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.
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?
Greenwich & Woolwich’s Conservative candidate Matt Hartley has come out in favour of the Silvertown Tunnel, the same day he helped canvass for a MP who supports the controversial road scheme.
Hartley revealed his support for the tunnel in a blog post discussing last week’s council scrutiny meeting with officials from Transport for London and rail operator Southeastern.
“I support the Silvertown Tunnel in principle with two significant caveats,” he wrote.
“That TfL make a stronger case over how it intends to mitigate the environmental impact, and that the tunnel brings with it a significant public transport element to address congestion concerns (namely, bringing the DLR to Eltham as Greenwich Conservatives have long been lobbying for).”
When asked on Twitter if he’d withdraw his support if TfL didn’t come up with the goods, he didn’t respond.
Hartley’s comments came the same day he and a team from Greenwich Conservatives went to Essex to help canvass for Thurrock MP Jackie Doyle-Price, who claims the Silvertown Tunnel is “desperately needed” to alleviate problems at the Dartford Crossing.
Doyle-Price objects to a new crossing between Dartford and Thurrock on the grounds that it will cause more congestion and pollution in the area – precisely the same flaw the Silvertown proposal suffers from.
TfL admits the Silvertown Tunnel will increase traffic levels by 20%, while deputy mayor Isabel Dedring told MPs last month that its river crossings proposals could see traffic on local roads double.
There is also a strong body of evidence linking road-building to generating traffic, a phenomenon known as “induced traffic”.
Hartley’s position is much the same as Labour-run Greenwich Council, which has added a long set of caveats to its past unconditional support for the crossing.
But it’s unclear quite how the environmental impact of building a new road can be mitigated beyond planting a few token trees, while a report suppressed by Greenwich Council concluded that a DLR extension along the A102 would not be feasible unless it only ran as far as Kidbrooke. TfL has also said it is unwilling to back an Eltham DLR link.
Labour candidate Matt Pennycook has previously indicated his doubts about the Silvertown Tunnel scheme; Green candidate Abbey Akinoshun has said he is opposed, although the local party has left campaigning on the issue to colleagues at City Hall.
The Liberal Democrats are also opposed, althouh the local party is in such disarray it has not yet selected a Greenwich & Woolwich candidate. It is not known what Ukip candidate Ryan Acty thinks of the scheme.
As with most propaganda, it’s not what they tell you that matters – it’s what they’re not telling you.
So it’s striking that Greenwich Council’s weekly Pravda, Greenwich Time, has neglected to tell readers about leader Denise Hyland’s trip to Westminster last month to lobby MPs for the Silvertown Tunnel.
Think the Bridge The Gap campaign is dead? Think again. The language may have changed, but Greenwich still wants the Silvertown Tunnel.
Back on 12 January, Hyland travelled from Woolwich Town Hall to Portcullis House to meet the Transport Select Committee (which, by DLR and Jubilee Line, involves crossing the Thames five times) along with others demanding more roads across the river. She was accompanied by Newham’s elected mayor, Sir Robin Wales.
Not that the MPs took much persuading, mind. As a scrutiny exercise, it was largely a waste of time. It wasn’t a session about whether strategic river crossings (across England, not just in London) are any good – it was a session about why these things can’t be built quickly. It was also barely reported. So here’s an attempt to play catch-up.
Two more evidence sessions followed Hyland’s, the final of which took place last Monday. I sat through most of them, so I hope I can fit what happened in some proper context.
I should point out I’m on the committee of No to Silvertown Tunnel, so I’m not exactly coming at this from a neutral angle, which won’t surprise you. This enormous post doesn’t represent that group’s views.
A cosy committee, a flawed inquiry
Those who remember the days of the redoubtable Gwyneth Dunwoody using these sessions to tear hapless policymakers to shred will be a little disappointed. Of the eight others who joined Hyland to give evidence on 12 January, eight wanted more roads across the Thames.
In all three sessions, the only dissenter from the assumption that all roadbuilding is good roadbuilding was the Campaign for Better Transport‘s boss, Stephen Joseph. He snuck some doubts about Thames crossings into a session on a bridge across the Mersey.
