Tower Hamlets have become the only local authority in east London to back the controversial multi-million pound Silvertown tunnel underneath the Thames, linking Greenwich and Southwark.
Transport for London have signed the £1 billion tunnel contract set to open in 2025 but the project now also faces a legal challenge from opposition groups.
The tunnel is the UKs first major road tunnel to include dedicated bus lanes in both directions. This is intended to support the growing demand for bus transport between Greenwich, Newham and Tower Hamlets.
Opposition group Stop the Silvertown Tunnel have announced they intend to submit a request for a judicial review of his decision. They have also launched a petition calling upon the Mayor Sadiq Khan “to delay and re-evaluate this scheme in light of the current climate emergency.”
They say: “Silvertown Tunnel is a four lane motorway with HGV lanes, which will worsen air quality for hundreds of thousands of residents in Greenwich and Newham and throughout East and South East London, where air pollution is already over legal limits.”
Councils affected, from Hackney, Greenwich, Lewisham and Newham are all calling upon Khan to rethink the proposals. But in February Tower Hamlets council said that they “recognise the potential for the Silvertown tunnel to reduce the traffic congestion and associated air pollution currently experienced in the borough on the Blackwell tunnel approach.”
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has championed the plans which aim to ease congestion for vehicles currently using the nearby Blackwall tunnel. The tunnel will be within the new and expanded ultra-low emission zone and vehicles exceeding emissions will suffer pollution charges. While the planned 37 buses an hour during peak times will all be zero-emissions.
In a statement, Stuart Harvey, Director of Major Projects at TFL said: “Once open in 2025, the tunnel will provide new cross-river bus routes in east London and during its construction we will work tirelessly to ensure that any disruption to residents or businesses is kept to an absolute minimum.”
The environmental effects of the new tunnel have caused concern amongst opposition campaign groups who claim carbon emissions will actually increase around the area.
Campaigners believe that the increase in traffic, particularly HGVs, that will come through the boroughs on their way to and from the tunnel will increase the pollution and that people will make trips that they otherwise wouldn’t have made due to access to the tunnel.
Tower Hamlets Green Party also object to the plans. A spokesperson told Eastlondonlines that the tunnel has come as a “bitter disappointment to campaigners and residents and makes a mockery of any claim by either the Mayor or the council to be leading on green issues.”
“We know that building more roads to relieve congestion is, at best, a temporary sticking-plaster that will end up attracting even more traffic, and continuing to spew pollutants into the already-toxic, life-shortening air of our Borough and city.”
Neil Jameson, Green PPC for Poplar and Limehouse, has said: “We will continue to consult with residents and local campaign groups about the next steps in resisting this short-sighted and destructive development.”
TFL claim that once open in 2025 the tunnel will provide easier cross-river traffic routes. They have been in conversation with Riverlinx consortium to design, build and maintain the new tunnel under the River Thames. TFL are assuring traffic volumes and congestion will not increase as a result of construction works.
The crossing will be tolled, and a user charge will be put on the nearby Blackwall tunnel.
TFL have committed themselves to reducing the impact of the new tunnel on the surrounding areas and offer improvements to the boroughs impacted.
Key elements of this include extensive monitoring of air quality, a user-charging discount to specifically help low-income working residents, and £2 million in bus concessions for residents to help promote the new cross-river bus services.
South East London has seen a recent population influx with no investments into road infrastructures to deal with this new demand. Consequently, the nearby Blackwall Tunnel connecting Greenwich and Tower Hamlets is 122 years old and facing increasing pressures.
There are further plans to include noise barriers and new green spaces around tunnel entrances and to deliver a net increase in biodiversity throughout the area.
The project was put on hold in early 2018 with a six-month public enquiry leading to the Department for Transport being granted a Development Consent Order. This allowed TFL to finally sign the contract for the Silvertown Tunnel proposals.