Tagged: newham council

Sadiq Khan backed Silvertown Tunnel five weeks after election – despite promising ‘joined-up review’

A102

The A102 on a polluted day: Campaigners fear the Silvertown Tunnel will increase pollution and congestion across east and south-east London

London mayor Sadiq Khan agreed to continue with Boris Johnson’s plans to build the controversial Silvertown Tunnel within weeks of taking office, despite promising a “proper joined-up review” into the project while standing for election.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that Khan backed the tunnel after receiving a briefing from Transport for London representatives on 14 June, just five weeks after he took office.

Officials were then charged with making the proposals more palatable to the public, from offering free bus services and residents’ discounts to adding cycle racks to existing buses.

The £1 billion project – which would provide a new toll road from the Royal Docks to feed into the A102 at Greenwich Peninsula, and would toll the Blackwall Tunnel – is currently going through the planning process, with a series of public hearings taking place until April. Later this year, planning inspectors will recommend to the government whether to approve or refuse the scheme.

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.

The joined-up review that didn’t happen

Khan had pledged “a proper joined up review, looking at river crossings and improved public transport connections east of Tower Bridge, but in a strategic fashion, not piecemeal like the current mayor”, when interviewed about the project by Transport Network in April 2016, ahead of May’s election.

By 27 May, this had become a commitment to “review the merits” of the scheme.

But a TfL briefing note says Khan agreed to its proposals less than three weeks later, and the review would merely be about “improvements”.

This is despite opposition to the tunnel from Labour councils in Lewisham, Southwark, Hackney and now Newham, which has reversed its earlier backing for the scheme.

Khan also appears to have quietly dropped plans for further road crossings at Gallions Reach and Belvedere. The Gallions crossing has been a long-cherished aim for London’s Labour councils, and was a supposed condition for Greenwich’s backing of the Silvertown scheme. Neither project appears in TfL’s latest business plan, released last month.

While politicians in Greenwich and Tower Hamlets are going through the motions in still supporting the scheme, the project has come under sustained attack from their council officers at planning hearings, which resume today.

The documents released by City Hall

Aspen Way

The proposed tunnel would feed straight into this existing morning traffic jam at Aspen Way, Poplar

The Greater London Authority was asked for the terms of reference of Khan’s review, as well as the advice sent to Khan and deputy mayor Val Shawcross, their responses, as well as details of who was consulted.

There is no record of anybody outside the GLA or TfL being consulted by the mayor’s office, despite the widespread concern about the proposals from neighbouring councils.

The GLA sent a Powerpoint presentation from TfL to the mayor from June, when he agreed to back the scheme; as well as a later presentation outlining options to make the scheme more palatable. There is also a note from GLA head of transport Tim Steer to Shawcross outlining the problems with residents’ discounts.

You can see the documents for yourself here (12MB PDF).

Cover letter with more details (added 26 January 2017)

Asked for the terms of reference, the GLA said:

“In requesting that TfL review the merits of the Silvertown Tunnel scheme, the Mayor asked that particular consideration be paid to the following:

 

 

 

 

  • a clear commitment to delivering much-needed cross river public transport links;
  • environmental assurances, both in terms of how it is constructed and once operational;
  • and benefits for pedestrians and cyclists, linking to the wider opportunities for new river crossings, such as the proposed Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf crossing.”

 

However, there is no sign that any of TfL’s assertions about the scheme – apart from on tolling – were scrutinised in any way by the mayor or his deputy.

This includes its claim that “no additional traffic will be generated”, which has been disputed by councils at the planning process.

A question of ‘further benefits’

Ford Trader Dartford Tunnel Cycle Bus

In October, Khan confirmed he was backing the scheme but making it “greener and more public transport-focused, and exploring further benefits for residents who use the tunnel”.

“Further benefits for residents who use the tunnel” – which campaigners fear mean concessions for local residents who drive through the tunnel – have the potential to wreck TfL’s traffic modelling by generating even more new trips and causing more congestion.

Despite this, both Labour and Conservative politicians on both sides of the Thames are still pressing for concessions.

Khan’s main idea to “green” the tunnel was to create a special bus service for cyclists – reminiscent of a short-lived service offered when the Dartford Tunnel first opened in 1963 (pictured above, below is one of the vehicles in a yard in Stratford in 1999).

Hackney Waterden Road Ford Thames bus

He also re-announced a series of bus services already planned for the tunnel, as well as reiterating his support for a pedestrian and cycle bridge between Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf.