One of the MPs on the select committee has certainly made his views known in the past. Labour’s Jim Fitzpatrick is already a keen backer of the Silvertown Tunnel. In 2007, the Poplar and Limehouse MP accepted a free trip to Bangladesh for him and his wife from Canary Wharf Group, which is also a keen backer of the Silvertown Tunnel.
Fitzpatrick, whose recently-expressed views on cycle superhighways eerily coincides with those of Canary Wharf Group, spent the session bowling low balls for Hyland and Newham’s elected mayor Sir Robin Wales, as well as TfL’s director of planning Michele Dix and Boris Johnson’s transport deputy Isabel Dedring.
The session featuring Hyland and Wales wasn’t a brilliantly-conceived one. The committee bundled the vexed question of east London crossings – which have more to do with urban traffic issues than moving freight across the country – in with the equally difficult subject of crossings between Kent and Essex.
The committee came looking for consensus – but by bundling these issues together, it wasn’t going to get it.
There’d been no previous indication that the London crossings would be on the agenda for the committee’s inquiry – after all, this is a devolved issue, where Westminster MPs should arguably keep their beaks out.
But the presence of the London Chamber of Commerce’s chief executive Colin Stanbridge, whose literature was left around the committee room after the session, suggests the lobbying organisation may have helped get them on the agenda.
Local bridges for local people – really?
This was a session on “strategic crossings”, yet Hyland told the committee she wanted “local bridges for local people”. One obvious question would have been for an MP to ask how the Silvertown Tunnel fitted into that – but it didn’t come.
Even Sir Robin Wales, an ardent fan of road-building who may as well have brought a kitten and a shotgun into the session to back up his demand for a bridge at Gallions, was lukewarm about Silvertown.
“We are not opposed to Silvertown — we get its congestion — but we do not think it contributes to regeneration in the way that Gallions will do,” he told the committee.
Greenwich will also get Silvertown’s congestion, but Hyland didn’t acknowledge this. Her opening gambit, in response to chair Louise Ellman, revealed the flaws in the current process.
“The Royal Borough of Greenwich supports the construction of a new tunnel at Silvertown and a vehicular crossing at Gallions Reach, but as part of a package of crossings between Blackwall and Dartford,” she replied.
“In our view, it needs to recognise that the provision of public transport must be integral with any vehicular crossing. For example, we would like to see a London Overground extension come over to Thamesmead and Abbey Wood.
“In terms of Silvertown, we would like to see the DLR extension coming out as far as Eltham, and for the DLR as well to go to Thamesmead [via Gallions].”
Yet there isn’t a package on the agenda other than more new roads.
This website understands Hyland has been lobbying City Hall for the Overground to Thamesmead – yet so far, TfL is sticking its head in the sand, preferring only to extend it to Barking Riverside in the short-term.
TfL also sees the DLR from Silvertown to Eltham – which would have to be built on stilts above the A102, and risks overloading North Greenwich tube station – as a non-starter.
Michele Dix offered a glimmer of hope for the DLR to Thamesmead – “we will also be looking at Gallions for the possibility of potentially having the DLR run along that bridge”. But that was all.
Silvertown sacrifice – traffic could double
What remains undeniable is that people who live close to roads that’ll be hit by Silvertown are being offered up as sacrifices to get construction going elsewhere.
And this appeasement by Hyland and Wales – effectively, “let them have Silvertown and we’ll get Gallions” – could have disastrous consequences if you’re in an affected area.
Isabel Dedring admitted traffic on some local roads could double under TfL’s plans.
“There is going to be significant growth in local concerns as we go through the process, because now we are bringing forward the actual details of the proposals and people are going to say, ‘I like the idea of a bridge but not when I discover that it is going to lead to a doubling of traffic on my road.’ That is inevitable with these kinds of projects,” she said.
“Hopefully, we can make the case that the strategic importance of it for London, and indeed for the local areas, outweighs the local issues.
“There is going to be that noise. That will be the immediate issue for the consensus. It is how loud the local issues become.”
Essentially, the more people find out, the more they don’t like it. That’s why TfL has been so consistently vague on its Silvertown proposals – and why you read so little about it in Greenwich Time.
