London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, has angered green campaigners by approving a controversial four-lane road tunnel in east London.
Critics of the £1bn Silvertown tunnel linking the Greenwich peninsula and the Royal Dock accused Khan of betrayal when he announced the go-ahead for a modified version of the plan on Tuesday. They suggested he was against the idea during his election campaign.
Khan said the latest plans for the tunnel had a “greener focus”, including a proposal for ferrying cyclists and their bikes through the tunnel by bus.
But Caroline Russell, the Green party London assembly member, said the tunnel would lead to more pollution and congestion. She also dismissed attempts to improve environmental credentials of the project as tokenistic. She said: “New roads attract new traffic, pollute the air and are incredibly expensive so it’s extremely disappointing that the mayor is pushing ahead with the damaging Silvertown tunnel.”
Her concerns were echoed by the No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign. Its chair, Anne Robbins, said: “For Sadiq Khan to call this a ‘greener Silvertown tunnel’ hides the fact that Greenwich and the Royal Docks would be a dumping ground for the south of England’s congestion and pollution. He talks a good game when it comes to pollution and congestion in central London, but communities in east and south-east London clearly don’t seem to matter as much. They will be living with even worse traffic and poorer air.
“Khan promised a full review of the tunnel but has made no attempt to reach out to those who will have to live with the consequences [of the scheme].”
The first stage of a planning inquiry into the project is due to begin next week. If it is approved, the tunnel – to be paid for by a toll – would open in 2023.
Matthew Pennycook, the Labour MP for Greenwich and Woolwich, tweeted his disappointment and said the changes to plans did not resolve concerns about congestion and pollution.
But the Freight Transport Association said Khan’s decision was “excellent news for east London”. Its head of policy, Christopher Snelling, said: “The shortage of road crossings beyond Tower Bridge is already holding back the economy in that part of the city. The congestion we currently have at crossings like Blackwall causes massive unnecessary local pollution and disruption for residents – we would all be better off with smoother flowing traffic. This new crossing will not be enough to solve everything, but it will be a big step forward.”
Khan also announced his commitment to several other river crossings in east London, including accelerated plans for a new pedestrian and cycle bridge linking Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf and a new Docklands Light Railway crossing at Gallions Reach.
Khan said: “It’s no secret that London has long needed more river crossings in the east. But we don’t want these to have a damaging impact on our environment, and that’s why I’ve reviewed and improved plans for Silvertown tunnel and why I’m pushing forward with crossings that encourage public transport, walking and cycling. As we continue to unlock the massive economic potential of east London, we must secure the very best transport infrastructure that improves the quality of life for everyone living and working in the area.”
The Rotherhithe pedestrian and cycle bridge, which was one of Khan’s manifesto commitments, will need to be opened up for passing ships. The mayor’s office has yet to decide whether this should be by a conventional bascule bridge (drawbridge) or a more innovative swing bridge. A competition for designs will open next year.
David Leam, the infrastructure director at London First, which represents businesses in the capital, said: “Better river crossings will help unlock the economic potential of east and south-east London and connect thousands of new homes in Newham, Barking, Greenwich and elsewhere. We’re delighted the mayor has sped up these plans, aiming to deliver new ways of getting across the river within the next five to 10 years.”