The mayor also re-announced past proposals for a ferry between North Greenwich and Canary Wharf and an Overground extension from Barking Riverside to Thamesmead. There was one surprising addition – a pledge to investigate a DLR extension from Gallions Reach to Thamesmead, the first time this idea has surfaced without being attached to a new road.

Other plans suggested by TfL but not taken forward by Khan included free travel on the Emirates Air Line between 7am and 9am on weekdays, to be paid for by increasing “leisure fares” on the cable car.

Rocky reception at planning hearings

The Silvertown Tunnel planning hearing resumes at Excel today

The Silvertown Tunnel planning hearing resumes at Excel today

Planning hearings into the scheme began in October and resume today at the Excel centre in the Royal Docks. A three-strong panel is hearing arguments from TfL and interested parties, mainly boroughs and local landowners.

What has been striking so far has been the tough reception TfL’s plans got from all boroughs. None of them are happy with TfL’s traffic modelling. This is a problem for TfL, because all its other forecasts, from the economy to pollution, derive from how much traffic it thinks will use the tunnel.

Most strikingly, Greenwich Council’s senior transport planner, Kim Smith, told hearings last month that the council was worried the “local network would suffer” as a result of the tunnel’s construction – something campaigners have been warning about for four years, and that appears in a report the council buried nearly five years ago.

Her opposite number at Newham, Murray Woodburn, pointed out that TfL’s record in assessing demand for river crossings was “not exactly fantastic”, pointing out that the Woolwich Arsenal DLR extension proved to be twice as busy as predicted.

“We as host boroughs have no option other than to treat the highway impacts… with very little confidence,” he told the hearing.

Much of this depends on the calculations that go into the modelling itself – the boroughs challenged the “value of time” used in the forecasts, saying that economic conditions in this part of London are vastly different from the rest of the country.

But the tolling also plays a part – so we learned that TfL has only modelled what would happen if tolls increased by 20%, which would only take the maximum charge for a car up to £3.60.

TfL has also admitted it could reduce charges if the tunnel was less busy than forecast – jeopardising traffic levels on other roads and possibly increasing pollution.

You can see a Storify summary of one of December’s hearings here.

Greenwich councillors say one thing, officers say another

Silvertown Tunnel hearing at The Crystal

Bedtime reading: The planning documents for the Silvertown Tunnel scheme

But while Murray Woodburn’s boss, Newham elected mayor Sir Robin Wales, has “politically repositioned the council’s stance” on the tunnel, Kim Smith’s employers at Greenwich are still singing the same old songs written by former leader Chris Roberts.

Smith told the planning hearing the council only ever supported “a package of crossings” (ie, including the now-dropped Gallions crossing), which is consistent with the council’s submissions to earlier consultations on the scheme.

But a few days later she was contradicted by current transport cabinet member Sizwe James, who has been lumbered with the job of defending the council’s stance, at a scrutiny panel meeting. These are where backbench councillors interrogate (or at least gently probe) senior councillors and officers on how things are going.

Much of the Regeneration, Transport and Culture scrutiny meeting was about Greenwich’s policies on air pollution – which falls under the remit of deputy leader Danny Thorpe’s regeneration portfolio. Thorpe enlisted TfL’s David Rowe – a genial chap who’s in charge of much of the politics and practicalities around the proposal – to answer questions from councillors on the Silvertown Tunnel and air pollution.

This was largely a waste of time, as everything depends on the traffic modelling, which council officials are unhappy about. But nobody told the councillors that the modelling was hotly disputed, and Rowe’s presence presumably just gave Thorpe someone to hide behind. (Shaky video of almost the whole meeting can be found here.)

Too bright to come out with that crap

January 2013: Nick Raynsford, Denise Hyland and Chris Roberts promote their pro-tunnel Bridge The Gap campaign

January 2013: Nick Raynsford, Denise Hyland and Chris Roberts promote their pro-tunnel Bridge The Gap campaign

Even worse, by the time the meeting had got around to transport questions – where the meat of the Silvertown scheme could be dissected – almost everybody had cleared off, including Thorpe and Rowe, leaving James – who has only recently taken over transport from Thorpe – isolated.

James told the panel that the council supported the tunnel’s construction in isolation.

“We have been consistently supportive of a package of crossings… but that is not the only reason we’re supporting Silvertown, it’s also about resilience and supporting growth,” he told the meeting on 13 December.

But James then managed to contradict himself on that point, as well as Smith’s comments to the planning hearing.

