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”.
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
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.
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’
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.
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).
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
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
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
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?
The busway that links Greenwich Millennium Village and North Greenwich station is set to be ripped out and replaced with a dual carriageway, under plans unveiled by Transport for London and Greenwich Council today.
A consultation has been launched into the scheme, which will also see new bus stops installed by the Pilot pub.
It follows a number of collisions in the area, with drivers and pedestrians confused by the unconventional layout, which has two single-carriageway roads placed next to each other; one for buses and one for general traffic.
A woman died in January after being hit by a bus in the Millennium Village during a morning rush hour.
The layout is a legacy of a failed plan to have the Millennium Dome served by guided buses. The buses kept crashing while on test, so the busway was covered in tarmac and handed over for normal bus use in June 2001.
Its proposed replacement would provides one lane for buses and one lane for general traffic in each direction. Despite Transport for London recently installing a “cycle hub” (in reality, a couple of double-deck cycle racks) at North Greenwich station, there is no dedicated space for cyclists. It also appears to improve the access route into North Greenwich station, and removes the traffic lights that hold up buses outside the Pilot, replacing them with a pelican crossing.
But while the new arrangement will be less confusing, it does allow rat-running through the Millennium Village to the car parks for the O2 and at North Greenwich station, with the route through GMV bring a popular cut-through in the mornings. The construction of a dual carriageway through this area may mean one problem has been swapped for another. It seems an opportunity has been missed to keep traffic that shouldn’t be in GMV out of it.
If the Silvertown Tunnel is built, the dual carriageway past the Pilot would also be the main access route to the O2 and surrounding amenities during the construction period.
It also means the under-construction St Mary Magdalene school would be surrounded by dual carriageways on both sides.
Local councillors are pleased with what’s planned…
…but to have your say, visit Transport for London’s consultation site.
Labour’s mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan has backed campaigners who are taking Greenwich Council to court over the planned Enderby Wharf cruise liner terminal.
Khan has issued a statement of support backing the East Greenwich Residents’ Association, which is crowdfunding a legal action against the council’s decision to allow the terminal to permit ships to use their own generators when berthed for an extended period of time – emitting hundreds of heavy lorries’ worth of pollution each day.
Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland – the only borough leader in London who regularly sits on their own planning committee – backed the scheme after she said she couldn’t “see” any pollution while visiting Southampton’s liner terminal with an executive from its developer, London City Cruise Port. Air pollution is normally invisible. Greenwich’s decision was later ratified by Boris Johnson’s deputy mayor, Sir Edward Lister.
EGRA wants to see the terminal use power generated on-shore, with many residents suggesting London Underground’s Greenwich power station on Old Woolwich Road could be used.
Khan, the bookies’ favourite to succeed Boris Johnson next month, said in a statement issued on Saturday: “I praise the dogged campaigning of the East Greenwich Residents Association who are right to be fighting for cleaner air. Too many lives in London are blighted by filthy, polluted air and we should be doing more to clean it up, not make it worse as the proposal at Enderby Wharf risks doing.
“I support bringing everyone involved back to the drawing board to discuss how a clean solution to this can be found involving an onshore energy supply, and as Mayor I’ll do all I can to help this.”
EGRA also secured the backing of Conservative contender Zac Goldsmith at a meeting earlier this month, and have also been backed by Green candidate Sian Berry and Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon – increasing the chances that Boris Johnson’s successor will take steps to make sure the terminal uses onshore power.
The crowdfunding campaign – which has so far raised over £11,000 – is to bring a judicial review of Greenwich’s decision to approve the terminal in September 2015. There will be an initial hearing in front of a judge on 19 April.
An earlier version of the scheme, which did not involve ships effectively being used as floating hotels for extended stays at the terminal, was backed by the council in 2011. Hyland was insistent that objectors should have made their case back then, despite the major changes to the scheme.
Khan’s intervention will be deeply embarrassing for a Greenwich Council leadership that has been ambivalent at best about the effects of air pollution on the community, and that has tried to paint criticism of the cruise liner scheme as being a political plot.