Bridge The Gap: The corpse twitches
Batting away another simple ball from Jim Fitzpatrick, Denise Hyland claimed “we have put a lot of pressure on TfL to put public transport as an integral part of the crossings”.
That’s a marked difference from the approach taken by predecessor Chris Roberts, but is simply not true as far as the Silvertown Tunnel is concerned.
Indeed, the council’s report into extending the DLR to Eltham via the Silvertown Tunnel – which concluded that a link as far as Kidbrooke was feasible, but was doubtful about proceeding further – was not even presented to City Hall.
While a tunnel at Silvertown would provide an opportunity to run new bus routes across the Thames, there is nothing stopping TfL making more use of the existing tunnel to run services to Canary Wharf and points north – something the council has failed to lobby for.
The Blackwall Tunnel may be good enough for Kent commuter coaches to Canary Wharf, but local politicians and TfL seem to content simply to route services into North Greenwich station instead, piling more pressure on it.
Greenwich Council’s response to last autumn’s Silvertown Tunnel consultation was to back it, but demand the mythical Eltham DLR extension as well as other measures.
But what happens when TfL turns around and refuses the DLR to Eltham?
The question the MPs didn’t ask – and a futile search for consenus
Real scrutiny would have been asking if Hyland’s support for Silvertown or Gallions was conditional on them carrying public transport. That question didn’t come.
Because nobody’s asking that question, it’s storing up problems for the future.
On Silvertown alone, the consensus the Transport Committee hoped to find simply doesn’t exist. Locally, rank and file Labour members in both Greenwich & Woolwich and Eltham voted to oppose the Silvertown Tunnel – but were ignored by the council their party purports to control.
Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Greenwich & Woolwich – and Greenwich West councillor – Matt Pennycook has written about his grave doubts about the scheme.
Worse still, the old problem of bullying in Greenwich Labour was also used to secure support for the tunnel. This website understands some newer councillors in the south of Greenwich borough were threatened with deselection by a senior party figure if they didn’t back the Silvertown Tunnel in an internal group vote.
Nobody expects a panel of Westminster MPs to be fully conversant with the murky underbelly of local politics in different areas. But none of them asked Hyland – or any of the other council representatives there – if her views really represented local opinion.
The nearest they got was when Jim Fitzpatrick asked if the Labour group on the London Assembly was on board. He knew the answer, but the question was clearly designed to demonstrate some kind of consensus.
Surrender over Silvertown – but defending Dartford?
There’s also the case of the brave Labour representative who knows that if you add extra capacity to an already-existing river crossing, you’re simply going to make surrounding roads worse.
Simon Thomson, Labour candidate for Dartford, should know – he was originally selected as a candidate for Greenwich Council in Blackheath Westcombe ward, before bagging the chance to go toe-to-toe with the Tories in this bellwether seat.
When Boris Johnson pledged to build a further Dartford crossing (he doesn’t have the power, of course) Thompson wrote and complained. When Johnson pledges a similar threat in Greenwich – where he actually does have power – Hyland and her colleagues have backed away.
Indeed, Greenwich recently advertised for a “director of regeneration”, with a job description which includes lobbying for Silvertown.
Maybe it’s a reflection of the differing political cultures in Dartford and Greenwich – Labour can never get complacent in a seat like Dartford – but it’s a real indication of just what’s gone wrong in Greenwich.
Regeneration, regeneration, regeneration
Perhaps Dartford Labour’s Simon Thomson should have been at the final committee hearing, held last Monday inside the Palace of Westminster itself. Here, the committee heard from Tim Healey, deputy chair of the Association of Civil Engineers’ Roads Sector Interest Group (essentially, a group of roadbuilders) that extra crossings at Dartford had boosted regeneration there.
Yes, that’s the same Dartford as the Kent town that’s been dying on its backside for years. The roads had brought Bluewater shopping centre, which lies in Dartford borough – but there was no mention that this was at the expense of Dartford itself.