Asked by former deputy leader John Fahy if it concerned him that the tunnel would attract more traffic than anticipated now the Gallions and Belvedere schemes have been canned, James replied: “Of course it does, there’ll be more pressure at one point, that’s why we support a package of crossings.”

Either the council supports the Silvertown Tunnel on its own, or it supports more than one crossing, surely?

After an awkward silence, Greenwich’s assistant director of transport, Tim Jackson, intervened to point out that “if TfL were here they would say” that tolling would control traffic levels.

But TfL had gone home – and Jackson’s colleagues have been taking TfL to task on the question of tolling at the planning hearings, something he didn’t tell the panel.

So Greenwich councillors were denied the chance to properly scrutinise the council’s line on the scheme, and learned nothing about how the council is approaching what is a complex set of public hearings on the scheme.

Then James was taken to task by Greenwich West councillor Mehboob Khan, who, in short, told him he was too bright to come out with that crap.

“Southwark have formally objected on the basis of increased traffic going through the west of our borough through Lewisham and Southwark towards Rotherhithe [Tunnel]. That’s the council’s official position,” he said.

“Lewisham have objected. Hackney have objected. Tower Hamlets objected [it did in an earlier consultation]. Greenwich didn’t. Someone’s right here, and somebody’s wrong here. Their objections aren’t, in principle, to Silvertown – it’s about the mitigation of the problems caused by it not being dealt with by TfL.

“You meet TfL on a regular basis – you’re new to this portfolio this year. And perhaps you don’t want to be tainted by past portfolio-holders’ stances.” At this point, John Fahy pretended to cuff Khan around the ear.

“Can you look at this afresh and and see why other boroughs have taken a completely polarised position to Greenwich? And maybe come forward with something more in line with what an intelligent, articulate cabinet member like yourself would come forward with?”

James responded: “This is not my personal position, this is the position of the Labour Group.” [Greenwich Labour councillors backed the scheme in 2012.]

Khan came back: “We’re not interested in Labour Group here. This forms part of the council’s scrutiny function. That political view is taken elsewhere.”

James agreed he would look again at the council’s position. But frankly, the damage has already been done by his predecessors, who mistook criticism of the council’s stance for politically-motivated attacks. It’s now left Greenwich in an embarrassing position of backing a scheme it knows will damage the borough.

Khan can still stop it – but do local politicians care enough?

Before Christmas, the West Ham constituency Labour party passed a motion against the scheme, and there are rumours of new rumblings against the Silvertown Tunnel south of the river too. But it’s too late to take their complaints to council leaders – they’ve already made their minds up.

If they really wanted to stop the scheme, they would be taking their concerns straight to Sadiq Khan and Val Shawcross, which would mean overcoming their reluctance to embarrass the Labour mayor and his transport deputy.

Even at this late stage, the tunnel certainly isn’t a done deal – especially with the fierce criticism it’s getting from the boroughs.

Just as with another dodgy scheme inherited from Boris Johnson, the Garden Bridge, many millions of pounds have already been spent on getting the Silvertown Tunnel through planning – and this planning inquiry itself is taking up huge amounts of TfL’s time when the organisation is having its budgets cut.

But now we know how slapdash Khan’s “review” was, will any of his friends have the courage to have a quiet word in his ear?

Greenwich & Woolwich foot tunnel cyclists to get partial green light

Greenwich Foot Tunnel, 13 December 2012

Greenwich Council is to trial “shared use” of the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, which will mean cyclists being officially allowed to use them at quieter times, it has emerged.

The council’s put in a bid for £100,000 of City Hall money to develop technology to record pedestrian and cyclist movements in the tunnel, to warn cyclists when the narrow passages make it unsafe for riding.

The Friends of Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels have been asked to act as partners on the bid, along with Tower Hamlets and Newham councils.

Fogwoft says: “The proposal would allow shared use between pedestrians and cyclists at times when the tunnel is fairly empty. It would require cyclists to walk when necessary. It would allow them to cycle when safe.”

Greenwich Foot Tunnel, August 2014

Any proposal to allow cycling in the tunnels will be a hugely contentious issue – while there is a blanket ban on riding bicycles, it is widely flouted, especially in the Greenwich tunnel, which is a major link for cyclists between south-east London and Canary Wharf. Since lift attendants were withdrawn some years ago, there has been little enforcement of the ban.

If Greenwich’s bid to City Hall is unsuccessful, the council says it will fund the scheme itself.