Regeneration cabinet member Danny Thorpe has called criticism of the terminal “scaremongering” by the Green Party, even though the Labour MPs for both sides of the Thames, Matt Pennycook and Jim Fitzpatrick, have both made clear their unhappiness about Greenwich’s decision to back the scheme.
Indeed, given the cautiousness of Khan’s campaign for the mayoralty and his reluctance to criticise schemes backed by other Labour boroughs – such as Lambeth’s support of the deeply controversial Garden Bridge – his comments will be seen as all the more damning of Greenwich’s approach.
But they will also give strength to those Labour councillors – and other figures within the party – who want to see the council adopt a different attitude in its dealings with both developers and local residents.
Khan coughs on Silvertown Tunnel
Khan has also appeared to distance himself from the Silvertown Tunnel – another scheme backed by Greenwich’s leadership in the teeth of opposition from its Labour neighbours. He told industry publication Transport Network that while he wanted to see more road river crossings east of Tower Bridge, he was unhappy with the current proposal and wanted all current plans – which would also include plans for crossings at Thamesmead and Belvedere – to be reviewed.
“Plans as they stand for the Silvertown Tunnel do not fully take into consideration the importance of greener transport, and imposing a toll is in many people’s minds a tax on East and South East Londoners,” he said.
“We need 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.”
Khan’s comments leave former environmental campaigner Zac Goldsmith as the tunnel’s only outright supporter in the race for City Hall. At the very least, they reflect his need to win second-choice votes from supporters of Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon and the Green Party’s Sian Berry, who are both opposed to the scheme. The No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign is currently asking supporters to send the two leading mayoral candidates postcards telling them to oppose the plans.
Greenwich is the only affected borough to have continued backing the scheme, despite opposition from rank and file party members and many councillors.
You can contribute to the Enderby Wharf crowdfunding campaign at www.crowdjustice.co.uk/case/cruise-liner. Full disclosure: I’m a founder member of the No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign.
Two years ago, this website reported on vague Transport for London plans to revive Ringway 1, a controversial 1960s road scheme that would have demolished great chunks of inner London.
Here’s a video about the Ringways. The Blackwall Tunnel approaches are among the few parts of Ringway 1 that were built. The rest of it would have obliterated Brockley, built a huge junction at Lewisham, and carved through Blackheath. (And that’s before we get to Ringway 2, which would have gone through Oxleas Wood.)
Today, those plans to revive the Ringways have been firmed up a little. And Greenwich is in the roadbuilders’ sights. So I thought I’d put something together very quickly…
Johnson’s plan is for a northern tunnel from the A40 at Park Royal to the A12 at Hackney Wick (in other words, the Blackwall Tunnel northern approach), and a southern tunnel from the A4 at Chiswick to the A13 at Beckton.
It’s interesting how TfL’s map de-emphasises the River Thames. I’ve blown it up, and it looks like it’s ploughing straight from a junction on the Old Kent Road through Deptford and the bottom of Greenwich Park. It certainly looks like it’s aiming for an interchange with the A102 at the Woolwich Road flyover, before heading towards City Airport and Beckton.
The Silvertown Tunnel was always going to be toe in the water to test the acceptance of new road schemes, and although the most recent consultation revealed massively increased opposition to the scheme, local politicians’ collaboration with the roadbuilders has helped give them the confidence to come up with schemes like this.
I wonder if Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland, regeneration cabinet member Danny Thorpe and ex-leader Chris Roberts ever realised their unconditional support for the Silvertown Tunnel would lead to the Greenwich world heritage site sitting under a roadbuilders’ map?
My guess is that perhaps what the plan’s actually for is to build across the Isle of Dogs to meet Bugsby’s Way, a plan which appeared occasionally in the 1970s and 1980s as the Docklands Southern Relief Road, and in the 1990s in aborted ideas for a Greenwich by-pass. Although this would make four tunnels under the Thames, not two.