Futureproofing? Be careful what you wish for
Another absurd piece of evidence accepted without questioning by the committee came from Healey’s colleague, Roads Sector Interest Group chair Mike Llywelyn-Jones. He suggested that new roads should be “futureproofed” so they can cope with anticipated demand in 30 years’ time – ignoring a body of evidence that indicates roads generate demand, rather than simply accommodate it.
If London’s roads had been “futureproofed” in the 1970s to cope with anticipated demand today, some of the capital’s most popular neighbourhoods simply wouldn’t exist today.
Brockley Central is a local blog that has come out in support of the Silvertown Tunnel. Yet the heart of the area would have been ripped out if the Ringways scheme had gone ahead, smashing the South Cross Route through Brockley Cross.
Instead, Brockley has undergone a remarkable revitalisation led by public transport investment, making it a desirable place to live. Where there once would have been motorway gantries, there’s now a tasteful bar called The Gantry.
Those who love seeing Brockley’s Victorian terraces on Location, Location, Location might want to think about the fate of SE4 if the Ringways had gone ahead before they condemn other areas to more traffic, traffic, traffic.
‘Silvertown should the last built… or never be built’
Here’s the bit that those who skip straight to the comments box to write “something must be done” will ignore. It’s worth pointing out the views of former Greater London Council transport planner John Elliott, who twice submitted evidence to the inquiry but wasn’t asked to speak to the committee. He did get to speak to the Wharf newspaper.
“”The historical record for these kinds of packages is they build one and run out of money,” he said. “There are big gaps along the Thames and yet they want to build it next to one already there, and a very busy one at that.
“Silvertown should be the last crossing built or, preferably, never built.”
He wants to see a pan-London congestion charge before any new roads are built.
“It’s time for a congestion charge within the M25,” he wrote. “It could be relatively popular, keeping out long distance car commuters and tackling the problem across the whole of London, freeing up more space for essential commercial traffic.
“Rather than tolls on individual crossings, we need other congestion charges.”
Essentially, he argues that building a tunnel at Silvertown, or even bridges at Gallions Reach or Belvedere, will be a waste of time until London politicians have the courage to get to grip with traffic levels in the capital.
But in a committee that had made its mind up anyway, this voice wasn’t heard. He wasn’t called to give evidence.
Flawed committee, flawed scrutiny – time for councillors to step up
By allowing Boris Johnson to have boxed her in over the Silvertown Tunnel, Denise Hyland could be about to wreak incalculable harm to the people of Greenwich she purports to represent. Getting across the river may be a hassle, but putting more traffic onto the borough’s streets won’t help.
Greenwich Council’s failure to properly challenge the Silvertown Tunnel is all the more worrying because of the failure of others to properly scrutinise it. The MPs on the Transport Scrutiny Committee had clearly made their minds up that new roads were good things. And here in the capital, Tories and Labour on the London Assembly teamed up to vote down a motion criticising the mayor’s spending on river crossings (see video).
While individual assembly members – notably Caroline Pidgeon and Darren Johnson – have done exemplary work on Boris Johnson’s road-building plans, the assembly as a body has been rendered largely useless on this issue because of the Labour group at City Hall’s blindness to the issue.
Opponents have also had their blind spots – falling for TfL’s narrative of treating the crossings as a whole, rather than scrutinising each one and spotting the individual flaws. After all, the problem of traffic trumps the problem of getting across the river, which can be eased with public transport initiatives.
Treated individually, TfL’s rationales quickly fall apart. Silvertown’s easily the barmiest of the lot, yet still casts a spell over the easily-led. It’s claimed Silvertown will relieve congestion, but there’s enough evidence to show it will simply increase traffic right across south-east London. Will Hyland stand up to this issue?
Proponents of the Gallions Bridge claim it will regenerate the area, but will Thamesmead really be regenerated by warehousing and other space-hungry businesses that depend on road traffic, when London is crying out for more homes? Leaving Thamesmead to depend on roads has been a self-defeating act of cruelty by London’s politicians. Denise Hyland has the opportunity to seize the agenda here, to champion Thamesmead and her own ward of Abbey Wood, instead of meekly following the desires of Sir Robin Wales (who has little interest in the south side of the river).