The council says: “The proposal will be to use state of the art technology to trial shared use in the tunnel. It will monitor cycle and pedestrian flows (and cycle speeds) at all times, and use this to regulate the cycling ban; at times of low pedestrian flow, considerate cycle use will be permitted, and conversely during high pedestrian flow periods cyclists will be required to dismount and push through the space. In other words, the permission levels would respond in a timely manner to conditions in the tunnels at all times.

“This will be enforced through clear, digital signage triggered by the flow levels during each period, which will be tracked throughout the tunnel. The visual signage could be backed up by audible messages, and reinforced through additional monitoring via CCTV and other means.

“Technology will also be used to monitor the speed of any person cycling through the tunnel, flashing up clear signage to anyone travelling quicker than a recommended limit (to be defined) in a similar way to speed warning signs used on highways.”

The bid document says a trial would last for 12 months and be “rigorously monitored”.

“In using digital technology to track, monitor and regulate permissions at various times of the day, users will feel that a sensible use of the space is allowed at all times. If successful, the trial has potential to be extended to other similar spaces throughout London,” it adds.

A further £10,000-£25,000 would fund “behavioural change” measures – enforcement, in other words.

The system would be trialled in Woolwich (left) before coming to Greenwich (right)

500+ people per day use the Woolwich tunnel, over 3,000 use the Greenwich tunnel

It’s believed that a system would be trialled in the quieter Woolwich tunnel before being moved to Greenwich by 2016/17.

Fogwoft has invited users to discuss the issue at its annual general meeting on 2 October. (See more on Fogwoft’s website.) The council will also have to consult the public directly about the scheme, which will involve a change to a by-law.

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

The announcement comes as the long-delayed refurbishment works on both tunnels enter their final stages, after long delays caused by poor management of the project, both by the council and contractor Hyder Consulting.

Greenwich Foot Tunnel

While deep cleaning hasn’t taken place, the lifts at Woolwich are now working, though anecdotal evidence suggests the Greenwich lifts are still bedevilled by breakdowns. Indicators have been placed in the Greenwich tunnel to warn of lift problems, although they are difficult to read in sunlight.

In December 2012, a poll on this website showed 51% of voters would back cycling in the tunnel at all times, with just 16% favouring the current ban and 18% backing the kind of compromise Greenwich is going for. This may indicate something about the readership of this website, though.

But with Greenwich Council backing the motor vehicle-only Silvertown Tunnel, and with even more intensive development planned for the Isle of Dogs, the foot tunnel issue shows it’s clear there is still a massive, unmet demand for safe pedestrian and cyclist crossings from south-east to east London.

Monday update: Here’s an interesting project – the echoey sounds of the Woolwich Foot Tunnel captured in Waves of Woolwich.

Greenwich Council forced to reveal Silvertown Tunnel report

Bridge The Gap relaunch

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.

Greenwich Time, 4 December 2012The 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.”

Greenwich Council Labour group report, 26 November 2012

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…

Newham Council Gallions Reach Bridge business case

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, there is no evidence, and no business case for Silvertown. Its own Labour party members won’t back it, and neither will neighbouring Labour councils.

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: ‘We’ll build our own river crossing’

This truncated road at the end of Barnham Drive would be the approach road to a Gallions Reach crossing. Note the world's worst cycle lane.

This truncated road at the end of Barnham Drive, Thamesmead would form part of the approach to any Gallions Reach crossing. Note the world’s worst cycle lane.

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.

Barnham Drive, ThamesmeadWhile 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.

Read Greenwich Council’s response and report to cabinet member Denise Hyland.

Greenwich Council’s Bridge The Gap campaign runs aground

So, you’re the PR boss of a London borough, earning £125,000 a year. You’ve cooked up a campaign to get a new road tunnel built which is going to lead to even more traffic piling into your already-saturated borough. It’s a controversial one.

Your social media launch had to be pulled, so now you’re now launching it to the mainstream media. You pick a nice riverside location. After all, your borough has London’s longest riverfront.

But you forget to check the tide tables. So when you arrive, it’s low tide…

Bridge The Gap press launch, 4 January 2013

Perhaps doing it in view of the much-loved Woolwich Ferry, which you’re campaigning to get rid of, probably wasn’t wise either. Oh dear, oh dear…

Greenwich Council Bridge The Gap launch, 4 January 2013

Next, all you’ll need is your senior councillor admitting not having done any research – but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Sadly, I couldn’t be there, but Greenwich and Newham councils’ launch of their Bridge The Gap campaign on Friday ended up being shared with a protest on the North Woolwich foreshore from Friends of the Earth, Roads To Nowhere and Stop City Airport. If only they’d done it at high tide, eh?