But who knows? TfL used today’s announcement to hide news that it’s formally applying for permission to build the Silvertown Tunnel, leaving it down to the next mayor to cancel the scheme. What we do know is that via the Silvertown Tunnel, the roadbuilders are back. Do we have the the politicians who can stop them?
Greenwich Council’s Conservative group has asked Transport for London to halt the controversial Silvertown Tunnel scheme – so it can be assessed along with rejected plans for a Docklands Light Railway extension to Eltham.
The borough’s main opposition group has lined alongside the Labour council’s leadership in backing the new road “in principle”, despite widespread concerns it will increase rather than decrease pollution.
However, it wants the process – which is being rushed through so the planning process can begin before Boris Johnson leaves office – paused so proposals for a DLR link to Eltham can be included in the scheme.
Johnson’s successor can continue with, pause, or scrap the Silvertown Tunnel scheme after May’s mayoral election. A “final” consultation into the proposal ended at the end of November.
In their response to the scheme, the Tories say the tunnel – which relies on the same southern approach road as the Blackwall Tunnel – will be “a much-needed improvement to the resilience of our local transport network.
But the report – from local party leader Matt Hartley and transport spokesman Matt Clare – says that not including a DLR link to Eltham in the scheme is a “missed opportunity” that “would take a significant amount of traffic off the road network” as well as being “transformative for the South East London economy”.
“Our area of London is suffering from decades of under-investment in transport infrastructure because bold decisions were not taken in the past – and we fear that not including the DLR extension is a further example of this,” it adds.
For a scheme that has been flatly rejected by Transport for London, the mythical DLR extension to Eltham has an amazing hold over Greenwich borough politicians – with an ability, in their minds, to magic away the congestion and pollution new road schemes can bring.
The return of the DLR on stilts
So what went wrong? In 2011, Greenwich Council spent £75,000 commissioning two reports into a proposal to build a link from Canning Town to Falconwood, following the A102 and A2, providing a service to and from Stratford International.
Hyder Consulting’s first report, which outlined the idea and costed it at £1 billion, was never released publicly – despite being discussed in a cabinet meeting – until this website obtained it under the Freedom of Information Act. Here it is. It was submitted to TfL for comments.
But the follow-up – which aimed to answer TfL’s concerns – was suppressed by the council, hidden for nearly two years, with misleading answers given to anyone who asked about it. It was also never submitted to TfL. It finally emerged in April 2014 after a former Liberal Democrat councillor asked to see it. (Here it is.)
Why wasn’t the report submitted to TfL? Unfortunately for the council, Hyder report concluded that only an extension to Kidbrooke would be feasible – any further would face “disproportionately higher costs”. (It also said the Silvertown Tunnel itself would overwhelm local roads with traffic, expensive advice that Greenwich Council also chose to ignore.)
And TfL itself dismissed the scheme, pointing out that the Jubilee Line at North Greenwich may not be able to cope with interchanging passengers, and better capacity on the existing DLR services were coming.
But the report did contain some startling images of the DLR on stilts as it weaved its way above dual carriageways and homes. It’s worth a read just for those alone.
The Eltham DLR flame still burns for some…
Of course, councillors are paid to be parochial rather than strategic. Which is why Greenwich frets about north/south links within its own borough, and TfL isn’t so fussed. Although if Greenwich councillors were that bothered, you think they’d have pressed TfL on why travelling from Woolwich to Eltham by bus is so lousy.
But there are still keepers of the Eltham DLR flame. After all, Eltham is still a place that can change elections. Less cynically, one of the causes of the Blackwall Tunnel’s jams is the lack of orbital transport in this part of London. A scheme to Kidbrooke, as the report says, could be a goer. But both Tories and Labour want the full Eltham version of a scheme which TfL simply isn’t interested in.
In its 2014 Silvertown Tunnel consultation response, Greenwich Council placed the Eltham DLR as a condition of its continuing support for the scheme. TfL ignored this, Greenwich’s 2015 response still backs the Silvertown Tunnel. Treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen, eh?
