is demand.

Khan was criticised last week by Leo Murray, of the climate charity Possible, who told the London Assembly that going ahead with the tunnel had harmed the mayor’s credibility on the environment.

Berry said after yesterday’s meeting: “Continuing with the Silvertown road tunnel in its present form is risking the mayor’s fragile credibility on the climate. Countless residents, councillors and campaigners have made it clear that local people do not want a new tunnel filled with cars and lorries.

“It’s clear there are many ways we could use this space for good, sustainable travel that won’t harm the environment of the surrounding boroughs.

“Now is the ideal time to pause and review this project. Londoners understand this but the mayor isn’t listening. He must engage with councils and local people and investigate better ways to use this vast new space under the Thames.”

Work is under way on the tunnel’s northern entrance, while in Greenwich plans were approved for the southern entrance building in November after councillors were blocked from making the decision themselves.

Revised plans for a new footbridge over the A102 to accommodate the junction for the new tunnel were also approved last November, after initial objections from the council’s highways and urban design officers. A mesh roof over the bridge was removed as part of the changed plans.

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