Sadiq Khan waters down Silvertown Tunnel tolls – putting air quality at risk

London mayor Sadiq Khan has watered down plans to toll his proposed Silvertown Tunnel by offering residents on low incomes discounts on using the new road – putting at risk the traffic modelling the scheme depends on to work.

Transport for London plans to toll both the existing Blackwall Tunnel and the planned Silvertown Tunnel, which would run between Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks, if the scheme gets UK Government go-ahead later this year. A planning inquiry into the proposal will end next month and has to report back to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling by July.

The tolls – projected to be around £3 in peak hours and £1 off-peak for cars – are in place because TfL recognises that a new tunnel and the surrounding neighbourhoods would, if it was free to use, be completely overwhelmed by new traffic. Although this strategy risks displacing traffic to Rotherhithe Tunnel or Tower Bridge the tolls are an attempt to stem that tide.

But now Khan has told TfL to offer 50% discounts to residents of the three boroughs most affected by the scheme – Greenwich, Newham and Tower Hamlets – who are eligible for cut-price bus fares. This covers drivers who are on income support, jobseekers’ allowance or employment and support allowance, and follows pressure from the political leaders of those boroughs to offer some sort of residents’ discount.

However, encouraging more drivers to use the tunnels could wreck the transport modelling on which all TfL’s predictions surrounding the scheme depend – including air quality. Officers from the boroughs affected by the scheme already dispute the reliability of TfL’s modelling.

The scheme, outlined in TfL’s latest submission to the Planning Inspectorate, also discriminates against residents who live outside the host boroughs, but are relatively close to the tunnel. Residents of Deptford’s Crossfields Estate or Blackheath’s Ryculf Square, both two miles from the tunnel, would not be eligible for discounted driving because they live in Lewisham borough; but residents in Mottingham’s Coldharbour Estate, six miles away, would be as they live in the southern tip of Greenwich’s area.

A102 at Charlton

Traffic counters watching the A102 at Charlton Road on Monday

Indeed, in a separate submission, Hackney Council – whose border runs two-and-a-half miles from the Blackwall Tunnel – has said such a scheme could fail an equalities assessment.

This aspect also means that south of the river, some routes could see extra traffic heading for the tunnel while others wouldn’t.

TfL surveys show a significant proportion of Blackwall Tunnel users come from the Thamesmead area, and giving discounts to residents there on low incomes would add extra pressure on roads through Plumstead, Woolwich and Charlton, which already suffer badly from congestion and pollution.

Plans for road crossings at Thamesmead and Belvedere have been quietly shelved by Khan, although a sketchy proposal for a DLR extension from Gallions Reach has been brought forward.

The mayor has also told TfL to spend £2 million on free bus trips for residents of Greenwich, Newham and Tower Hamlets, although there is no detail on how this would work or be enforced. TfL is briefing local politicians that this would pay for over a million trips. To put this into context, 3.3 million journeys were made on route 108 in 2015/16.

Earlier this year, this website revealed Khan endorsed the scheme five weeks after his election as mayor, despite promising a “joined-up review” of the tunnel proposal.

Khan continues to talk up his credentials on air quality, even though TfL admits the tunnel will make air quality worse in some locations, particularly at the northern tunnel mouth in Silvertown, directly affecting new housing there.

Indeed, TfL is refusing to carry out air quality monitoring at locations around Hackney Wick and Victoria Park, despite requests from Hackney Council to do so if the tunnel goes ahead.

If you have a strong opinion on the tunnel proposals, there is one very last chance to have your say. A fourth and final session of planning hearings into the tunnel opens on 28 and 29 March, this time at the InterContinental Hotel at the O2.

Part of the session on 28 March will be open to the public to address the three-strong panel on the issues – the open floor hearing is due to begin from 5pm. If you want to take part, give the Silvertown Tunnel case team at the Planning Inspectorate a call on 0303 444 5000.

Full disclosure: I’m part of the No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign that is challenging the scheme, however, the opinions expressed in this story do not represent the views of the campaign. I’m also a registered objector to the tunnel as an individual.

6 comments

  1. maryorelse

    I don’t like or want the Silvertown Tunnel – I think it will harm emerging communities on the Peninsula, be bad for East Greenwich and we should be looking at a scheme which removes the lorries from this area, and provides a rail link south from the Dome. Having said all that Tolls are utterly and completely wrong. This is a matter of principle – why should west and central Londoners get free river crossings when east Londoners don’t. This was recognised by Parliament in the mid-19th century which is why five free river crossings were provided in the early 20th century – the Blackwall, the Rotherhithe, the Greenwich Foot, the Woolwich Foot and FREE ferry. Why are we so keen to give away principles which people once fought for – oppose the tunnel and also oppose the tolls.
    Or put tolls on all the up river bridges – but they aren’t going to do that, are they?

  2. Jo

    Using charges to users to try to control air pollution is completely misguided anyway. governments need to do many things to cut emissions and energy usage, rather than penalising people who are trying to live in an increasingly difficult environment. There will still be more cars, and more pollution, no matter how much you charge local or not local people. we have no choice but to use those tunnels if we want to visit our families in hospitals (increasingly further away) take our children to schools and classes (increasingly further away), provide care support for our friends and family not supported by local services so much. In fact it should all be free. We need to find various other ways to make our city more workable that will also make longer car journeys less needed. Bringing charges into the equation just says if you have money, you can go through as many times as you like.

  3. Darian Thomson

    I can’t see allowing people with JSA, Income Support or ESA would have that much of an impact as they don’t tend to have spare cash to run a car and drive it daily through Silvertown.

    This is a good thing for people that have the odd job interview across the river or on a low paid job with ESA. Hopefully Electric cars will be more common when Silvertown is built. I do hope they include the London Borough of Lewisham in the scheme.

  4. Walt

    By the time this thing is built we’ll all be on electrical cars (or flying hoverboards lol)

    The point of these tolls is that they do work. Hopefully there will indeed be an electrical revolution and then you can discount such vehicles from tolls.

    To his credit I think Sadiq does seem to be listening to concerns and willing to do come with reasonable compromises. Not that “the people” are going to accept any of them.

    Problem: The east is underdeveloped
    Analysis: Takes much longer to cross the river in the east than west
    Solution: let’s build a crossing to stimulate growth
    “The people – No, it will cause pollution, we prefer the current digestion’

    compromise 1): Let’s impose tolls to manage traffic, relieve the current Blackwell tunnel and reduce pollution –
    “The people – No because people in the west don’t have to pay’, ‘unfair to locals who pass more often’

    compromise 2) Let’s give locals a cheaper option
    “The people – No because someone might live on whatever border you set and it’s unfair to them’, and ‘Unfair to poor people!’

    Compromise 3) Let’s give poor people a cheaper option
    “The people – No it might lead to more traffic!!”
    Compromise 4) Let’s create more transport, e.g. buses
    “The people – No!
    Let’s build more houses “NO!”-let’s stimulate local tourism and economy “NO!”

  5. Mr Eeeee

    @Mary

    It sounds like you have a good point – however you’re completely ignoring the congestion charge that the West London pays and the East doesn’t. Let’s just call the tolls a congestion charge and all is good.

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