Air pollution and SE London: The No to Silvertown Tunnel study

The southbound traffic queue that the Silvertown Tunnel will exacerbate

It’s been a little bit quiet on this website over the past few weeks, and one of the reasons why is that I’ve been busy with the No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign.

The results of our latest air pollution study were released last Thursday, and they’re horrifying – with nearly all of the 150 sites we monitored across south-east and east London recording nitrogen dioxide pollution above European Union legal limits.

A tube is installed on Hither Green LaneMost personally shocking for me was the result at Bramshot Avenue, Charlton – by a subway under the A102 used by schoolchildren to get to and from schools in both Blackheath and Charlton. I used it myself 30 years ago. We recorded a level of 104 microgrammes per cubic metre – well over two and half times the EU limit of 40 ug/m3. People’s homes back onto the A102 at this stretch.

Worse results were recorded at the New Cross one-way system (110 ug/m3) and Lee High Road, Lewisham (109 ug/m3) – again, right in front of people’s homes.

There were also dreadful results right along the A2 through Deptford and New Cross, and along the A206 through Charlton and Greenwich – the latter just as it was when we did a similar study last year.

This year, we decided to expand our study to sites across Greenwich borough – but we expanded out to get coverage of SE London’s wider road network, which meant covering areas in parts of Lewisham borough (Hither Green Lane shown on the right), as well as stretching up to the Rotherhithe Tunnel and down the A2 to Bexleyheath.

We also covered areas north of the river, such as the proposed northern exit of the Silvertown Tunnel.

We joined forces with the campaigners at Don’t Dump on Deptford’s Heart, who are objecting to Thames Water’s plans to build a construction site for a sewer tunnel at Crossfields Green, Deptford Church Street, which allowed us both to expand our coverage and set our results in a wider context.

Indeed, it allows us to show that Greenwich Council’s uncritical backing for the Silvertown Tunnel will have dangerous consequences for its neighbouring boroughs.

With London facing EU fines for its dangerous air quality, other London boroughs fear they may have to pick up some of the tab – does this not worry anyone at Greenwich?

Study results around Greenwich, Blackheath and Charlton. Here, only one result - in Pelton Road, Greenwich - came in at under the EU legal limit.

Study results around Greenwich, Blackheath and Charlton. Here, only one result – in Pelton Road, Greenwich – came in at under the EU legal limit.

You can see a map of all the results at the No to Silvertown Tunnel website. It’s worth remembering that the study was carried out in the wettest January since records began – it’s likely the results would have been higher if the rain had held off.

We plan to update these results when we get local authority data, to give an even fuller picture of air pollution across the area.

Of course, you may be thinking that a new tunnel would ease all this pollution by clearing traffic jams. It won’t – it’ll merely bring new traffic to the area, encourage people away from other crossings, and exacerbate bottlenecks such as the southbound queue from the A2 at the Kidbrooke interchange.

Thursday's fire by the A102Indeed, it’ll put more pressure on the already fragile A102/A2 corridor – the delusion that Silvertown will fix this was exposed in spectacular fashion last Thursday when a fire next to the planned Silvertown Tunnel slip road closed the A102, bring traffic to a standstill across south-east London. The tunnel will be bad news for drivers too – and that’s before you consider TfL’s plans to toll both it and Blackwall.

Of course, the air pollution isn’t just about the Silvertown Tunnel or a huge construction site in Deptford – our results highlight poor air quality around east Greenwich’s proposed Ikea store, as well as in areas of Plumstead and Welling that will be affected by any bridge at Gallions Reach, Thamesmead.

But while our results will be open for anyone to use, we’ll be sticking with the battle against the Silvertown Tunnel.

(By the same token, it’s not just about Greenwich Council and Transport for London. Lewisham Council’s record in monitoring air quality is patchy, while Newham’s monitoring also misses out whole areas of its borough.)

We’ll be spending the summer talking to people about the results, spreading the word and refining our arguments – both on pollution and traffic levels. We’ve been reliant on a fantastic team of volunteers, we don’t have a weekly council newspaper and we’re not rich property developers, so any offers of help or donations would be gratefully accepted.

But the simplest thing you can do is to spread the word – tell your friends and neighbours. And if someone pops up on your doorstep over the next couple of weeks looking for your vote, why not ask them what their view is on the Silvertown Tunnel, and what they’ve done to oppose it?

After all, I’ve been spending my past few weeks doing what some of them should have done long ago – opposing this crazy plan. In Greenwich, it’s time councillors and party activists faced some awkward questions.

Tomorrow: How senior Greenwich councillors were warned about the risks of mayor Boris Johnson’s plans for the Silvertown Tunnel – but chose to ignore the advice.

8 comments

  1. Stephen

    Thanks Darryl.

    This is a really interesting piece of research, and reveals some quite alarming pollution levels. One thing I take some comfort from, is how quickly the pollution levels seem to recede once away from the immediate traffic fumes. For example Pelton Road with a reading of 27. I also noticed on the “No” website some junctions where one side of the junction was a reading in the 90s and the other side in the 30s. For example Deptford Bridge / Greenwich High Road.

    I haven’t looked much into this issue yet, which is no doubt hugely complex, but wondered the extent to which traffic not being stationary reduces the overall levels? I would presume that is what the “Yes” side would argue, but then in my experience new tunnels and bridges routes don’t always reduce the levels of stationary traffic.

    In the interests of a balanced argument, what did your surveys and research indicate in this respect please? Leaving aside the no / yes arguments, these findings show that something has to be done to reduce traffic levels, and I am just wondering whether reducing stationary traffic levels is part of the answer?

    Thanks
    Stephen

  2. Darryl

    Building Silvertown will increase traffic levels, so it’ll just end up being stationary again. You’ll end up back at square one within a couple of years. Building new roads to relieve congestion is like loosening your belt to cure obesity, as someone wiser than me said.

    Try this Government report commissioned in 1994 – Trunk Roads and the Generation of Traffic.

  3. Darryl

    runner500 – It’s the weird thing, isn’t it – it’s very easy to get cynical/complacent about, but this is actually killing people. I got accused of hyperbole for saying that by somebody who wanted to be a councillor…

    Stephen – a couple of extra thoughts I forgot to add earlier: we can’t quite explain the low result on the north side of Deptford Bridge. These are very basic forms of measurement so can be prone to things like spiders getting in there, which can hit the results if you’re only doing it for a month. As for Pelton Road, it was similar in June 2013’s study – but then this time around, there’s a high reading in Aldeburgh Street (opposite the planned Ikea site) and there’s a barrier of a brick wall and greenery there, and that was a surprise.

    Because it’s unlikely anyone’s ever measured pollution at these sites, sometimes you don’t know what you’ll find, and can get surprises – which is why I’d recommend every residents’ group in this area does a couple of these studies.

  4. Pingback: Buried Greenwich Council report criticises Silvertown Tunnel | 853
  5. louiseatbeadles

    The 1994 report on generated traffic was based on Trunk roads. I believe that generation on city roads can be far higher. The second Blackwall tunnel more than doubled traffic in just a year (GLC Research Memo no.185, 1969).
    Ian

  6. Deborah

    The reading at Aldeburgh Street is surprising. Pollution from cars includes heavy metals – which don’t travel far. This is why householders living next to busy roads are advised to plant hedges or build walls.

  7. Pingback: Silvertown Tunnel: Toll Consultation To Be Launched | Londonist

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