Lewisham Council voted unanimously last night to oppose TfL £1bn Silvertown Tunnel scheme, on the grounds that it risks increasing both congestion and air pollution in the area.
The Labour-run council endorsed a motion proposed by Blackheath councillor Kevin Bonavia, who mocked TfL’s claims on air pollution as “simply not good enough”.
Lewisham’s opposition follows that of Hackney, which passed a motion against the tunnel in July.
The tunnel is by no means a done deal – while the process is being rushed through so it can be ticked off before Boris Johnson leaves office, his successor as mayor can bin the project as soon as they take over.
All but one of Lewisham councillors will be hoping their motion helps to persuade Labour’s mayoral candidate, Sadiq Khan, to dump the scheme. The remaining councillor, the Green Party’s one-man opposition, John Coughlin, also spoke up for the motion. Green candidate Sian Berry is already against the tunnel.
Lewisham’s motion says the planned tunnel between Greenwich and the Royal Docks “risks exacerbating rather than dispersing” traffic congestion in the area, including on the A2 and the South Circular Road in the borough.
The resulting increase in congestion also risks “a deterioration of air quality in the London Borough of Lewisham”, affecting the health of residents, it added.
Particular worries for Lewisham councillors include the dreadful air quality around New Cross and Deptford – which even TfL admits will get worse under the Silvertown scheme – and the congestion blackspot of the Catford one-way system, which needs no help from the Blackwall Tunnel to become gridlocked.
“What TfL don’t say is how they’ll deal with the approach roads,” Cllr Bonavia, the council’s cabinet member for resources, said. “All they’ll have is a widening of the A102 near the tunnel – nothing about the approach roads further up.
“What does that mean for us in Lewisham, on the A2 and South Circular? More congestion.
“This proposal is poorly planned, poorly placed, and can only harm the poor congestion and poor air quality our residents face.”
Seconding the motion, fellow cabinet member Rachel Onikosi accused TfL of “over-egging” claims that the tunnel would be a “congestion killer”.
So Lewisham’s councillors have made it clear they won’t be taken in by TfL. So have Hackney’s. But what about Greenwich?
This website has written before about the dire perils of trying to appease TfL on the Silvertown Tunnel.
The No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign began from a petition on this website three years ago.
It’s since gained a life of its own, conducting three air quality studies, submitting evidence to parliamentary and City Hall inquiries, meeting politicians and doing its damnedest to get this thing stopped. (So I should point out that this post does not represent the views of the campaign, whose members have views of their own.)
Some of the Greenwich political figures who have been asking why this website hasn’t been properly updated for weeks will hopefully have been spending their time reading up on the scheme.
There are thousands of pages of consultation documents to sift through – full of contradictions and dodgy assumptions – but it remains clear that this is a botched scheme that needs to be opposed.
Whether or not you believe new road-building somewhere is what’s needed (generally it’s only a short-term fix at best), the tunnel is looking like a costly, under-scrutinised disaster. It’s all very well crying “something must be done” – this ain’t it, and TfL has played many people for mugs. There’s no one, satisfying big bang solution to getting rid of those jams.
Despite the glossy propaganda which has somehow turned up in scores of community venues across Greenwich borough, TfL has consistently admitted some areas will see increased pollution and congestion because of the scheme.
Tolling is likely to end up being the worst of all worlds, with fees too low to deter HGVs and Kent commuters, but enough to send increasing amounts of more local traffic to Rotherhithe. There are no plans to toll at weekends, despite heavy congestion on Saturdays and Sundays.
Meanwhile, the cost has crept up to £1bn, up from £600m three years ago. Desperate talk about boosting cross-river bus services is at odds with the current reality where TfL neglects the 108, and canned the Rotherhithe Tunnel’s service nine years ago.
And there’s the obvious, fatal flaw that hobbles the scheme from the start – while it’s aimed at relieving northbound Blackwall Tunnel queues, it will only exacerbate each evening’s southbound queues.
