Greenwich councillors are to challenge Sadiq Khan to prioritise public transport and cycling in the Silvertown Tunnel when it opens in 2025.
Khan and Transport for London, which he chairs, say the £2 billion tunnel, between the Greenwich Peninsula and Royal Docks, will “virtually eliminate” the persistent traffic congestion at the northbound Blackwall Tunnel.
Critics say that the tunnel, which will include a lane for HGVs and buses, will fail to end the jams and will bring more traffic to neighbourhoods around the tunnel. Greenwich initially backed the tunnel when it was first proposed in 2012, but finally declared its opposition last year, just as tunnelling work was getting under way.
TfL has insisted that a toll on both the Blackwall and Silvertown tunnels will deter drivers from making new cross-river trips and prevent additional congestion.
In a motion to go before Greenwich Council next Wednesday, councillors will say that they note “with great regret that one bore of the Silvertown Tunnel has now been completed”.
The Labour motion calls on the mayor to “pause construction of the second bore of the tunnel, or if this is too late, pause opening of the tunnel until new proposals to prioritise public transport, cargo bikes and cycling have been drawn up and evaluated”.
It also calls for live real-time and publicly-available monitoring of pollution along the length of the A102 as far as Sun-in-the-Sands roundabout.
The motion also calls for “more effective mitigation” of the effects on the A102, including the removal of the Angerstein roundabout and restricting access to the Blackwall/Silvertown approach from the Woolwich Road, which have both previously been proposed by TfL.
Councillors are certain to pass the motion – from David Gardner, a longstanding opponent of the tunnel, and recently-elected councillors Maisie Richards Cottell and Majella Anning – as Labour has an overwhelming majority on the council. But the party’s mayor – who has mocked critics of the tunnel as “living in never-never land” – is just as likely to reject demands to turn the tunnel over to buses and cycling.
Khan has already tried to paint the project as a “public transport-focused” tunnel, but only two bus routes will serve the tunnel when it opens – with only one stopping service serving neighbourhoods close to its entrances.
Cycling will be banned in the tunnel – to the frustration of many commuters who are hit by longstanding problems at the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels. Instead, there are plans for buses to carry cyclists through either the Blackwall or Silvertown tunnels. A similar system has been in place at the Dartford Crossing since it opened in the 1960s.
Nevertheless, the motion will be embarrassing for Khan, who faces re-election next May and has recently published a book, Breathe: Tackling the Climate Emergency, in which he dismisses concern about the tunnel as “the green movement’s very own ‘vocal minority issue’”.
Before his election in 2016, he promised a “joined-up review” of the tunnel plans, which had initially been put in place by Boris Johnson, but decided to back the project just five weeks after taking office.
Hackney, Lewisham and Southwark councils had all long opposed the scheme, as had Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook and his West Ham counterpart Lyn Brown.
A decade ago, Greenwich and Newham councils ran a joint campaign for the tunnel to go ahead, believing it would lead to a crossing between Thamesmead and Beckton. In particular, Greenwich believed that it could persuade TfL to include a DLR extension to Eltham in the Silvertown crossing. That campaign backfired on the councils – and their residents – when City Hall opted to pursue the Silvertown Tunnel alone.
Newham reversed its stance in 2018, but it took Greenwich until last March to finally stop supporting the project, just as tunnelling work was getting under way. Of the three boroughs directly affected by the project, only Tower Hamlets, led by the maverick leftwinger Lutfur Rahman, remains in favour.
Last October Newham councillors passed a motion branding the tunnel an “ill-advised project” and calling for a share of the proceeds from tolling, priority for public transport and cycling and a “cross-river cycling plan” to be prepared.
Work on the tunnel is dominating much of the Greenwich Peninsula, with the Blackwall Tunnel due to be closed southbound this weekend so a 1960s footbridge can be removed to make way for a flyover over the new tunnel’s entrance.
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