Greenwich Council has been made to release a secret report to Labour councillors about its backing for the Silvertown Tunnel under freedom of information legislation, after nearly a year of refusing to publish the information.
The document reveals that Greenwich’s Labour councillors decided to back the Silvertown Tunnel proposals with no evidence that it would do any good – and one year on, there is still no business case to back up the council’s claims that building what is effectively a third Blackwall Tunnel will help regenerate the area.
The report was presented to Labour councillors in November 2012, ahead of the launch of its Bridge The Gap campaign, promoting both a road tunnel from Greenwich Peninsula to Silvertown and a new road bridge between Thamesmead and Beckton.
London mayor Boris Johnson wants to build the Silvertown Tunnel, along with a ferry at Thamesmead.
After a request was submitted under the Environmental Information Regulations Act, the council refused to release the report, claiming it would affect “its ability to develop policy out of the public gaze”.
But the Information Commissioner’s Office ruled in November that the council had been wrong to refuse to release the information – pointing out Greenwich had already made and publicised its decision – and ordered the council to publish it before Christmas.
“There is an inherent argument for transparency and accountability in any spending of public money, and the Commissioner considers that this is relevant for a campaign designed to influence public debate on an important subject,” the ICO said.
“Furthermore, whilst the Royal Borough of Greenwich is not bearing the brunt of the costs for the new river crossing it still has significant influence over how the project evolves, and this has serious ramifications for the people in the borough.”
It added: “There is a strong objection to RBG’s position. Evidence of this can be found on-line, such as a petition with over 400 signatories.
“In the Commissioner’s view this shows there is a legitimate public debate around the subject and also public support for learning how RBG reached its position.”
Three weeks ago, almost a year to the day that I submitted the request, Greenwich finally sent me the report by post. So, the first time, here is the November 2012 Labour group paper on the Silvertown Tunnel and Gallions Reach Bridge.
Councillors voted to endorse the report, which outlines how the council planned to campaign for the Silvertown and Gallions Reach crossings, although some have since said privately they feel they were misled by leader Chris Roberts. What striking is how little there is in the report.
The report does not contain a shred of evidence that either crossing will do any good – merely an assertion that “the potential associated with [developable] land [in the ex-Olympic boroughs] can only be realised by investment in major transport infrastructure in an acceptable timeframe”.
It also failed to anticipate hostility from local residents – merely saying that “environmental groups against an increase in vehicle crossings are rehearsing previous arguments”.
Furthermore, the report said the council would need to develop a business case for the crossings, and a “conference and/or public meeting” – neither of which happened.
So what did happen to the business case? I asked regeneration cabinet member Denise Hyland at this month’s council meeting.
Her response? “TfL will be required to present a regeneration business case as part of their proposals. However a study has been undertaken by independent consultants employed by the London Borough of Newham, for which the Royal Borough provided data to inform the study, which is now in the public domain and demonstrates a clear regeneration case for a new crossing [sic].”
In other words, Greenwich didn’t bother. But does Newham Council’s report justify supporting the Silvertown Tunnel? Let’s have a look at its cover…
That’d be a no, then.
Oddly, among the few times that Silvertown is mentioned, the report’s potential traffic figures claim it would attract no new vehicles at all – which is optimistic, to say the least, and flies in the face of a body of evidence which states that new roads attract new traffic. Indeed, the Newham report even concedes that new developments will lead to more traffic.
It’s even slightly sceptical about Silvertown, saying it is “surprising that TfL report a higher benefit cost ratio for the Silvertown tunnel than the Gallions Reach bridge”.
So why is Greenwich Council continuing to support a policy on Silvertown which can only continue to cause it grief? Answers on a pre-paid Bridge The Gap postcard to the usual address.
Want to help the No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign? The No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign, of which I’m a part, is going to be running a new pollution study over a wider area early in the new year. If you can spare either a) time to help put up and take down tubes on weekdays in January and February or b) money to help fund them, then drop info[at]silvertowntunnel.co.uk a line.
We’re also interested in hearing from local firms who’d like to get involved – tech firm Scale Factory, based in Catford and Woolwich, is our first business backer. There’s more on the No to Silvertown Tunnel website.
Greenwich Council is demanding the power to build a new road bridge at Thamesmead, according to its response to Transport for London’s consultation into river crossings.
As expected, the council is “strongly supporting” the controversial Silvertown Tunnel, which would branch off the A102 just south of the Blackwall Tunnel, as favoured by mayor Boris Johnson but opposed by local residents and the local Labour party.