Many evenings see traffic at a crawl back through Eltham, Kidbrooke and back into Greenwich – imagine that with the 20% extra traffic even TfL predicts will use the A102/A2. There are also similar problems north of the river.
There are many different reasons why the Silvertown Tunnel must be stopped – whether you’re a driver, a bus user, a pedestrian, a cyclist, someone who has to breathe this area’s foul air, or a combination of all or some of these.
So far, Greenwich’s Labour councillors have stayed notably silent on a Conservative scheme that will have serious implications for the borough. There are murmurings that they’ve been told to keep schtum.
Regeneration cabinet member Danny Thorpe and deputy leader John Fahy attended No to Silvertown Tunnel’s public meeting two weeks ago, but did not contribute any of their thoughts. Nor did the assembled Tories.
What is clear, however, is that the demands put forward in Greenwich’s response to the last Silvertown Tunnel consultation haven’t been met. Demands to run the DLR through the tunnel to Kidbrooke and Eltham have been rejected, and TfL hasn’t been forthcoming with proposals to extend the London Overground from Barking to Abbey Wood.
A third demand, to run the DLR to Thamesmead and Abbey Wood, could appear in a new consultation on a crossing at Gallions Reach to appear on Monday, but taken in isolation, appears to have little relevance to the Silvertown scheme.
Further demands – for independently-scrutinised modelling that shows congestion and pollution would be cut – also have not been met, as the current consultation only carries “preliminary” modelling.
But this website understands from a variety of sources that TfL has been trying to secure Greenwich backing by tying a number of improvements – many desperately needed anyway – to implementation of the Silvertown Tunnel scheme.
These include a bus route from Kidbrooke Village to North Greenwich, which has been on the drawing board for at least 12 years, since the days when the Ferrier Estate was still standing.
More cynically, this website understands that TfL is tying installing a noise barrier along the A102 in Blackheath to implementation of the Silvertown Tunnel scheme, and that Greenwich councillors are happy to go along with this.
Essentially, this means that if residents on Westcombe Hill and Siebert Road (on the left in the picture below) don’t want to be deafened by traffic noise, they have to agree to be choked by even more traffic.
When it comes down to it, the Silvertown Tunnel question comes down to whether you wish to challenge Transport for London’s modelling and the assumptions that lie behind it.
One group which is set not to challenge TfL is the Greenwich Society. This website has seen its draft response, which swallows the TfL line almost completely – backing the tunnel despite admitting it will cause “small increases in traffic on local roads”.
The society left writing its response to Sir Alan Bailey, a former permanent secretary in the Department for Transport in the 1980s – his words reflect the thinking common in those times. Greenwich Society members might like to wonder what they are getting for their subscription fees.
This website understands the Westcombe Society and East Greenwich Residents Association are rejecting the scheme.
Many Greenwich Labour councillors like to pretend they have no influence over the process – even though their mayoral candidate could, if elected, cancel the scheme in May.
Of course, in other political spheres, we’ve seen Labour politicians face down dangerous proposals from Conservative opponents – such as George Osborne’s tax credit cuts.
With Londoners dying from air pollution-related causes, and town centres choked by traffic congestion, it would be refreshing to see Greenwich follow in Lewisham’s lead and stand up for residents. Will they? We’ll have to wait and see.
This website hasn’t featured the cable car much recently, so here’s a story somebody else has done about it. LondonLovesBusiness has done some digging and found that the Dangleway isn’t paying its way.
LLB editor Shruti Tripathi Chopra used the Freedom of Information Act to get the Emirates Air Line’s fare income for each year since it opened in June 2012. During the six months it was open in 2012, it took a healthy £6m; but in all of 2013 that dropped to £5.2m; then back up to £5.8m in 2014. Up to July, it’s taken £2.3m in fares – obviously that’s before the bulk of the school holidays.
Operating costs in the cable car’s first year were £6m per year*, so essentially, LLB says, the thing’s not only useless as public transport – journeys have now been slowed to 15 minutes to allow people to enjoy the view – it’s losing money as a tourist attraction, if you judge it by fare income alone. (I’ve amended this paragraph as TfL later went on to dispute this – see update below.)
