Open letter: Sadiq is talking tough on climate – but actions speak louder than words

XR Greenwich and Newham are asking the London Mayor cancel the Silvertown Tunnel

XR Greenwich and Newham are asking the London Mayor to cancel Silvertown Tunnel. Read the letter here:

Dear Sadiq Khan,

We are confused. Your policies on climate and air pollution are in many ways superb: congestion charge, LTNs, cycle and pedestrian improvements, public transport. You declared a climate emergency and pledged a carbon neutral London by 2030. So at Extinction Rebellion in Greenwich and Newham we are scratching our heads. The question that comes up again and again, at our own meetings and at those we attend with local Labour councillors and MPs, local community groups, environmental groups, climate scientists, transport experts, doctors, teachers and parents, is this: “Why is Sadiq Khan going ahead with the Silvertown Tunnel?”

It doesn’t make sense. As John Prescott put it in 1991, “you cannot build your way out of congestion”. That is because of what transport experts call induced demand: increased capacity temporarily reduces congestion encouraging additional journeys; the original level of congestion is reached again; at which point there is a new normal with greater overall traffic volume and the same amount of congestion. This road, which would run directly next to the Blackwall tunnel, would allow much larger heavier trucks. But there won’t be anything to absorb the increase in journeys that will be caused, there is nowhere for this extra traffic to go on to except the existing local and trunk roads. 

Tolling won’t affect induced demand for monster HGVs, a whole category of vehicle that cannot at present cross the river at this point. But if it did… would that not undermine the economic argument? If there is not more traffic, what are the development benefits? 

Both things cannot be true: it cannot stimulate economic growth AND have no effect on traffic. 

We assume you decided the development benefits were worth the environmental cost. But who really benefits? Not the people of Newham and Greenwich. It’s projected to lead to an increase in population by 650,000 but with only 286,000 jobs created. How does that add up? And will they enjoy living next to a motorway that will require pedestrians and cyclists to cross twelve lanes? How will pupils at the schools, yards from the site, enjoy years of construction dust and a lifetime of massively increased PM2.5, PM10 and nitrous oxide pollution from thousands of trucks thundering past every day? The ULEZ won’t help: the charge will just be factored in, why else is the tunnel designed to accommodate such huge trucks? There is no such thing as an electric HGV and won’t be one commercially viable for decades.

But we haven’t even discussed the money. This will cost £2billion (not a typo). How many cycle lanes and buses could this build, to really help the 52% of Newham households which do not own a car. Newham, one of the most deprived and most diverse areas of the country. In contrast, the Mayor’s flagship Green New Deal fund is £50million. Sadiq, why are you spending forty times as much on a new road as on your whole climate policy? When we are facing an economic crisis as a result of coronavirus?

We don’t understand it. We assume it is just a matter of finding the right time to announce the cancellation. But right now dozens of mature trees are being felled at the sites. Toxic waste is taken out by truck on the South side (not by river as promised). Labour politicians at all levels have to bite their tongues to avoid embarrassing their Mayoral candidate. You actively avoid any events where the Tunnel could be scrutinised. And the silent majority, terrified of catastrophic climate change and mass extinctions, are losing faith in Labour’s ability to take decisions to tackle the climate emergency. 

So our question is: Sadiq Khan, when will you cancel the Silvertown Tunnel?

Extinction Rebellion Greenwich

Extinction Rebellion Newham

CC: Ed Miliband (Shadow President COP26); Matthew Pennycook (Shadow Minister for Climate Change); Luke Pollard (Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs); Jim McMahon (Shadow Secretary of State for Transport); Heidi Alexander (Deputy Mayor of London, Transport); Shirley Rodrigues (Deputy Mayor of London, Environment and Energy); Dr. William Oliver Norman (Walking and Cycling Commissioner for London); Jules Pipe CBE (Deputy Mayor of London, Planning, Regeneration and Skills).

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