A Labour politician who rolled over for Tory plans for the NHS or social security would rightly be hounded. Yet too many in Labour treat the Silvertown Tunnel, with the extra traffic and congestion it will bring, as if it’s inevitable, and go for a policy of appeasement rather than challenge.
Yet the failure of both the London Assembly and MPs to properly scrutinise this scheme gives the likes of Denise Hyland a chance to think big and set the agenda. Forget parochial dead-ends, forget borough borders. It’s time for councillors to step up and really interrogate these schemes – and engage with both sides of the debate. Why not start a big campaign for public transport?
Too many awkward questions have gone unanswered, many in the little-explored grey areas between “yes” and “no”. (For example, if the original Blackwall Tunnel isn’t fit for purpose, why is the Silvertown Tunnel adding to it rather than replacing it?)
We’re in an interesting time for London politics – the current mayor’s a lame duck, and the big parties will soon start to choose their replacements. Labour outsider Christian Wolmar – who knows more about transport than most of us will ever forget – has spoken out against the tunnel. His colleagues should heed his warnings.
So right now, even the most humble councillor has more influence than they think. It’s time for them to get to work and properly engage with this, rather than accepting others’ half-baked assumptions – because on the Silvertown Tunnel, the path of least resistance is a road to disaster.
1.30pm update: I’m indebted to Greenwich councillor Aidan Smith for tweeting some details of a scrutiny meeting councillors held last night with TfL and Southeastern. (I missed it because I wanted to finish writing this enormous post.)
The meeting was told that analysis of the effects of the Sivertown Tunnel on local roads still hasn’t been done – this should be enough to raise alarm bells.
TfL’s representative also didn’t know how much work had been done on a business case for extending the Overground to Thamesmead and Abbey Wood – surely if TfL took it seriously, its representative should have been briefed? Again, this should be ringing bells.
Both issues should be enough to make Greenwich councillors realise they should be kicking up a stink. Claiming they are just “stakeholders”, as they have done in the past, really isn’t good enough now.
The battle against the Silvertown Tunnel is on. When a publicly-funded body starts throwing the PR kitchen sink at a dim idea like encouraging more traffic onto the choked-up A102, it’s time to get focused.
So this website is taking a short pause until Christmas. There may still be a couple of stories to come, but any updates will be infrequent. While this means I’ll hopefully have some more time to spend helping the tunnel campaign, it’ll also give me a chance to reflect on how this website continues in the future.
For now, though, there’s work to do…
(If you can help with the campaign, please email email@example.com)
TfL’s still got no evidence, but it’s now got some pretty pictures as to how its fantasy tunnel from the Greenwich Peninsula to Silvertown might look. More at No to Silvertown Tunnel.
(PS. TfL’s new consultation now means this website may go quiet for a little while…)
Greenwich Council is backing the eventual closure of the Woolwich Ferry in favour of a road bridge at Gallions Reach, according to its response to Transport for London’s consultation into Thames river crossings.
It’s also calling for tolls to be introduced at the Blackwall Tunnel before any other road crossings are built, according to the document, which was published last week.
While the response, as expected, calls for the construction of a road crossing at Gallions Reach, between Thamesmead and Belvedere, the tone of the document falls some way short of the “Bridge The Gap” rhetoric employed under former leader Chris Roberts.
The council’s support for Gallions comes with a number of caveats:
– that a bridge must be accompanied by public transport improvements, with the council calling for both an extension of London Overground from Barking (subject of a current No to Silvertown Tunnel petition) and the old chestnut of the Docklands Light Railway from the Royal Docks to Thamesmead.
– that a bridge must be “part of a package of river crossings”. Just what package the council would prefer, however, is not stated.
– all crossings must be tolled “to manage demand”.
– that TfL can demonstrate any new bridge will not affect air quality.
Essentially, the response – which was decided behind closed doors, without discussion in cabinet or council – looks like an unhappy compromise between Labour Party members’ angst (and in many cases, anger) over their council’s pro-road crossings stance, and Greenwich Council’s usual habit of deferring to the demands of developers and “business leaders”.
The council also expressed unhappiness that the Silvertown Tunnel proposal was now being dealt with separately from the Gallions and Belvedere plans.