Some caveats, though. Firstly, most public transport in London is subsidised to some extent anyway – there’s a social benefit in getting people onto mass transit and out of cars, and its existence supports centres of employment. However, the Emirates Air Line’s extremely low number of regular users show this can’t be judged in the same way as, say, the 108 bus through the Blackwall Tunnel (which costs £3.7m each year to run before fares from 3.5m journeys are taken into account).
Secondly, these figures don’t include non-fare income, such as the sponsorship money from Emirates, which is paid in annual tranches. Emirates’ deal is worth £36m in total, including £10.35m up to and including the day the cable car opened. It is now paying the rest off in £2.85m chunks each year – enough, so far, to keep the finances in the black. You could argue that this is similar to advertising on the bus network.
All that said, it’s still another valuable insight into what essentially was a panicky vanity project carried out by a mayor seeing re-election. The sad thing is that a pedestrian or cycling connection between North Greenwich and Canary Wharf wouldn’t have cost that much more to build (£100m instead of the cable car’s £60m) and would have transformed the area.
Political parties are now choosing Johnson’s replacement (this website humbly suggests Labour backers make Christian Wolmar their first choice). It’ll be interesting to see just what the wannabe mayors make of Johnson’s most baffling legacy to London.
* Friday update: After this post was written, LLB amended its story to include TfL figures – which as far as I can gather had been released for the first time – that claim operating costs have fallen since the first year of operation, putting the cable car’s finances in a healthier light. I’d be curious to find out just where the falls in operating costs comes from. And of course, if the cable car was doing its job as public transport, the question of whether it makes or loses a million pounds each year wouldn’t be such a vexed one.
The prospect of London’s cycle hire scheme coming to Greenwich came a step closer this morning after mayor Boris Johnson backed a proposal to bring the scheme to the area.
While the ‘Boris bikes’ – formally Santander Cycles after a recent change in sponsor – are a regular sight in Greenwich, it is impossible to hire or dock a bike in the area.
Instead, visitors take bikes from stations close to Island Gardens and take the bikes through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, or they cycle from docking stations closer to Tower Bridge.
The scheme has largely avoided south-east London – despite poor transport connections, particularly around Walworth, Camberwell and Bermondsey – pushing out instead to east London and more affluent parts of west and south-west London. But Greenwich’s status as a tourist destination could now help bring the scheme to the area.
Asked by Conservative Assembly member (and Tory mayoral hopeful) Andrew Boff if TfL would consider three to five stations in Greenwich, Johnson said he would back an expansion to Greenwich – with a larger number of terminals.
Presumably 45 terminals would be enough to fill the gap between Tower Bridge and Greenwich. The answer’s a surprise as TfL has appeared to have been prioritising filling in gaps in the existing area rather than expanding the service further.
Later, Boff gave credit to Greenwich Tory councillor Matt Clare – probably Woolwich Town Hall’s keenest cyclist – for coming up with the suggestion.
Boff also asked about a wider expansion towards New Cross and Lewisham, and suggested asking Network Rail for money as such a scheme would help mitigate the effect of the Thameslink works at London Bridge. We’ll find out a fuller answer to that in the coming weeks.
Could this actually happen, though? It’s likely to end up in the next mayor’s in-tray, and it’s worth noting that past expansions of the cycle hire scheme have required local boroughs to contribute £2 million each – are Greenwich, Lewisham and Southwark up for that? The bikes are largely used by tourists and more affluent commuters – but that hasn’t stopped Greenwich, which has stepped up its cycling efforts in the past year, giving funding to Thames Clippers. Other boroughs may take different views.
The level of expansion is also worth considering. The hill separating Greenwich from Blackheath could be a natural barrier (although being hilly hasn’t stopped an identical bike hire scheme taking off in Montreal), but the mayor’s involvement in redevelopment schemes in Greenwich Peninsula and Woolwich’s Royal Arsenal could see even further expansion.
