Labour backing for Silvertown Tunnel could cost party City Hall

Southbound traffic on the A102 - high pollution levels were recorded at this subway last year
Southbound traffic on the A102 – high pollution levels were recorded at this subway last year

If Labour’s candidate for London mayor backs building the Silvertown Tunnel, he or she could lose nearly half of their vital second-preference votes if the Green Party carries out a threat to withdraw support over the issue.

The damage could be even worse if the Liberal Democrats follow suit and also call for a boycott over building new roads across the River Thames – potentially scuppering Labour’s bid to win City Hall for only the second time in 16 years.

Until now, most Labour mayoral candidates have been treating the Silvertown Tunnel as merely a local issue.

But the possibility of losing to environmentally-minded Tory Zac Goldsmith may start to concentrate their minds on the £1bn scheme to build a new road tunnel from the Royal Docks to Greenwich Peninsula, feeding into the crowded A102, piling extra HGVs and other traffic onto local roads on both sides of the Thames.

In the two most recent elections, the Greens asked their supporters to give Labour’s Ken Livingstone their second preference votes.

But 2012’s mayoral candidate Jenny Jones has long warned Labour it won’t get the same co-operation if it continues with Boris Johnson’s plans to build the Silvertown Tunnel and two other crossings at Thamesmead and Belvedere. Tom Chance, the party’s housing spokesperson who is hoping for the Green nomination this time around, has repeated the threat.

Now Zac Goldsmith – Richmond Park MP and former owner and editor of The Ecologistis planning to stand, there will be increasing pressure on Labour candidates to put environmental considerations at the heart of their manifestos.

Jones has already said many Green supporters will be tempted to back Goldsmith, who yesterday told a parliamentary debate on London air pollution that “we cannot invent new roads”.

So far, only Christian Wolmar – a transport journalist who was the first to declare for the Labour candidacy – has called for the Silvertown Tunnel to be cancelled. He spoke at a No to Silvertown Tunnel meeting earlier this year.

Front-runner Tessa Jowell has avoided the topic when asked in her Twitter “Ask Tessa” sessions. She’s being advised by Labour peer Lord Adonis, a strong backer of the Silvertown Tunnel.

Other candidates set to go on the ballot paper include party leadership favourite Sadiq Khan, Hackney North MP Diane Abbott, Tottenham MP David Lammy and Harrow West MP Gareth Thomas. Londoners who sign up as Labour supporters and pay £3 can have a vote in the process.

A102

Voters choose London mayors by picking a first and second preference, a system designed to give outsider candidates some influence in the race.

If a candidate does not win more than 50% of first preference votes, then second preferences are used to decide a winner – which has happened in all four elections since the post was created in 2000.

In 2012, Ken Livingstone got 889,918 first preference votes against Boris Johnson’s 971,931.

He then had 102,355 second-choice votes from voters who backed the other five candidates. While this was not enough to topple Johnson, who got 82,880 second-preferences, it brought the Labour veteran just over 60,000 votes from victory.

Livingstone had 46,241 second-choice votes from Green backers – votes which now could be denied to a future Labour candidate if she or he goes ahead with the road schemes.

He also picked up 24,465 second-preference votes from supporters of Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick. Caroline Pidgeon, the London Assembly member most often linked with a Liberal Democrat run for the mayoralty, is also an opponent of new road crossings.

If 2016’s poll is as close as 2012’s, these votes could be enough to decide who wins the mayoralty.

Sian Berry is the most well-known contender to be the Greens’ candidate in 2016. A Camden councillor and transport campaigner, she was the party’s candidate in 2008.

Islington councillor Caroline Russell – a campaigner for Living Streets – is also running for the role, with Green Party members choosing this summer.

The Silvertown Tunnel will add to A2 traffic heading south through Eltham
The Silvertown Tunnel will add to A2 traffic heading south through Eltham

London politicians’ reluctance to recognise road-building adversely effects air quality – as demonstrated by this paper on the widening of the A206 in Crayford – was highlighted in yesterday’s parliamentary debate, led by Diane Abbott.

