Tunnel proposal
Politics & Current Affairs

Silvertown Tunnel: Sadiq Khan’s Controversial Decision3 min read

Under the Thames, a tunnel connecting Greenwich Peninsula with Royal Docks has caused controversy even before construction has begun

In 2014, London Mayor at the time Boris Johnson proposed that a new tunnel should be built. He said that the Silvertown Tunnel would be vital for East London as it would build new jobs, homes and connect the community. The tunnel is still yet to be constructed six years later, with the cost being three times what was proposed.

The tunnel will cost £2bn to make and construction is due to be completed by 2025, four years after the initial finish date. Despite campaigns against Johnson’s proposal, Mayor Sadiq Khan insists that the tunnel will be built. He says that the tunnel help to reduce congestion on the Blackwall Tunnel, improve journey times and create new jobs. However, many residents don’t see the tunnel achieving any of this

The tunnel will be between Newham (one of the boroughs in the country with the highest level of pollution, above the legal levels) and Greenwich (where pollution is sometimes above the legal levels).

What do the residents think?

Victoria Rance is a resident who lives close to the A102, her children went to polluted schools close to the proposed tunnel site. She says that she got involved with the Stop Silvertown Tunnel campaign group to protect children in the area.

“I did actually start by counting up all the number of kids who have been at schools near where the road approach routes were going to be,” she says, “once I got to 16 thousands I just thought ‘this is just crazy’.”

Victoria got 15 teachers from schools surrounding the tunnel site to sign a letter. Within a week, thousands of people had signed Victoria’s letter, which was hand delivered to City Hall. Stop Silvertown Tunnel says that despite the Mayor’s claims that the tunnel will reduce congestion, it will do the opposite.

Tunnel proposal
Credit: New Civil Engineer

“The evidence is all there that new roads induce more traffic, not the opposite,” says Victoria, “maybe for about a only six months it might be empty down at the Blackwall tunnel.”

The proposed tunnel will be able to accommodate heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) unlike the Blackwall Tunnel. “We’re gonna have bigger lorries more pollution lorries coming through our neighbourhood.” says Victoria.

What do environmental experts think?

Simon Pirani is a writer, historian and energy researcher at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies. He is also part of Greenwich Extinction Rebellion. When asked why the tunnel would be detrimental to London, Simon says: “There are three types of reasons.”

The first is, if the tunnel’s built, the amount of pollution from traffic is bound to go up. The second problem is that the tunnel will not reduce congestion. The third problem is the increase in greenhouse gas emissions from cars and HGVs which adds to the problem of global warming.

Research that has been done shows that if more roads are built, there will more traffic. According to Simon, “What’s being said by City Hall that the purpose of building the Silvertown Tunnel is to ease traffic, just does not make any sense.”

Picture of the thames
Credit: RAC

What can concerned Londoners do?

Victoria is urging those who are opposed to the tunnel to contact their MPs and to write to City Hall, the Mayor and London Assembly members. “Get in touch with Extinction Rebellion, they’ve had made done several direct actions against the tunnel,” says Simon, “most important is to be vocal and be active citizens and not just put something on the internet but try and organise something in the community.”

It remains to be seen if the Mayor will listen to worried members of Silvertown. It is not just local residents who feel that the tunnel is not needed, London Assembly Member Caroline Russell has been vocal in her opposition to the tunnel. The Mayor is under increasing pressure from Assembly Member Russell and campaign groups to seize construction at the site. However, it does not look like he will scrap the tunnel anytime soon.

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