These campaigners are flat out against any new roads, while it must be emphasised the No Silvertown Tunnel petition doesn’t have a view on other crossings, but it’s good to see Greenwich and Newham’s attempt to hijack TfL’s river crossings consultation itself hijacked once again.

Will Greenwich Council now get the message that campaigning for an additional tunnel branching off the A102, attracting more traffic, more jams and more pollution, is suicidal? We’ll have to wait and see, but you can help by signing the petition.

For some strange reason, neither Greenwich’s Dear Leader Chris Roberts nor Newham’s elected mayor Sir Robin Wales bothered to show up, so the gig was left to regeneration cabinet member Denise Hyland and her Newham counterpart, Conor McAuley. Neither were particularly convincing, as this video from London 24 shows…

Ah, Denise Hyland – cabinet member for minicab firms. To be fair, she could have told Adam from Kidbrooke Kite to bugger off, but she did talk to him. What she said showed just how little thought Greenwich Council put into this campaign.

Had Greenwich considered the impact on traffic and pollution before campaigning for a Silvertown Tunnel? No, she said.

“This is TfL’s job to do this not the Royal Borough of Greenwich. We are a stakeholder and we will hold TfL to account around traffic modelling, environmental impact and the like.”

Holding TfL to account by backing its mad scheme? Eh? But never mind, it’s okay, because the Romans did it…

“What we know, and I take you back into history, is that the Romans discovered that when you put a bridge across a river you get prosperity either side of that bridge and that is really important to us.”

Funny that, because it wasn’t the construction of the second Blackwall Tunnel in 1967 that brought development to the Greenwich peninsula (the old gasworks were entering a 20-year decline) – but the opening of the Jubilee Line in 1999. There’s no sign building a third will do any better.

Indeed, it seems Greenwich has launched the campaign on nothing more than a hunch and a desire to “show leadership” (going back to its basic “do as you’re told” instinct again) – and we’re into a bizarre world when a Labour council is relying on a Tory mayor to come up with the figures to justify what they want.

Curiously, Newham doesn’t seem as on board with the campaign as Greenwich is – a planned campaign page at www.newham.gov.uk/bridgethegap has failed to materialise. Wonder why that is?

Unfortunately, despite the fact that parts of the Greenwich Labour party are revolting against the scheme – local party chairman David Gardner is among the petition’s signatories – it seems that councillors are digging in. And covering their ears. Here’s cabinet member John Fahy, who, incredibly, is in charge of public health issues, so you might think would be worried about something which would cause more pollution.

A veteran of local politics should know and act better than this.

Even more bizarrely, he later used the greenwich.co.uk forum to imply that more congestion in Kidbrooke wasn’t an issue because “these issues exist already”.

That’s what we’re up against – but we can still force the council to listen. Please, if you haven’t already, sign the petition and fill in TfL’s consultation. And if you live in the borough of Greenwich, please, ask your local councillors what the hell they think they’re playing at.

Might be worth reminding them they’re up for election next year.

Finally, the London Assembly, which scrutinises the work of the mayor, is holding a seminar on Wednesday about river crossings. If you can’t make it – it’s in the daytime, after all – they’d be delighted to take a written submission. Mine’s on its way, so why not send one too?

11.30pm update: This week’s edition of council pravda Greenwich Time ignores the protests, but wrongly claims TV crews showed up.

Enough is enough – sign up, say no to Silvertown Tunnel

So far, Greenwich Council is up to 554 pledges on its campaign to bring more traffic jams and pollution to local streets with a third Blackwall Tunnel.

Greenwich Time, 18 DecemberThe figure was released last week at a council meeting, which included 260 paper responses to its Bridge the Gap campaign, leaving 244 online sign-ups.

The council had been collecting signatures from shoppers in the centre of Woolwich in the run-up to Christmas – indeed, Greenwich Time showed regeneration cabinet member Denise Hyland (the woman who blamed the delays to Greenwich Foot Tunnel on non-existent “hidden structures”) outside Tesco. Wonder why she hasn’t taken her campaign to Greenwich itself yet?

In last week’s meeting, Hyland also branded those who hijacked the council’s attempt to spread its campaign across Twitter as “juvenile individuals”. The quality’s dreadful, but you can hear her talk about it here:

But she insists the names of those who have signed the council’s pledge will remain “confidential information” – despite the fact that this is being used to demonstrate “public support” for the council’s wheeze.