The Tories have started banging on about the scheme too – which is how we’ve ended up where we are today, with the Tories backing a scheme which was discredited in a report commissioned by a Labour council which didn’t bother to submit it to a Tory-run transport authority. Phew.
The real shame is that while Greenwich was messing around with the DLR on stilts, Lewisham Council was pursuing a Bakerloo Line extension through Lewisham and Catford – a scheme that’s got every chance of becoming reality. Politicians in Greenwich have belatedly woken up to the benefits of this – but putting Eltham on the Tube would have been a big, big prize.
So what about Greenwich Labour? Don’t hold your breath…
Meanwhile, Greenwich Council’s response to the Silvertown consultation – in the name of regeneration councillor Danny Thorpe – might as well have been written by former Dear Leader Chris Roberts, whose Bridge The Gap campaign ushered in unconditional support for the tunnel. He’s now working for regeneration PR agency Cratus, which is fretting over whether the Tories will win the mayoral election.
The response, which uses the phrase “royal borough” 57 times, backs the tunnel without hesitation despite outlining a host of concerns, from inadequate air pollution monitoring to the effects on traffic through Greenwich town centre. This continued support suggests it may not be entirely sincere about these concerns, which have been repeated in every consultation since 2012.
It continues to demand that Greenwich borough residents get cheaper car trips through the tunnel while wanting express buses to North Greenwich with priority on the A102 as well – surely contradictory aims for a council that once wanted to persuade people to switch to public transport.
One of the more baffling aspects of the response is a claim that the “opportunity should be taken to improve cross river cycling connections, particularly those between Greenwich Peninsula and the Isle of Dogs”. This is from a council which, when it considered the Greenwich Peninsula masterplan earlier this year, completely ignored a call for a fixed crossing between the peninsula and the Isle of Dogs, even though the cost of it could have been covered by the planning gain.
Instead, it appears to go touting for business for Thames Clippers, owned by O2 owner AEG, putting forward a proposal already included in the masterplan: “The Royal Borough [sic] asks that TfL agrees to explore opportunities to introduce a cross river vehicular or boat ‘cycle shuttle’, to address that demand, as part of ongoing work.”
The dear old Dangleway’s not forgotten, either: “Similarly, the Royal Borough [sic] would expect definitive proposals for a reduction in charges for cyclists using the Cable Car to be contained within the DCO submission.” It’s unclear why cyclists should get a discount ahead of pedestrians, but there you go.
Fiddling while London chokes
So while councils elsewhere pass motions against the Silvertown Tunnel and raise the alarm about the scheme, in Greenwich we have councillors who know full well the scheme will do harm, and are just content to fiddle around the edges rather than take a stand.
Essentially, Greenwich residents are having to rely on Lewisham councillors to defend their interests at the moment – a crazy situation.
We’ve got a mayoral election coming up where both main parties’ candidates will claim to be the “greenest mayor yet”. Their party colleagues in Greenwich seem to be doing their best to sabotage these claims – if they get their way, we’ll all pay for it in the end.
You might have noticed TfL started a new consultation into its planned road river crossings at Gallions Reach and Belvedere a few days ago. You didn’t? Well, what you may have seen is a story about TfL planning 13 new crossings across the Thames. The trouble is – it’s nonsense.
Most of the crossings have very little to do with TfL, only a couple have planning permission and few have any funding. Only one is guaranteed to happen, because it already exists – the Crossrail tunnel at Woolwich, which opens three years from now. The ones TfL are involved with are the most controversial – including the Garden Bridge and the Silvertown Tunnel. It has very little to do with the less contentious ones, such as a cycling/walking bridge at Nine Elms. One at Charlton appears to have been plucked out of thin air, while a deeply controversial scheme – putting the Inner Ring Road in a tunnel – doesn’t appear.
At best it’s a list of options for a new mayor to ponder. At worst, it’s a smokescreen (look! a cycle bridge!) to avoid having an awkward debate on new roads (boo! jams! pollution! tolls!) that would have been sparked by talking about the two Thamesmead crossings.