There’s also no surprise in the council rejecting the mayor’s other proposal – to build a ferry at Gallions Reach, linking Thamesmead with Beckton, instead – and favouring a bridge instead.
But what is interesting is a demand that Greenwich and Newham councils be given the power to build their own bridge if TfL doesn’t build one.
It says: “The Royal Borough is concerned that a new fixed crossing at Gallions Reach should be constructed at the earliest possible opportunity [and] does not accept that a new fixed crossing at Gallions Reach could not be constructed before 2021.
“If TfL is unable to deliver a fixed crossing sooner than 2021 the Mayor should use the powers provided by the GLA Act 1999 (as amended by the GLA Act 2007) to delegate authority to the Royal Borough of Greenwich and Newham Council so as to facilitate that.”
The chances of Boris Johnson approving a bridge at Gallions Reach, to be built by TfL or anyone else, are remote. His political allies at neighbouring Bexley Council are implacably opposed to the idea, and scrapping a previous proposal – the Thames Gateway Bridge – was one of his pledges prior to his election as mayor in 2008.
That said, though, the mayor clashed with Conservative assembly member and Bexley cabinet member Gareth Bacon on the subject in January, an exchange which is worth reading (“I am not ruling it out. I am ruling out the Thames Gateway Bridge. I have ruled that out.”), while he has also acknowledged that a future mayor may take a different view.
Are the two Labour councils trying to offer Tory Boris a way out by offering to build a bridge themselves? It’s an interesting development.
It also deepens the council’s disagreement with Eltham Labour MP Clive Efford, who fears a Gallions Reach bridge would lead to a revival of long-scrapped plans to drive a motorway through Oxleas Woods. The local ward party in Shooters Hill has rejected the council’s campaign.
While a bridge at Gallions Reach may look more attractive compared with the crazy Silvertown proposal, many of the same issues apply. Air pollution is already poor in the area, underneath the London City Airport flightpath, and housing has already been built either side of the proposed approach at Barnham Drive, west Thamesmead.
There’s the additional complication of attracting more traffic to roads which wouldn’t be able to cope with the traffic – notoriously, the main route to the area from Bexleyheath is a side road, Knee Hill.
That said, those issues would also apply to Boris’s ferry proposal – supported by Bexley – which would replace the Woolwich Ferry, mostly used by HGVs.
Another interesting aspect of Greenwich’s response suggests using both crossings to create some kind of circular public transport link between the Royal Docks and the north of the borough, as well as flagging up its pet “DLR on stilts” proposal.
“An analysis of the opportunity to incorporate provision for a DLR extension to the south of the Royal Borough within the Silvertown Tunnel would be welcomed – alongside an analysis of the prospect of creating a circular public transport arrangement that could connect Thamesmead, Beckton, the University of East London campus, City Airport, ExCel, the O2, Ravensbourne College and North Greenwich station, Charlton Riverside, Woolwich Central and the new Crossrail stations utilising new crossing at Silvertown and Gallions Reach,” it says.
No reference to worries about air quality or increased congestion at either Silvertown or Gallions Reach feature in Greenwich’s submission, which records the curiously round figure of 1,200 signatures in support of its three-month long Bridge The Gap campaign, of which 795 were received online, the rest from pre-printed cards supplied to the public. (The No To Silvertown Tunnel petition got 348 in a month.)
It also supports tolling, yet acknowledges that this could send traffic towards Rotherhithe Tunnel and Tower Bridge: “It is essential that any tolling regime introduced is designed such that the World Heritage Site at Greenwich is not detrimentally affected by a potential shift of vehicle movements westwards to the nearest ‘free’ crossings.”
It says there should be “appropriate local traffic mitigation measures to safeguard the World Heritage Site and other residential areas in the proximity of the proposed Silvertown tunnel”, although it does not suggest what these would be.
One final post* on Silvertown for now – I can’t let this go without highlighting the considered thoughts of Harry Singh, the Greenwich Council cabinet member for something called “Greener Greenwich”.
Yes, the man with a “green” portfolio actually believes building a new four-lane road will help ease the notorious air pollution which blights east Greenwich. It’s a reply which truly puts the “moronic” in “oxymoronic”.
Maybe Harry could spend the weekend reading this 1990s study into “induced traffic”, which shows building new roads simply attracts more traffic.
