Rank-and-file Greenwich Labour members have rebuked their own council for launching its campaign to build a third Blackwall Tunnel.
Greenwich and Woolwich Labour Party members voted in favour of a motion criticising their councillors’ decision to launch the Bridge The Gap campaign, to press for a tunnel between Greenwich Peninsula and Silvertown and a road bridge between Thamesmead and Beckton. The council claims it will relieve congestion and bring economic benefits.
But air quality and traffic experts believe the Silvertown Tunnel will lead to an increase in pollution and will only exacerbate traffic congestion at the existing Blackwall Tunnel. A 300-strong petition is currently running against the scheme.
Party members are angry they were not consulted about the campaign, with many first reading about it in council newspaper Greenwich Time.
Furthermore, it’s emerged some of those councillors believe they were misled by their leadership into voting for the Bridge The Gap drive at a behind-closed-doors meeting in November.
They say they thought they were approving the idea of backing more river crossings in general, and not the specific proposals unveiled by leader Chris Roberts a week after their vote.
The local ward party in Roberts’ own seat of Glyndon – which suffers from some of the worst air pollution in the borough – is one of three which have rejected his plan, and whose motions were put before the constituency party on Thursday.
Roberts did not attend Thursday’s meeting, but regeneration cabinet member Denise Hyland did, according to party members who were there – but she left before the vote, which called for more research into the proposals.
MP Nick Raynsford and London Assembly member Len Duvall spoke in favour of the council’s campaign for a Silvertown Tunnel.
Transport for London is currently consulting on the Silvertown Tunnel and an alternative proposal for a ferry at Gallions Reach, Thamesmead, which would replace the Woolwich Ferry. While the bridge is an option, mayor Boris Johnson has made it clear he is against that proposal.
The Bridge The Gap campaign, launched in association with Newham Council, has been beset by problems since its launch nearly nine weeks ago. An attempt to use social media was abandoned when pranksters hijacked the council’s Twitter feed, while a press launch a month later was derailed by protesters.
The council’s own transport planner has admitted the campaign is based on “conjecture”, while Hyland herself has said the council has not carried out any traffic or pollution studies.
It’s unclear quite where the members’ motion leaves the council’s campaign, but ensures it will be difficult for the council to simply return to it when a new round of consultations start later this year.
The vote could have wider ramifications, though, for the council itself.
The anger against Roberts comes as local members begin to select who will stand for them in the 2014 council elections. If TfL push ahead with their Silvertown proposal, the issue could put councillors in marginal wards under threat if Greenwich continues its backing.
Indeed, with Roberts facing strong criticism from his own ward party, he may have to find a new seat for a second election in a row.
Saturday 9am update: Despite losing the support of her own party members, Denise Hyland defied them to appear on Saturday morning’s LBC radio breakfast show to plug the council’s campaign.
Friends of the Earth is holding a public meeting on Silvertown and the Gallions Reach proposal at the Forum, Trafalgar Road, Greenwich from 6.30pm. You can also watch Greenwich councillors take public questions at their next full meeting, on Wednesday at 7pm at Woolwich Town Hall.
To take part in the TfL consultation, go to www.tfl.gov.uk/rivercrossings. To sign the No To Silvertown Tunnel petition, visit www.silvertowntunnel.co.uk.