Greenwich Labour councillors fight back over Silvertown Tunnel legal deal

A102
Objectors fear the proposed Silvertown Tunnel will increase traffic on the southbound A102, seen here on a peaceful evening

A group of Greenwich Labour councillors are objecting to their council’s legal deal with Transport for London over its proposed Silvertown Tunnel – a week before Transport Secretary Chris Grayling is due to approve or reject the scheme.

A decision on the £1 billion road tunnel, due to run between the Greenwich Peninsula and Royal Docks, has been delayed over fears of increased air pollution, with the Government ordering TfL to commission new air pollution studies.

The latest study shows a small rise in air pollution at the Woolwich Road flyover – while TfL still claims the new road, which would be tolled along with the Blackwall Tunnel, would cut pollution overall.

Now Peninsula ward councillor Stephen Brain is objecting to a legal deal the council is poised to sign with Transport for London. He says the deal – which includes a maximum of £933,000 for a noise barrier at Siebert Road in Blackheath – is inadequate. 853 understand he is being supported by other councillors.

He has called-in the proposal – a mechanism by which a decision by a cabinet member can be looked at again by a scrutiny committee.

Noise barrier

Full details of the deal are being kept secret, but it also includes £41,000 plus £15,000 in administration costs for a biodiversity action plan, £136,000 for school crossing patrols, and £349,500 to extend the Low Emissions Neighbourhood scheme that operates in a small area of Greenwich.

Brain’s objection, which is seconded by Greenwich West councillor Aidan Smith, is the first attempt by any Labour councillor to protest against the tunnel scheme through the town hall in the six years since it was first announced, and comes as the Greens challenge him for his council seat in Thursday’s elections.

Objectors say the tunnel will encourage more traffic into an area that is already struggling to cope with the number of vehicles, backers say the scheme will relieve the notorious northbound Blackwall Tunnel bottleneck. (Declaration of interest: the author co-founded the No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign.)

The issue was discussed by Peninsula ward candidates at hustings last week.

It is extremely rare for Labour councillors to call in a decision in this way. With Thursday’s election, it is unclear just who will be on the committee to hear the objection on 10 May, as a whole new council will be in place from Friday.

The political climate has moved against the Silvertown Tunnel in recent months, although TfL has carried out some preparatory work for it this year, including boring holes in the Thames riverbed.

On the Newham side of the crossing, pro-tunnel elected mayor Sir Robin Wales was ousted by Labour members and is set to be replaced by Rokhsana Fiaz, who is opposed to the crossing.

But Greenwich, under Denise Hyland and Danny Thorpe, has continued to back the proposal, with Thorpe calling its support “a difficult decision”, even though Hyland fronted a campaign in 2013 to get it built, refusing to meet independent experts to discuss air quality concerns. Tower Hamlets elected mayor John Biggs also supports the scheme.

A decision on the tunnel is due by Thursday 10 May – the same day as the call-in hearing.

2.45pm update: Peninsula ward councillor Chris Lloyd responds to the story.

Chris Lloyd: "If I am re-elected tomorrow I will chair the committee as vice-chair of scrutiny."

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