Silvertown Tunnel work due to start in late 2019, TfL says

A102
Objectors fear the Silvertown Tunnel will increase traffic on the southbound A102

Work will begin on the controversial Silvertown Tunnel late next year, Transport for London has announced in its latest business plan.

The £1 billion tunnel, which was approved by transport secretary Chris Grayling in May, will run alongside the Blackwall Tunnel to link the Greenwich Peninsula and Royal Docks.

Despite the scheme getting the green light, its completion date has slipped over time and the five-year construction timetable now indicates it will be finished in late 2024.

Blackwall Tunnel approach
The proposed Silvertown Tunnel route would run just to the left of the gasholder

The new Thames crossing – which will be built as an extension to the existing A102 – will be tolled as an attempt to stop it being overwhelmed with traffic, while the same toll will be introduced to the Blackwall Tunnel.

Opponents have said the tunnel risks attracting more traffic to already-congested roads on both sides of the Thames. Greenwich Council has backed the tunnel since former mayor Boris Johnson unveiled the scheme in 2011, but on the north side of the Thames, Newham Council now opposes the scheme. After pledging to review the tunnel in the 2016 election campaign, Johnson’s successor Sadiq Khan rubber-stamped it within weeks.

The business plan says: “[The] river crossing will help to address the lack of cross-river connections in east London and reduce the environmental impact of traffic congestion. We will build the crossing over the next five years so that when it opens from 2024, alongside a package of cross-river public transport enhancements, it will help improve connectivity for residents and help support growth and regeneration both north and south of the river”.

The “cross-river public transport enhancements” are extensions to bus routes and new services to serve the tunnel. On plans for a DLR extension to Thamesmead, the plan merely says it will “build the case” for the project.

The tunnel will be funded under the private finance initiative (PFI), where an operator will build and maintain the tunnel and be paid back through tolls – similar to how the Lewisham extension of the Docklands Light Railway was built two decades ago. Spain’s Cintra Global and German outfit Hochtief PPP Solutions are the two remaining bidders for the scheme after a third, Skanska Strabag Meridiam, withdrew earlier this year.

853 understands that TfL is not affected by chancellor Philip Hammond’s ban on PFI schemes and can still fund the project in this way, despite its financial problems. Pre-construction work has already begun, with a specialist company monitoring river levels and installations such as the Thames Cable Car towers.

TfL also says it expects to apply for powers to build a Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf cycle bridge in the 2019/20 financial year.

Brenntag works
The Brenntag plant (left) is a familiar sight for Blackwall Tunnel drivers

Separately, Greenwich councillors will next week be asked to approve a statement to a planning inquiry that will help ease the way for the Silvertown Tunnel to be built after Communities Secretary James Brokenshire took the power to decide away from the council.

The Health & Safety Executive has an objection to the tunnel opening because of hazardous chemicals being stored at the Brenntag plant, close to the point where the Silvertown Tunnel will split off from the existing A102 carriageway.

Because TfL wants to use part of the site for construction, Brenntag has to apply for a new consent, which will also enable to it store the chemicals at a safe distance away from traffic.

It applied to Greenwich in June, but Brokenshire – who is also MP for Old Bexley & Sidcup, where local Conservatives have been fervent backers of the tunnel – took control of the application last month.

The council’s planning board will be asked to approve a statement saying they would have backed the consent anyway. Earlier this year councillors objected to a similar proposal to revoke hazardous substances consent for the East Greenwich gasholder, another hold-up for the tunnel’s construction, before backing down a month later after being warned they faced legal action.

Fears of heavy traffic in the east Greenwich and Charlton have shot up in recent weeks with the Ikea store at east Greenwich approaching completion. 853 understands Greenwich Council and Ikea are planning a “soft opening” to allay predictions of opening-day gridlock.

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