Well, you know there’s an election coming when the incumbent gets ready to put his hand in his pocket. (Well, it’s our pockets, but you know what I’m saying.) Finally, Boris Johnson has shown his cards about a third Blackwall Tunnel – the “Silvertown link” between the Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks. He says it’ll be built by 2022 at a cost of £700 million.
That’s £700 million more than has ever been given to south-east London’s public transport system over the past decade. Readers unlucky enough to have been here for a while will know my point of view on this – I wrote something in 2009 on why trying to squeeze more traffic up and down the A102 is crazy.
So, for a moment, all I need to do is repeat myself.
Worryingly, [a TfL report] backs more work on the Silvertown Link – a proposal for either a bridge or a tunnel which would run from Edmund Halley Way (between the Dome and the David Beckham Academy). Land is already safeguarded for such a scheme.
The Silvertown Link would be a disaster for Greenwich – merely giving people more reasons to drive up the A102, creating more congestion and pollution. How could you build a third crossing on the peninsula (after the two Blackwall Tunnels) without expanding the 40-year-old dual carriageway that struggles with the two that are there already? It’s insane, and threatens to blight the lives of hundreds of people in Greenwich and Blackheath. It’s bad enough they have motorways at the bottom of their gardens – the last thing they need is the threat of that motorway expanding.
Boris Johnson has long backed the Silvertown Link – and it’s the Labour party in Greenwich borough’s dirty little secret too; Eltham MP Clive Efford is keen on the idea of sending more traffic through neighbouring Greenwich. But nobody seems to have thought about asking the people of Greenwich and Blackheath whose homes and livelihoods would be threatened.
If you live in Greenwich, Charlton or Blackheath – you should be thinking of acting now to make sure the Silvertown Link, the laziest and most damaging idea of them all, never happens.
But there’s more. East Greenwich is already one of the most polluted areas of London – emissions at the Woolwich Road Flyover and Trafalgar Road already exceed safe limits. Things aren’t too bright over in Canning Town either. A new tunnel will only make things worse.
How on earth will the tip of the Greenwich Peninsula be regenerated if it’s cut off by a road tunnel? How is traffic meant to get into and out of the O2 if its access roads are given over to a hole in the ground? The strip of parkland that stretches up the centre of the peninsula – intended to be a “car-free zone” just 12 years ago – won’t be very pleasant if there’s traffic roaring out of the end of it.
New roads will mean more traffic. So how will the A2, which is only two lanes in each direction through Eltham, cope with the extra traffic when it struggles during the rush hour as it is? This just moves a bottleneck three miles further south. The A102 was at a standstill southbound at 8pm last night because of an accident at the Sun-in-the-Sands roundabout. Can you imagine how big the queue would be if two tunnels fed into this road, instead of one?
Building a third crossing at the Blackwall Tunnel doesn’t provide anyone with an alternative route if you still have to go up the same road to get there.
There’s also going to be nothing in a tunnel for cyclists. Cycling mayor? Nah, I don’t think so.
So, I hear you cry – we need a new crossing because I can’t get my car across the Thames! Well, the more sensible place to build one – if you think we need a new river crossing at all – would be at Thamesmead. But the old Thames Gateway Bridge scheme was scrapped, partly because of political pressure in Bexley, partly because the road network leading up to Thamesmead isn’t up to much. The main route from Bexleyheath through to Abbey Wood, for example, isn’t much more than a side road.
That said, this hasn’t stopped Boris planning a ferry at the same site – possibly taking over from the Woolwich Ferry, which conveys hundreds of heavy lorries across the Thames each day.
Most of the pressure to build a new crossing comes from car drivers in areas like the borough of Bexley, and other suburbs. If Bexley wants a bridge, perhaps it should learn to live with the consequences and have it in its own back yard. A bridge at Thamesmead would at least provide the flexibility to include other modes of transport – extensions of east London’s mainlines, the Overground or even the Hammersmith & City Line from Barking to connect with Crossrail at Abbey Wood, for example. Granted, Greenwich Council harbours dreams of running the DLR through Boris’s tunnel towards Eltham – but where trains would run from hasn’t been made clear yet.
So, with Tory mayor Boris Johnson and Labour Greenwich Council backing a tunnel – along with Eltham Labour MP Clive Efford – who’s going to oppose it? Last year, Ken Livingstone – who’d planned a bridge at the site – said a tunnel would be “mad”. Will the real Labour line on this please step forward?
Long-time readers of this site will also be aware that I stood as a Green Party candidate in council elections in 2010. Frustratingly, I couldn’t persuade the local party to take the threat of a third Blackwall Tunnel up as an issue. But they were very proud of the fact that they played a part in the public inquiry which helped kill off the original Thames Gateway Bridge scheme. Several years on from that, and with Boris now threatening east Greenwich, I wonder if they shot themselves in the foot by opposing the lesser of the two evils?
Anyhow, I think this is Boris sacrificing Greenwich’s air quality and quality of life to win over votes in the suburbs, instead of investing in a proper transport network. In 2008 he ran on a policy of scrapping the Thames Gateway Bridge, targeted at residents in Bexley, and in 2012 he wants to give them that bridge, but in our back yard instead. It’s time we moved to stop him.
Whatever you think, I’d be interested in your views.