Sadiq Khan defends Silvertown tunnel plans in face of protests at City Hall

Sadiq Khan defends Silvertown tunnel plans in face of protests at City Hall

Plans for London’s biggest-ever car free day were the centrepiece of Sadiq Khan’s monthly Mayor’s Question Time yesterday, but London Assembly Members focused on the Mayor’s controversial proposals for the new Silvertown road tunnel under the Thames in East London.

Car-Free Day will take place on Sunday 22 September and 20 kilometres of streets closed in Central London, including Tower Bridge and London Bridge except for buses, as well as much of the City of London and smaller-scale closures in 18 of the capital’s 32 boroughs.

The day will include guided walks, cycling events, music, performance and food markets, all coinciding with the Totally Thames festival, events marking the 125th anniversary of Tower Bridge and the London Open House weekend.

City Hall is working towards an ambitious target of eight out of 10 journeys in London being taken by sustainable modes of transport – and the Mayor told the  Assembly that the car-free day events, branded as “Reimagine”, are designed to encourage Londoners to see the city in a different way. “It will be a great opportunity for people to leave their cars behind and explore the city by foot, bike or public transport,” he said.

But the Mayor’s commitment to reducing vehicle traffic – responsible for the bulk of air pollution in London – was challenged both inside the meeting and outside the meeting by protestors from the Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition, the Extinction Rebellion campaign and pupils from Thomas Tallis school in Kidbrooke.

The twin-bore tunnel would link the Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks area and it is hoped it will relieve congestion at the 120-year-old Blackwall Tunnel nearby, currently the only road crossing on the river between Tower Bridge and the QE2 bridge at Dartford.

The £1 billion project was given the go-ahead by transport secretary Chris Grayling last year, with the Riverlinx consortium, comprising Aberdeen Standard Investments, BAM PPP PGGM, Cintra, Macquarie Capital and SK E+C, selected as preferred bidder last month.

Khan told the Assembly that the new tunnel is needed to improve transport links across the area as well as tackling continuing problems at the Blackwall , which cannot cope with current traffic levels. He said it had closed more than 700 times in 2017/18, causing gridlock and “some of the worst air quality in London” and that the one bus route using it is “probably the most unreliable in the capital”.

He added that the Silvertown scheme had been reviewed to ensure it would not make congestion or air quality worse, and a dedicated bus and lorry lane would see 20 buses an hour, rising to 37 an hour as demand increased. User charges would be used to manage demand and to “ensure the scheme delivers on environmental commitments”.

However, Green Party AM Caroline Russell condemned the new tunnel as a “dinosaur project” which would increase traffic and pollution, contrary to Khan’s “healthy streets” policies and would “lock in” vehicle-dominated motorways”, and Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon told the Mayor: “The people of London will remember you not for improving public transport but for building a big polluting road under the Thames.”

Russell and Pidgeon had joined protestors outside City Hall ahead of the meeting calling for the tunnel plan to be scrapped, along with Russell’s fellow Green AM Sian Berry, who is also their party’s national co-leader and its mayoral candidate for 2020.

Extinction Rebellion campaigner Nicola Brittain said: “The London Mayor needs to put a stop to the Silvertown Tunnel, and soon. Construction alone will release seven times the amount of C02 generated by Blackwall Tunnel in a year, and the dedicated HGV lane will poison the surrounding air.”

“If the project is not pulled, Sadiq Khan or his successor will face either huge cancellation fees or fall-out from a community managing increased congestion, reduced air quality, and a rise in ill health. We urge him to take our concerns seriously.”

Khan told assembly members that contracts would be signed at the end of the summer, with work on the tunnel scheduled to start by the end of the year.

Watch a webcast of 20 June 2019 Mayor’s Question Time in full via here.

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