Sadiq Khan’s party tells him to halt ‘polluting’ Silvertown Tunnel in overwhelming vote

London Labour’s regional conference passes motion calling on Mayor to cancel PFI project

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Sunday 25 July 2021 19:35 BST
<p>The new project is intended partly as a relief road for the Blackwall Tunnel</p>

The new project is intended partly as a relief road for the Blackwall Tunnel

Sadiq Khan’s party has urged him to halt construction of a new road tunnel in London that campaigners say will make it impossible to meet climate targets.

In an overwhelming vote at the London Labour regional conference on Saturday delegates called for the Silvertown Tunnel to be scrapped by 74 per cent to 26 per cent.

The twin-bore road tunnel under the Thames is planned to link Silvertown to the Greenwich peninsula, with an expected opening date of 2025.

Transport for London says it will reduce congestion in the nearby Blackwall Tunnel but environmentalists say it will induce more demand and lead to worsening air quality and car dependency.

Experts have warned that that project is incompatible with Mr Khan’s rhetoric on climate change. It is opposed by the Green Party, Liberal Democrats, some Conservatives, and many of Labour’s own MPs and mayors.

Delegates at the conference, where Mr Khan spoke, approved a motion calling on the mayor to “cancel this project” on the basis that “evidence shows the tunnel would worsen air pollution, traffic congestion, carbon emissions and is also financially unviable”.

The agreed decision adds: “One impact would be to enable HGVs to cross the river into London’s most polluted borough, passing dozens of schools and nurseries where tens of thousands of children play and learn.

“Furthermore, research from the Tyndall Centre shows that London’s transport policy is currently incompatible with the rapid decarbonisation required to reach targets aligned with the Paris agreement and the tunnel will only make matters worse.”

The motion, put forward by the Labour local constituency parties in Greenwich and Woolwich, Camberwell and Peckham, Lewisham Deptford, Leyton and Wanstead and Erith and Thamesmead, said TfL would become “reliant on high traffic revenue” to repay the private finance initiative (PFI) loan used to build it.

The conference resolved that there was “no justification for the tunnel” and that the project does not make “economic sense” and that “revenue should be prioritised for accessible, affordable, green energy [-powered] and efficient public transport”.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan backs the project

Approached by The Independent after the vote, a spokesperson for Mr Khan claimed the tunnel would reduce congestion and highlighted other green measures he had pursued in office.

Simon Pirani of the Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition said: “The Labour conference vote confirms that, not only is the tunnel project completely incompatible with London’s targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but it has no social licence.

“The Labour party in London doesn’t support it, many of the local councils and MPs don’t support it, the population of Newham and Greenwich doesn’t support it.

“Only the haulage industry, and of course the construction companies, support it. It’s time to scrap the project and focus on improving public transport.”

In an open letter to Mr Khan and transport secretary Grant Shapps published by The Independent in April, dozens of academics said “it would be foolhardy to press ahead with an infrastructure project that can only contribute to the UK’s excessive greenhouse gas emissions”.

Responding to the vote, a spokesperson for the Mayor of London said: “The Mayor is taking some of the boldest action of any city in the world to tackle air pollution in London.

“This includes the central London ULEZ [Ultra Low Emission Zone], which has helped cut roadside concentrations of nitrogen dioxide in the central zone by nearly half. The ULEZ expansion will extend these benefits to millions of Londoners, both inside and outside the expanded zone.

“Anyone who has been caught in traffic due to a problem in the Blackwall Tunnel will know that there is an urgent need for another river crossing in this part of London. Extensive modelling shows that the introduction of tolls on both tunnels at Silvertown and Blackwall will mean no overall increase in traffic and an overall improvement in air quality.

“The new tunnel will mean fewer idling vehicles and better local bus services, including double decker, zero-emission buses which currently can’t operate across the river because of the restrictive size of the Blackwall tunnel.

“The extension of the Ultra Low Emission Zone from this October – covering the Silvertown area – will play a crucial role in tackling congestion and improving air quality.”

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