Santander’s new branding includes the Millennium Dome, even though it’s impossible to hire or dock a bike there. Incidentally, Green Assembly member Darren Johnson has asked TfL to investigate a walking and cycling connection from the peninsula to Canary Wharf – a connection that would make the extension of the hire scheme to the peninsula a no-brainer.
If the hire scheme is extended, private hire operators could lose out for the visitor market – tourists can hire less cumbersome bikes from Greenwich’s Flightcentre for £4/hr, but recent changes to the hire scheme now mean Boris bikes match that price.
An expansion to Greenwich is by no means a certainty, but it’ll be interesting to watch how this plays out in the weeks and months ahead.
If Labour’s candidate for London mayor backs building the Silvertown Tunnel, he or she could lose nearly half of their vital second-preference votes if the Green Party carries out a threat to withdraw support over the issue.
The damage could be even worse if the Liberal Democrats follow suit and also call for a boycott over building new roads across the River Thames – potentially scuppering Labour’s bid to win City Hall for only the second time in 16 years.
Until now, most Labour mayoral candidates have been treating the Silvertown Tunnel as merely a local issue.
But the possibility of losing to environmentally-minded Tory Zac Goldsmith may start to concentrate their minds on the £1bn scheme to build a new road tunnel from the Royal Docks to Greenwich Peninsula, feeding into the crowded A102, piling extra HGVs and other traffic onto local roads on both sides of the Thames.
In the two most recent elections, the Greens asked their supporters to give Labour’s Ken Livingstone their second preference votes.
But 2012’s mayoral candidate Jenny Jones has long warned Labour it won’t get the same co-operation if it continues with Boris Johnson’s plans to build the Silvertown Tunnel and two other crossings at Thamesmead and Belvedere. Tom Chance, the party’s housing spokesperson who is hoping for the Green nomination this time around, has repeated the threat.
Now Zac Goldsmith – Richmond Park MP and former owner and editor of The Ecologist – is planning to stand, there will be increasing pressure on Labour candidates to put environmental considerations at the heart of their manifestos.
Jones has already said many Green supporters will be tempted to back Goldsmith, who yesterday told a parliamentary debate on London air pollution that “we cannot invent new roads”.
So far, only Christian Wolmar – a transport journalist who was the first to declare for the Labour candidacy – has called for the Silvertown Tunnel to be cancelled. He spoke at a No to Silvertown Tunnel meeting earlier this year.
Other candidates set to go on the ballot paper include party leadership favourite Sadiq Khan, Hackney North MP Diane Abbott, Tottenham MP David Lammy and Harrow West MP Gareth Thomas. Londoners who sign up as Labour supporters and pay £3 can have a vote in the process.
Voters choose London mayors by picking a first and second preference, a system designed to give outsider candidates some influence in the race.
If a candidate does not win more than 50% of first preference votes, then second preferences are used to decide a winner – which has happened in all four elections since the post was created in 2000.
In 2012, Ken Livingstone got 889,918 first preference votes against Boris Johnson’s 971,931.
He then had 102,355 second-choice votes from voters who backed the other five candidates. While this was not enough to topple Johnson, who got 82,880 second-preferences, it brought the Labour veteran just over 60,000 votes from victory.
Livingstone had 46,241 second-choice votes from Green backers – votes which now could be denied to a future Labour candidate if she or he goes ahead with the road schemes.
He also picked up 24,465 second-preference votes from supporters of Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick. Caroline Pidgeon, the London Assembly member most often linked with a Liberal Democrat run for the mayoralty, is also an opponent of new road crossings.
If 2016’s poll is as close as 2012’s, these votes could be enough to decide who wins the mayoralty.
London politicians’ reluctance to recognise road-building adversely effects air quality – as demonstrated by this paper on the widening of the A206 in Crayford – was highlighted in yesterday’s parliamentary debate, led by Diane Abbott.
It also showed the lack of understanding that many politicians have of the river crossings issue – which risks the Silvertown Tunnel slipping into being, hidden by the controversies over other crossings.
New Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matthew Pennycook was the only member to bring up the topic of “strategic river crossings”, when intervening in a summing-up by Tory minister Rory Stewart.