However, all mention of Silvertown, along with the demand for tolling at Blackwall, has been cut from the version of the story that appears in this week’s edition of the council’s propaganda paper, Greenwich Time, possibly making Greenwich the only Labour council in the country to be trying to put a positive spin on Conservative proposals.
It’s a complicated document, and one which demands reading between the lines at several points.
Scrapping the Woolwich Ferry
In this complex and sometimes ambiguous response, it’s Greenwich Council’s simple desire to abandon the Woolwich Ferry that’s the clearest of all.
“The Council would support investment to improve the resilience of the ferry until such time as other additional capacity is provided but cannot support this option,” the response says in answer to whether the ferry should be refurbished in the next decade.
A ferry has operated at Woolwich for centuries – the remains of the 19th century railway-run ferry pier can still be seen at North Woolwich. The current free ferry was instigated by Joseph Bazalgette – best known for creating London’s sewer system – in 1889.
The current ferries, the third generation of ships to cross the Thames, are now over 50 years old and in need of replacement. TfL has been consulting on refurbishing the current ferry, moving it to Gallions Reach, replacing it with a bridge at Gallions Reach, and/or building a new bridge at Belvedere. All options would see the crossings tolled.
While road-building fans generally agree on a need for a bridge at Gallions Reach, it’s surprising that they want to see the closure of another traffic-friendly crossing to achieve it – despite all their talk of wanting “resilience”.
Perhaps the answer is in Woolwich’s regeneration plans. The Woolwich Ferry lorry park, approach, piers and associated land are all owned by Transport for London. Next door, Greenwich Council’s Waterfront Leisure Centre is already slated for redevelopment under the town centre masterplan. Maybe the value of selling this stretch of land for redevelopment trumps City Hall and Woolwich Town Hall’s usual instincts.
Tolling Blackwall and Silvertown Tunnel frustration
The bits they won’t mention in Greenwich Time. The council’s called for the Blackwall Tunnel to be tolled before any other crossings are built, citing worries about traffic congestion and air quality.
“Recognising the issues of resilience and capacity at Blackwall Tunnel and the impact these issues have on the local road network and air quality the Council requests that TfL gives serious consideration to the introduction of charges at Blackwall Tunnel in advance of the construction of any other crossings,” it says, also calling for charging at the Rotherhithe Tunnel to stop traffic diverting through Greenwich town centre to find a free crossing. This would leave Tower Bridge as the only free crossing east of the congestion charge zone.
Currently, TfL plans to charge for Blackwall and the proposed Silvertown Tunnel, but not the Rotherhithe Tunnel. These plans have been known about for nearly two years, but Greenwich Council has taken until now to express worries about them.
Indeed, reading between the lines, it appears Greenwich Council is unhappy that its unconditional support for the Silvertown Tunnel has not been rewarded with any data from TfL on how the Silvertown proposals would affect traffic and air quality in the area.
Nearly two years after the last Silvertown Tunnel consultation, only now does Greenwich express worries about air quality.
“At a time when (i) there remain concerns about the environmental impacts of that crossing and (ii) detailed assessments that may address those concerns have not been published it is disappointing that the consultation does not cover the full range of crossing options (including Silvertown).”
Perhaps Greenwich shouldn’t have tried to rig the 2012/2013 consultation into Silvertown in the first place. Greenwich’s support for Silvertown has been critical for the proposal’s progress so far – as the face of the Bridge the Gap campaign, the Labour council leader Denise Hyland is in no place to complain that she’s been tricked by the Conservatives at City Hall.
Quite how genuine the council’s new-found concerns about Silvertown are, we shall have to find out, although a call for “a wider package [of river crossings] that would be progressed from west to east” presumably means that Greenwich still backs some kind of mythical Silvertown Tunnel that doesn’t increase traffic levels or increase lethal air pollution.
They’d be better off believing in the tooth fairy, frankly.
Gallions – with caveats
Shiny new bridge! But it looks as if Greenwich has been boxed into a corner on the Gallions Reach crossing, seen as unfinished business by Labour administrations across London since the Livingstone-era Thames Gateway Bridge was canned by Boris Johnson in 2008.
