Sadiq Khan wants to be ‘greenest ever’ Mayor. So why build the Silvertown tunnel?

Green Party's Caroline Russell says dump 'toxic' plans and listen to Londoners


During his election campaign, Sadiq Khan promised that if elected Mayor of London he would conduct a ‘proper joined up review’ of river crossings east of Tower Bridge.

On Tuesday, his review apparently complete, he announced plans to press ahead with the Silvertown tunnel, a £1 billion twin-bore, dual carriageway road link beneath the River Thames connecting the Greenwich Peninsula with the Royal Docks in Newham.

In May, I urged the Mayor to withdraw the application for planning powers to build the tunnel. He refused.

The Mayor has presented a ‘package’ of crossings, claiming it offers something for all Londoners. It’s only fair to recognise some of the positives. The Rotherhithe cycling and walking link is a great boost for people who want to walk and cycle to work.

And if the Mayor does deliver DLR-only and Overground-only links further east, Thamesmead and Barking residents will finally have real alternatives to driving.

However, there can be no doubt that his choice to press ahead with the toxic Silvertown tunnel is hugely disappointing – especially coming from the Mayor who promised to be the ‘greenest ever.’

We know that new roads bring new traffic and new pollution. So given that London is already gripped by congestion and air pollution crises, the Mayor should not be planning any new road construction projects.

By taking the decision to build new traffic-generating roads, the Mayor forces us to question how serious he really is about improving air quality or addressing health inequalities.

The Silvertown Tunnel will blight deprived areas that desperately need better rail links. They don’t need huge roads with roaring tunnel entrances and endless vehicle flows.

Sadiq Khan inherited this project from his predecessor Boris Johnson. Long after the final public consultation closed, he has announced minor changes to the scheme that he hopes will cast it in a green light.

But a ‘green’ trunk road project is an oxymoron. A bike-carrying bus and a restated commitment to cross-river bus routes are just tokenistic suggestions. The proposed use of direct vision Euro 6 standard (safer and cleaner) lorries should be taken as read.

A new tunnel is not needed. In order to deal with the traffic jams and excess demand at the Blackwall Tunnel right now, the Mayor should toll it, use the money to invest in public transport and see if that solves the problem.

Londoners have never been consulted on a package of public transport, cycling and walking crossings in east London, despite it being one of the most polluted parts of the capital.

I have been urging the Mayor to work up alternative plans that don’t feature new roads and put that to people instead. As it is, Londoners have been presented with a fait accompli at every stage of consultation. Roads, roads and more roads.

The Mayor was elected on a promise of delivering clean air to our desperately polluted city.  His recent air pollution consultation had a massive response supporting action to clean up our air.

The Mayor should be emboldened by this to take the brave decisions required to transform the way we move around our city to ensure all Londoners can breathe our air without fearing for their health.

He should be investing to give all Londoners convenient options to travel without a car, using existing road capacity more smartly by diverting as many journeys as possible to walking, cycling and public transport.

I will be holding the Mayor to account at City Hall for taking this reckless decision.

And at next week’s open floor planning meeting I will join local people and campaigners to call for investment in transport projects that bring clean air and healthy streets instead of a backwards looking road scheme from the 1960s.

Caroline Russell is a Green Party member of the London Assembly and is the Green Party’s national spokesperson on Transport

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.