One of Greenwich Council’s greatest mysteries is the “Greener Greenwich” portfolio – apparently created to ward off a possible electoral threat from the Green Party. If you ask a question about roads in the borough, it goes to regeneration cabinet member Denise Hyland; if you ask the same question as a cyclist, it goes to Harry. If you ask a question about litter on the pavement, it goes to environment member Maureen O’Mara. If it’s about litter in your wheelie bin, it goes to Harry.
It’s basically cycling and bins. Because that’s all being “greener” is, apparently. The rest of it, it would appear, is doing what what you’re told, and putting your name to answers which are clearly nonsense.
Thank you to everybody who’s signed the petition (it went to TfL yesterday) and to all those who filled in TfL’s hopeless consultation. The river crossings proposals will return later in the year, and the petition will remain open until then. We’ll be thinking about where the campaign goes next – your thoughts would be appreciated.
(* which guarantees the next post will be on Silvertown, of course.)
Senior Greenwich councillor Denise Hyland last night ignored worried residents’ worries about the Silvertown Tunnel – and even refused to accept two offers of meetings with independent air quality experts.
The council received 27 written questions on the Silvertown Tunnel from members of the public – most meetings usually only get about 10 or so on anything – yet none of them were answered straight.
As far as spoken questions went, Hyland claimed promoting the Silvertown Tunnel was the responsibility of Transport for London – despite the fact the council has launched an “all out” campaign to promote the tunnel, and a bridge at Gallions Reach, Thamesmead. (She can listen to evidence here, of course.)
She also refused to meet independent air quality experts about the proposals – despite proposals from myself and Conservative councillor Nigel Fletcher, playing devil’s advocate since his party backs the Silvertown proposal. (Note for non-local readers: only two parties are represented in Greenwich borough.)
In reply to the public question from myself, she suggested the experts meet TfL instead.
When Fletcher pressed Hyland on why the council had not carried out any studies to back its Bridge The Gap campaign, she replied: “These are a Conservative mayor’s plans… we are a stakeholder. You would be the first to accuse me of spending public money when actually the duty of doing these studies firmly rests with TfL.”
That’s despite the fact the council launched an “all-out” campaign to back that Conservative mayor’s proposals, as pictured above.
Indeed, the Conservatives pushed Hyland into a series of bizarre answers, which included her comparing the council’s backing of mayor Boris Johnson’s campaign to photocopy hire.
A bundle of 13 questions asking a variety of questions, including why Greenwich Council had not commissioned any studies into the effects Silvertown would have, received this reply:
“The council is responding to the Mayor of London’s high level consultation on river crossings. Once a specific package of crossings is formulated, it will be for the Mayor to undertake the necessary economic, environmental and traffic management assessments. These will need to be undertaken holistically, taking into account all the proposals, not individual transport solutions in isolation and should look at the implications of a one-crossing solution, both fixed link crossings, and the implications of doing nothing.”
Questions about why Greenwich Council’s strategic transport planner had called the plans “conjecture” were dodged, but not denied, as were questions about why the council had used “the full strength of its communications department”, while a written answer from Hyland said it would be “inappropriate to comment” on the possibility of demolition of homes for a possible widening of the A102.
A further question, about whether Greenwich would be happy just to see a Silvertown Tunnel built, was dodged with the answer that the council believes “a package of vehicular crossings [is needed] to complement the non-vehicular crossings”.
I don’t have the written answers available in a format to upload yet, but I do have audio of the public questions and the debate with the Conservatives.
Public questions – 20 minutes long, includes non-Silvertown questions (incl foot tunnel stuff) (download)
Conservative questions from Nigel Fletcher and Spencer Drury – 7 minutes long, well worth a listen (download)
Hyland’s performance was so surreal, I can’t quite take it in. The audio quality’s the best I can get it, but please, take a listen and let me know what you think.
Greenwich Council has refused to release the evidence it used when deciding to launch its Bridge The Gap campaign for new Thames road crossings at Greenwich and Thamesmead.
Nearly eight weeks after it was submitted, the council has refused to answer a Freedom of Information request submitted by this website asking for the evidence seen by council leader Chris Roberts and shown to the borough’s ruling Labour group at a behind-closed-doors meeting.
The council says:
Internal papers have been provided for the Council’s Executive and Labour
Group. These were essentially briefing and discussion documents. The
purpose of these documents was to begin to develop the Council’s final
response to TFL’s consultation. It is the Council’s view that to release
discussion documents such as these would fetter the Council’s ability to
develop policy out of the public gaze.