It also showed the lack of understanding that many politicians have of the river crossings issue – which risks the Silvertown Tunnel slipping into being, hidden by the controversies over other crossings.

New Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matthew Pennycook was the only member to bring up the topic of “strategic river crossings”, when intervening in a summing-up by Tory minister Rory Stewart.

But Stewart replied by referring to “the construction of a new bridge” – when the only “strategic” crossing currently being planned is the tunnel at Silvertown, which TfL plans to run a “final” consultation on this autumn. (Gallions and Belvedere have been called “local bridges for local people” by Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland.)

If campaigners and politicians want to address the crossings issue, they will need to think about dealing with each one individually rather than treating them as a group.

10 comments

  1. If the Labour candidate does not rule out a third Blackwall tunnel (call it Silvertown if you want to go with the PR guff) I will campaign against them instead of urging people to vote for them. The only way Blackwall 3 can work is if approach roads through Greenwich and Eltham are massively widened, otherwise the jam is just moved down the road. There are only two lanes of traffic though the Eltham cut and that is the limiting factor. It almost looks like the stupid Ikea development is designed to clog the roads so that Blackwall 3 can be justified.

  2. I get a sense from the local councillors I’ve spoken to that they’re generally individually against the plan, but somehow resigned to it happening unless the senior party types change their stance. I hope someone has the guts to do so soon.

  3. I kind of disagree. Living in East Greenwich I think a new tunnel is required along with improved public transport. Traffic is a nightmare when the Blackwall tunnel has a problem but the tunnel should come with improved public transport options

  4. You cannt squeeze quarts into pint pots.Without massive infrastructure changes – including knocking down much needed housing- the traffic won’t fit. And the air that isn’t fit to breathe now (they wheezed) is not going to get any better. When will they ever learn?

  5. No Silvertown Tunnel. Blackwall Tunnel toll of a fiver a car, a tenner a HGV. Free to bona fide residents/businesses of Greenwich, Tower Hamlets and Newham, possibly more boroughs.
    Thoughts anyone?

  6. Chris, Build the Silvertown on the following conditions;
    1. Toll say £6.00 per vehicle to be set for use of new tunnel by TFL for costs new tunnel construction.
    2. Blackwall tunnel to be turned into a green city gateway tunnel, i.e FREE use for zero emission vehicles and Cycles ONLY for access to Canary and traffic into the city.
    3. The new tunnel is for all other traffic.
    This will offer regular users the option of investing the new vehicle technology and would mean that the given congestion on the A102 would produce less pollution due to the fact over a 5 -10 year period more vehicles will be zero emission.The build plan for tunnel is 5 years which would allow future users to invest in zero emission vehicles.
    I feel that it is a given that a new crossing will be constructed. But there are sound arguments presented by NTST to argue for the above conditions. Fight for the above and there may be a win for all.

  7. One of the many problems with the Silvertown Tunnel is that it dumps traffic (particularly HGVs) in a completely different place on the north side – so it can’t be a like-for-like replacement. If TfL was suggesting converting the 1897 tunnel for cycle use and building a replacement, there’d be fewer problems. Unfortunately, Silvertown provides the worst of all worlds, including keeping the 1897 tunnel in service.

  8. Darryl, Sadly I tend to agree but as with all innovation it needs to be conceived at the right time and place. Maybe with the pressure from europe on emissions and a mayoral election the innovation of a Green Gateway Tunnel might tick few boxes at the right time and place. The key as with all ideas it needs to be sold as if is the key stockholders idea and baby.

  9. Note there are more shunts in the old tunnel because some cretin drivers don’t like the bends at either end. With all the huge gas guzzling 4WD Landies and Beemers up from Kent they often prang the sides on the bends — which are there to stop horses bolting for the light at the end of tunnel.
    I’m sure there’s a moral in there somewhere.

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