“A bridge must be accompanied by public transport improvements.” At least this is consistent with the last consultation’s response, although at least the weird idea of a circular bus route using the Silvertown Tunnel and Gallions Reach Bridge has vanished. Unfortunately, an extension to the DLR into Thamesmead currently remains as likely to happen as an extension to Eltham, as neither appears in City Hall’s 2050 wishlist of public transport schemes.
That said, it’s good to see Greenwich backing an Overground link to Thamesmead and Abbey Wood – which does appear in the 2050 document. But it’s a shame they didn’t come out and say it when the News Shopper covered the N2ST petition last month.
“On the understanding that any vehicular crossing would be charged to manage demand and have dedicated and accessible public transport provision.” Those tolls again. Wonder if Greenwich will press for the likes of Putney or Chelsea Bridge to be tolled?
“Subject to clear evidence demonstrating that they would not cause local congestion or a reduction in air quality.” Not going to happen – this Newham Council study already points to huge traffic impacts in Woolwich, Plumstead and Abbey Wood. The 2007 Thames Gateway Bridge planning inquiry also concluded a bridge would make traffic and pollution worse. Is Greenwich waiting for a study that says what it wants it to say?
“The Council would not support any widening of the A2 and TfL should finance measures to prevent rat-running between the bridge site and the A2 and also to prevent congestion on roads to and from the bridge.” Strange Greenwich brings up the widening of the A2 here when it’s actually the Silvertown Tunnel that would be more likely to result in a widening of the A2 (or A102). As for rat-running – it’s hard to see quite how you’d prevent that without further isolating Thamesmead or chopping Plumstead into half.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the Council is opposed to any future proposal that would impact on Oxleas Wood or any other of the Royal Borough’s green spaces.” But this is the endgame of a Gallions Reach Bridge – build that, and there’ll be a permanent threat hanging over Oxleas and a chunk of Plumstead.
Bexley backing a crossing at Belvedere, Greenwich not keen
Bexley Council’s response favours a crossing at Belvedere, with the Tory council now “neutral” over Gallions Reach – a climbdown that hasn’t gone unnoticed. It’s curious, though, that Greenwich is much more hesitant over backing a bridge at Belvedere – since, by using its previous logic, it would relieve congestion at Gallions, bring new opportunities, etc, etc. It doesn’t seem particularly consistent.
Messing up by the river – council confusion?
“Moreover the Council was disappointed by the quality of engagement at the Thamesmead ‘road show’ – an event that only took place at the Council’s
suggestion. The quality of the arrangements compromised the extent and quality of local engagement on an issue that is critical for the well-being of south and south east London.”
I’m not really sure the people behind the Bridge The Gap campaign – where Greenwich Council’s activities included handing out cards in Woolwich uncritically backing the Silvertown Tunnel (they didn’t dare try this trick in Greenwich, Blackheath or Charlton) have really got any right to criticise. But we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt for a minute.
The problem is that Greenwich is currently hamstrung by its deference to City Hall. In 2012 and 2013, it complained about Conservative consultations into fire and police cuts, calling them flawed. But because the Labour council wanted the same new roads as City Hall wanted, it was happy to go along with equally iffy consultations into the Silvertown Tunnel and other crossings.
Now Greenwich realises it’s been caught out – promised environmental assessments have not been carried out, and residents are furious that their council is putting their neighbourhoods at risk. And all it’s got to justify its past stance are the scribbled notes that Chris Roberts used to pass Denise Hyland in council meetings.
Back in 2013, Denise Hyland made a virtue of the fact that Greenwich wasn’t spending taxpayers’ money on its own studies. Now that stance looks even more foolish.
If it’d been more sceptical in the first place, and took a leading position rather than placing its residents under threat from the City Hall roadbuilders, it might not be in this position now.
If Greenwich Council wants new roads – that’s it’s decision. But it has to be honest about the impact those new roads will have. Because new roads will have an impact on all our lives. But by crossing its fingers and hoping for mythical roads that won’t pollute, or won’t bring added traffic, it doesn’t seem to be being honest with itself, never mind its residents.