However, these discussions led to a policy decision which resulted in a campaign being launched which has so far included an online petition, face-to-face campaigning with members of the public in Woolwich, two press photocalls, an attempt to launch a social media campaign and seven articles in the council’s weekly newspaper, Greenwich Time.
It is believed the council has no hard evidence, while cabinet member Denise Hyland has admitted no studies have been commissioned.
Meanwhile, Mayor Boris Johnson said today at City Hall he was still committed to building a Silvertown Tunnel, despite evidence that it risks making both congestion and pollution worse.
He also ruled out building a Gallions Reach Bridge at Thamesmead during his mayoralty, but in a testy exchange with Conservative assembly member and senior Bexley councillor Gareth Bacon, refused to rule out one ever being built there. TfL currently favours a ferry there, which would replace the one at Woolwich.
You can also watch Greenwich councillors take public questions on Silvertown at their next full meeting, TONIGHT at 7pm at Woolwich Town Hall. Here’s some tips on what to expect.
As the end of TfL’s consultation on river crossings looms (please, fill in www.tfl.gov.uk/rivercrossings by Friday), Greenwich Council’s Bridge The Gap publicity push to build a road tunnel between Greenwich and Silvertown, as well as a road bridge between Thamesmead and Beckton, has fallen into even more disarray.
After all, nothing else can explain this response to a letter from an anxious punter in this week’s edition of council propaganda weekly Greenwich Time.
(I should point out that the council press office did arrange space for a letter after a press release responding to the last load of nonsense was sent to an old email address – strangely, GT now uses a Gmail account. Criticism of GT’s coverage and a call for people to sign the anti-Silvertown petition was edited out of the letter.)
Nothing in this reply addresses the issues with Silvertown – indeed, it doesn’t mention it by name – all it says is “we’ll back it now and worry about the facts later”. I fully expected that attempt to divert the focus downstream.
But let’s see that opening line again. “The Bridge The Gap campaign seeks to ensure that local residents are effectively aware of the proposal to effectively move the Woolwich Ferry to Thamesmead. That reply is the first time in the seven issues of the council’s main publicity organ which have relentlessly plugged Bridge The Gap that the closure of the Woolwich Ferry has actually been mentioned. Is that the sound of grasping at straws coming from Woolwich Town Hall?
It must be, because it has no evidence in the Silvertown Tunnel’s favour.
Moving onto page 13, it’s the inevitable…
Forget the Woolwich Ferry, it’s back to a picture of a packed A102 and bigging up the lethal Silvertown proposal, as well as the whopper about “community leaders” and the deceitful implication that this campaign is supported by anyone other than Greenwich Council and its developer friends.
And it still has no evidence.
Actually, we know another set of supporters – the Eltham Labour Party, which rejected a motion from its Shooters Hill ward party condemning the campaign last Friday. I’m told council leader Chris Roberts admitted he had no evidence to support the campaign – this is disputed by cabinet member John Fahy, who chaired the meeting, although the councillor in charge of public health hasn’t exactly been forthcoming with any evidence of Silvertown’s benefits himself.
On 7 December, I emailed the council to ask for the evidence submitted to Chris Roberts, and that presented to the ruling Labour group, that influenced their decision to launch the Bridge The Gap campaign. Nearly eight weeks later, I’ve no response.
It’s because they had no evidence in the first place, no doubt.
But we have evidence of how wrong they are. On Monday, 50 people crammed into the Christchurch Forum, Greenwich to hear about research which shows how the Silvertown and Gallions Reach proposals are so dangerous.
I don’t have most the visual presentation, but you can hear traffic expert John Elliott (a former GLC transport chief) and pollution expert Dr Ian Mudway (part of the team behind the London Air website) discuss why new roads generate new traffic, why tolling won’t work, and how traffic pollution kills by clicking the play button below. (Or you can download an MP3 file of the two-hour meeting from this link – the second hour is questions from the audience. The first voice you hear is Jenny Bates of Friends of the Earth.)
Among the audience there was the aforementioned John Fahy, once so bullishly in favour of Silvertown, who left with a worried look on his face. Now one of the council’s cabinet, and the man in charge of public health, has heard the evidence, will some sense start to emerge? Here’s hoping.
You can also watch Greenwich councillors take public questions on Silvertown at their next full meeting, TONIGHT at 7pm at Woolwich Town Hall. Here’s some tips on what to expect.
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.