A similar thing happened in summer 2014, when the London Chamber of Commerce plugged a “cycle friendly” bridge at Thamesmead that was actually the same old bridge that’s been proposed there for years.
Even more bizarrely, the 13 picked for this document includes two TfL doesn’t want to do – including one from Canary Wharf to North Greenwich, which appears to be just an opportunity to expand Thames Clippers services rather than an actual fixed crossing.
The rights and wrongs of each proposal aside, presenting this random collection of optimism over funding struck me as an interesting PR strategy – when the Garden Bridge was starting to hog headlines a year ago, I remember talking a year ago to a figure in London broadcasting about the Silvertown Tunnel, who bemoaned “bridge fatigue” because so many stories were about crossing plans which were annoying people.
What about the Gallions Reach and Belvedere crossings? Well, what makes this consultation interesting is that TfL has lobbed some public transport ideas in them – I’ll look at those in a post soon.
Lewisham Council voted unanimously last night to oppose TfL £1bn Silvertown Tunnel scheme, on the grounds that it risks increasing both congestion and air pollution in the area.
The Labour-run council endorsed a motion proposed by Blackheath councillor Kevin Bonavia, who mocked TfL’s claims on air pollution as “simply not good enough”.
Lewisham’s opposition follows that of Hackney, which passed a motion against the tunnel in July.
The tunnel is by no means a done deal – while the process is being rushed through so it can be ticked off before Boris Johnson leaves office, his successor as mayor can bin the project as soon as they take over.
All but one of Lewisham councillors will be hoping their motion helps to persuade Labour’s mayoral candidate, Sadiq Khan, to dump the scheme. The remaining councillor, the Green Party’s one-man opposition, John Coughlin, also spoke up for the motion. Green candidate Sian Berry is already against the tunnel.
Lewisham’s motion says the planned tunnel between Greenwich and the Royal Docks “risks exacerbating rather than dispersing” traffic congestion in the area, including on the A2 and the South Circular Road in the borough.
The resulting increase in congestion also risks “a deterioration of air quality in the London Borough of Lewisham”, affecting the health of residents, it added.
Particular worries for Lewisham councillors include the dreadful air quality around New Cross and Deptford – which even TfL admits will get worse under the Silvertown scheme – and the congestion blackspot of the Catford one-way system, which needs no help from the Blackwall Tunnel to become gridlocked.
“What TfL don’t say is how they’ll deal with the approach roads,” Cllr Bonavia, the council’s cabinet member for resources, said. “All they’ll have is a widening of the A102 near the tunnel – nothing about the approach roads further up.
“What does that mean for us in Lewisham, on the A2 and South Circular? More congestion.
“This proposal is poorly planned, poorly placed, and can only harm the poor congestion and poor air quality our residents face.”
Seconding the motion, fellow cabinet member Rachel Onikosi accused TfL of “over-egging” claims that the tunnel would be a “congestion killer”.
So Lewisham’s councillors have made it clear they won’t be taken in by TfL. So have Hackney’s. But what about Greenwich?
This website has written before about the dire perils of trying to appease TfL on the Silvertown Tunnel.
The No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign began from a petition on this website three years ago.
It’s since gained a life of its own, conducting three air quality studies, submitting evidence to parliamentary and City Hall inquiries, meeting politicians and doing its damnedest to get this thing stopped. (So I should point out that this post does not represent the views of the campaign, whose members have views of their own.)
Some of the Greenwich political figures who have been asking why this website hasn’t been properly updated for weeks will hopefully have been spending their time reading up on the scheme.
There are thousands of pages of consultation documents to sift through – full of contradictions and dodgy assumptions – but it remains clear that this is a botched scheme that needs to be opposed.
Whether or not you believe new road-building somewhere is what’s needed (generally it’s only a short-term fix at best), the tunnel is looking like a costly, under-scrutinised disaster. It’s all very well crying “something must be done” – this ain’t it, and TfL has played many people for mugs. There’s no one, satisfying big bang solution to getting rid of those jams.
Despite the glossy propaganda which has somehow turned up in scores of community venues across Greenwich borough, TfL has consistently admitted some areas will see increased pollution and congestion because of the scheme.