But Stewart replied by referring to “the construction of a new bridge” – when the only “strategic” crossing currently being planned is the tunnel at Silvertown, which TfL plans to run a “final” consultation on this autumn. (Gallions and Belvedere have been called “local bridges for local people” by Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland.)
If campaigners and politicians want to address the crossings issue, they will need to think about dealing with each one individually rather than treating them as a group.
Back in January, this website noted the sudden cut to bus route 53 caused by roadworks by Westminster Bridge. The service stopped running the full length of its route to Whitehall, depriving many local workers, from cleaners to civil servants, of their usual route to central London.
The diggers have moved away from Bridge Street, but initial dates for the restoration of service in March and then April have been missed. Transport for London blames new works at the Elephant & Castle for continuing to stop the service at Lambeth North. However, no other bus through the Elephant is suffering such a severe cut in service.
Local politicians have been strangely silent on the matter – at least in public – although I do know Woolwich Common’s Labour councillor David Gardner has raised the issue with Transport for London, citing the number of low-paid workers who use the bus.
Over 3,800 people have signed a petition demanding Transport for London saves the Woolwich Ferry, which is threatened by its new river crossing proposals.
Greenwich Council supported closing the ferry in its submission on a planned new road bridge at Gallions Reach, and TfL has recently canvassed opinions on whether or not the 50-year-old vessels and pontoons should be replaced with new ships and structures.
Notably, in publicising the recent consultation into the Silvertown Tunnel, TfL claimed those who backed a revamped Woolwich Ferry were backing a new river crossing, exaggerating support for the transport authority’s new road plans.
Closing the crossing would remove the problems of lorries queuing at the ferry approaches in Woolwich and North Woolwich and open up more riverside land for development.
But regardless of the flaws or merits in TfL’s road crossing plans, closing the Woolwich Ferry would send more HGVs to the Blackwall Tunnel (and potentially a Silvertown Tunnel, which TfL admits would lead to a 20% increase in traffic on its approaches) – it would certainly be simpler for lorries to reach there than any new bridge at Gallions Reach – and would remove an alternative option for crossing the Thames.
Closing the ferry would also remove a part of the history of Woolwich – TfL and its predecessors have been legally obliged to provide a free ferry here since 1889, on the basis that Woolwich taxpayers (on both sides of the river) had paid for free crossings for west London.
Local politicians have generally kept their support for the ferry’s closure quiet – it would have shut two years ago if Ken Livingstone’s Thames Gateway Bridge had been built.
Any move to shut (or charge for) the ferry would need to be endorsed by parliament, so I wonder if any of Greenwich & Woolwich’s general election candidates will back the Save the Woolwich Ferry campaign?
If you’re planning to rock up to North Greenwich station’s ticket office this morning to buy a ticket, you’re too late. The blind came down for the final time yesterday as part of City Hall’s drive to eradicate ticket counters from the Tube network (or to use TfL’s euphemism, “transforming our stations“.)
With new technology replacing old paper tickets, losing ticket offices from the Tube network has been coming for a while. But it’s a surprise to see North Greenwich – the eighth-busiest station outside zone 1 – be one of the first to lose a counter that’s always seemed to be busy.
Staff will now be in the ticket hall and will be able to access extra functions on ticket machines if needed, but if you have a potentially fiddly transaction (like using a company cheque to pay for a travelcard), it’s not quite clear what you need to do. Annual tickets will soon only be available online, removing the satisfying/depressing (depending on your outlook) yearly ritual of talking to a human being while parting with a four-figure sum.
Or you could, for now, hop one stop west to Canary Wharf, where the ticket office will stay open until nearer the end of the year.
There will now be a month of “improvement works”, whatever that means – more ticket machines; or an Argos outlet, as seen at Cannon Street? We’ll have to wait and see.
Whatever the rights or wrongs in this case, the money saved on closing North Greenwich’s ticket office will go on vital services like the kiosk upstairs promoting the cable car, still staffed on Sunday despite the
aerial folly vital transport connection being closed for its annual service.