Silvertown Tunnel project could be another Garden Bridge, Assembly member warns

Pollution on the A102
The Silvertown Tunnel plans have heightened fears of pollution in Greenwich

The Silvertown Tunnel risks becoming a fiasco like Boris Johnson’s collapsed Garden Bridge project, a London Assembly member has warned Sadiq Khan.

Caroline Pidgeon, a Liberal Democrat, has pressed the mayor to halt work on the new road between Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks, telling him in a letter that she cannot understand why the scheme is being prioritised ahead of other transport projects in London.

Transport for London, which is chaired by the mayor, is on the brink of signing a contract with Cintra Global, a division of the Spanish infrastructure giant Ferrovial, to build and operate the tunnel for 25 years, New Civil Engineer reported earlier this week. A protest against the tunnel was held outside City Hall last week; five years of construction are due to start by the end of the year.

Pidgeon compared the £1 billion tunnel project with the Garden Bridge, the pet project of the former mayor which Khan eventually cancelled a year after being elected, after £37m had been spent on the scheme. Khan faces re-election in less than a year.

“Considering the current state of TfL’s finances, and the urgency in tackling air pollution and reducing carbon emissions, I really do think some careful consideration should be given as to whether an irreversible decision should be taken to proceed with the Silvertown project, which I understand would be the consequence of signing a Design, Build, Finance and Maintenance contract for its delivery by August,” Pidgeon wrote.

“I am worried that this feels a bit like the Garden Bridge, where a contract was signed ahead of a mayoral election, which has since been cancelled and the public purse has lost out considerably.”

Assembly members Caroline Pidgeon (left) and Caroline Russell accepted a letter from protesters to Sadiq Khan last week

Pidgeon states that the scheme is only categorised as “desirable” by TfL, adding: “It is worth noting that a road tunnel specifically at Silvertown was not in fact explicitly set out in your manifesto… your manifesto commitment to a Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf pedestrian and cycle bridge was quite explicit. This is in complete contrast to the Silvertown road tunnel.

“A careful consideration of the options other than the current Silvertown plan should even at this late stage be considered.”

The mayor’s manifesto mentioned work would begin on planning Crossrail 3 (Crossrail 1 has not yet opened, Crossrail 2 has not had the go-ahead), “new orbital links for outer London”, DLR and tram extensions and “new river crossings for East London”. Plans for road crossings at Beckton and Belvedere have since been shelved, although outline ideas for a DLR link to Thamesmead have emerged.

Khan promised a “joined-up review” of the tunnel before he was elected in May 2016, but decided to back the scheme after receiving a briefing from Transport for London officials just five weeks after taking office, with officials then charged with making the proposals more palatable to the public.

Since then, Newham Council has joined Lewisham, Southwark and Hackney in opposing the scheme; however, both Greenwich and Tower Hamlets remain in favour. Earlier this year, 853 revealed how internal moves within the Greenwich Labour group to reverse the council’s support were scuppered by two councillors in Peninsula ward, where the tunnel will emerge, who had aligned themselves with opponents of the scheme while seeking re-election in 2018.

While Khan claims the tunnel will relieve congestion and pollution, opponents say a new road will bring new traffic and cause congestion across a wider area. Both the Silvertown Tunnel and the existing Blackwall Tunnel will be tolled as part of the scheme – the Centre for London think tank has said these tolls should be replaced by a capital-wide road charging scheme.

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