Silvertown Tunnel: Government asks TfL to look again at air quality

Pollution on the A102
Pollution seen from the A102 earlier this month: The Department for Transport wants more time to study the Silvertown Tunnel’s effects on air quality

Transport for London has been asked to reassess the air quality impact of its proposed Silvertown Tunnel after the Department for Transport delayed making a decision on the controversial new road for another six months.

A decision had been expected on the planned link between Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks in October, following a year-long planning process.

But last week transport minister Paul Maynard announced that the deadline for a decision had now been moved to 10 May 2018, to allow for further consideration of the road’s effects on air quality.

The government has had to rethink its attitude to air pollution after campaign group ClientEarth won a court case last year over its failure to tackle the problem. This has had an impact on how it has approached the Silvertown Tunnel scheme.

On Tuesday, the Department for Transport asked TfL to submit new air quality assessments using new modelling tools, and to update it on how the tunnel would fit in with recently-published plans to improve overall air quality in Greater London. It also wants details of any further mitigation measures to address any impacts on air quality.

Transport for London and other scheme backers, such as Greenwich Council, have long claimed the scheme – which also involves charging for both the Blackwall Tunnel and the new road – will eliminate congestion on the A102, and therefore improve air quality.

But campaign groups, including No to Silvertown Tunnel (full disclosure: the editor of this website is part of that campaign), have maintained that the tunnel is likely to worsen pollution in both south-east and east London by creating new jams and increasing traffic levels across a wider area.

They have also derided mayor Sadiq Khan’s attempts to “green” the tunnel scheme, which include running a shuttle bus for cyclists.

Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland reacted with disappointment to the further delay to the scheme, issuing a statement with Tower Hamlets elected mayor John Biggs saying: “Our residents’ lives have been blighted by stationary vehicles stuck in queues at the Blackwall Tunnel for far too long.”

The statement added: “Both our councils have always been keen to ensure that the Silvertown Tunnel should not have a detrimental impact on the environment. That is why we welcomed the Mayor of London’s revised and improved plans for cleaner, greener public transport options and significant investments in pedestrian and cycling improvements in our boroughs and others.”

Hyland’s position was backed by the London Chamber of Commerce, which said the tunnel was needed “for the capital’s megacity future”.

However, she partly contradicted her own officers, who told the planning inquiry that Khan had shelved cycle improvement schemes which would revamp the Woolwich Road roundabout, giving them new concerns about the project.

Hyland’s statement came in defiance of rank and file members of the Greenwich and Woolwich Labour Party, which reaffirmed its opposition to the tunnel in a motion earlier this year. Local MP Matt Pennycook has also restated his disapproval of the scheme.

Lewisham and Hackney councils have passed motions against the tunnel. Southwark has also opposed the scheme, largely based on concerns that tolling will mean an increase in traffic diverting via Greenwich town centre, Deptford and Rotherhithe Tunnel.

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