Of course, there’s been no evidence produced by the council for the benefits of a such a tunnel – just a claim that “business and civic leaders” support it, and quotes from cab drivers. Forget kids’ health in Greenwich, a minicab firm in Plumstead can get to London City Airport five minutes quicker!

Yet more of this rubbish is to come, despite the obvious damage to east Greenwich, Charlton, Blackheath, Kidbrooke and Eltham more traffic on the A102 and A2 will cause, with whispers that a formal launch is planned for the new year.

Apart from rumours of unhappiness in local Labour parties – will they have the courage to go public? – no politician and no pressure group has stepped forward to champion the cause against the Silvertown Tunnel. Yet every time I’ve mentioned Silvertown on this website, nearly every commenter comes out against it – something that surprises me. Nearly a year ago, 88% of voters came out against the plan in a poll on this website.

What this area needs is a strategy to funnel traffic away from the A2/A102 – not force more traffic up it, through pollution blackspots such as the Woolwich Road flyover, Kidbrooke, and Eltham stations. That could come in various ways – but our first concern should be to protect our neighbourhoods. If nobody else will, then we, the people who’ll have to live with a tunnel, have to do something instead.

I’ve teamed up with Kidbrooke Kite‘s Adam Bienkov, and today, we’re launching the No to Silvertown Tunnel petition at. Please read it, sign it, and share it with friends and family – www.silvertowntunnel.co.uk.

Please also fill in the TfL consultation. I must stress this isn’t a petition for or against any other road crossing, such as a bridge at Thamesmead, axing Dartford tolls or building public transport or cycle/foot crossings. If you have views on those – and hell, there’s loads more sensible ways to solve this problem than the crock Greenwich Council expects us to swallow – then tell the TfL consultation.

No to Silvertown Tunnel is merely to show the Mayor of London that the people of Greenwich and the surrounding areas do not want more traffic on the A102 and A2. It is also to show Greenwich councillors that their Bridge The Gap campaign does not speak for local people. Your name will appear on the website if you wish it to, it won’t if you don’t wish it to. To verify your signature, you’ll need to sign up for a change.org account, although this won’t take a second.

Signing the petition will also generate emails to the mayor, TfL’s consultation team, Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts, Newham mayor Sir Robin Wales and cabinet members in both boroughs.

Please, don’t just think “umm, this is a good idea”. Take a couple of minutes to do something. And if you can spare expertise (poster design, web design) and/or time to spend campaigning in person, then we’d really love your help – email silvertowntunnel[at]yahoo.com. We need all the help we can get against the well-funded Greenwich and Newham council PR machines.

This is going to be a big task – but if we can work together, we can stop this crazy idea. Please sign, wherever you are. If you don’t like it, well, your money’s paying for another petition…

The campaigners who halted Boris’s cable car

As Adam reports on The Scoop, the London Cable Car scheme from Greenwich to the Royal Docks has been halted because of safety concerns. It’s a startling development, considering Transport for London was confident the proposal was safe, despite passing through the crash zone of London City Airport.

The hold-up is down to the tenacity of Poplar-based campaigner Alan Haughton and Friends of the Earth‘s Jenny Bates, who have monitored the proposal since it was announced last summer. They claim government safety guidance on such “public safety zones” has been ignored. To put their objections in context, FoE has also backed campaigners who want to stop the airport’s expansion – and Haughton has harried Newham Council on its handling of this, along with the Thamesmead based Fight The Flights group.

I met them at the Greenwich Council planning hearing last month, but our chat was interrupted by a furious Richard De Cani – Transport for London’s strategy director – challenging their claims, even though de Cani had already done his job by winning planning permission, assuring councillors that neither the Civil Aviation Authority nor London City Airport had objected to the scheme.

But Haughton and Bates didn’t give up, and after Greenwich followed Newham and the London Thames Gateway Development Corporation (which is responsible for part of the land in Silvertown) in backing the scheme, they badgered the media with their case – resulting in today’s embarrassing news for City Hall. Now National Air Traffic Services will review the situation and report back to TfL.

Haughton said: “Boris Johnson’s desire to see a Cable Car across the Thames for 2012 is an Olympic sized mess. The planning application has ignored key safety guidelines and objections. Newham Council supported the London City Airport expansion and were fully aware of the increased Public Safety Zone. Newham Council want two bites of the same cherry regardless of the potential human cost.”

TfL is confident the scheme will go ahead and in time for the Olympics – but with a timetable that was already looking extremely tight, that’s now got to be in serious doubt.