Tolling is likely to end up being the worst of all worlds, with fees too low to deter HGVs and Kent commuters, but enough to send increasing amounts of more local traffic to Rotherhithe. There are no plans to toll at weekends, despite heavy congestion on Saturdays and Sundays.
Meanwhile, the cost has crept up to £1bn, up from £600m three years ago. Desperate talk about boosting cross-river bus services is at odds with the current reality where TfL neglects the 108, and canned the Rotherhithe Tunnel’s service nine years ago.
And there’s the obvious, fatal flaw that hobbles the scheme from the start – while it’s aimed at relieving northbound Blackwall Tunnel queues, it will only exacerbate each evening’s southbound queues.
Many evenings see traffic at a crawl back through Eltham, Kidbrooke and back into Greenwich – imagine that with the 20% extra traffic even TfL predicts will use the A102/A2. There are also similar problems north of the river.
There are many different reasons why the Silvertown Tunnel must be stopped – whether you’re a driver, a bus user, a pedestrian, a cyclist, someone who has to breathe this area’s foul air, or a combination of all or some of these.
So far, Greenwich’s Labour councillors have stayed notably silent on a Conservative scheme that will have serious implications for the borough. There are murmurings that they’ve been told to keep schtum.
Regeneration cabinet member Danny Thorpe and deputy leader John Fahy attended No to Silvertown Tunnel’s public meeting two weeks ago, but did not contribute any of their thoughts. Nor did the assembled Tories.
What is clear, however, is that the demands put forward in Greenwich’s response to the last Silvertown Tunnel consultation haven’t been met. Demands to run the DLR through the tunnel to Kidbrooke and Eltham have been rejected, and TfL hasn’t been forthcoming with proposals to extend the London Overground from Barking to Abbey Wood.
A third demand, to run the DLR to Thamesmead and Abbey Wood, could appear in a new consultation on a crossing at Gallions Reach to appear on Monday, but taken in isolation, appears to have little relevance to the Silvertown scheme.
Further demands – for independently-scrutinised modelling that shows congestion and pollution would be cut – also have not been met, as the current consultation only carries “preliminary” modelling.
But this website understands from a variety of sources that TfL has been trying to secure Greenwich backing by tying a number of improvements – many desperately needed anyway – to implementation of the Silvertown Tunnel scheme.
These include a bus route from Kidbrooke Village to North Greenwich, which has been on the drawing board for at least 12 years, since the days when the Ferrier Estate was still standing.
More cynically, this website understands that TfL is tying installing a noise barrier along the A102 in Blackheath to implementation of the Silvertown Tunnel scheme, and that Greenwich councillors are happy to go along with this.
Essentially, this means that if residents on Westcombe Hill and Siebert Road (on the left in the picture below) don’t want to be deafened by traffic noise, they have to agree to be choked by even more traffic.
When it comes down to it, the Silvertown Tunnel question comes down to whether you wish to challenge Transport for London’s modelling and the assumptions that lie behind it.
One group which is set not to challenge TfL is the Greenwich Society. This website has seen its draft response, which swallows the TfL line almost completely – backing the tunnel despite admitting it will cause “small increases in traffic on local roads”.
The society left writing its response to Sir Alan Bailey, a former permanent secretary in the Department for Transport in the 1980s – his words reflect the thinking common in those times. Greenwich Society members might like to wonder what they are getting for their subscription fees.
This website understands the Westcombe Society and East Greenwich Residents Association are rejecting the scheme.
Many Greenwich Labour councillors like to pretend they have no influence over the process – even though their mayoral candidate could, if elected, cancel the scheme in May.
Of course, in other political spheres, we’ve seen Labour politicians face down dangerous proposals from Conservative opponents – such as George Osborne’s tax credit cuts.
With Londoners dying from air pollution-related causes, and town centres choked by traffic congestion, it would be refreshing to see Greenwich follow in Lewisham’s lead and stand up for residents. Will they? We’ll have to wait and see.