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Silvertown! Would be best served by constructing new public transport, walking, and cycle crossings

Updated: Mar 2, 2021

There is an inherent and unarguable contradiction in the construction of a new £2bn road tunnel which creates massive new capacity but will not allow more people to cross the river.

1. The Mayor of London declared a Climate Emergency. In a climate emergency we need to reduce motor traffic use. New roads lead to increased traffic. The Silvertown Tunnel creates space for 100,00 new vehicles a day to cross the river. The entire business case for the Silvertown Tunnel is built around traffic (and so carbon emissions) forecasts that assume that emissions reduction targets in the GLA's Environment Strategy are not met. So building the project is incompatible with that Environment Strategy both on environmental grounds and on economic grounds.

2. We are in a clean air emergency too. More traffic means more pollution. The Tunnel has HGV lanes accommodating bigger more polluting vehicles and encouraging them to travel past our homes and thousands of children at school. The new Tunnel mouth emerges in Newham, already the most polluted borough in the UK with high rates of asthma and low birth weight. See this document from 2012. The problem is well known. Small particulate matter from brakes and tyres of heavy goods vehicles reach every part of the body through the blood stream causing a multitude of illnesses. TfL claim Silvertown Tunnel will not worsen air quality overall. But even if we believe that it will definitely worsen air quality for those in Newham and for those who live along the A102 when two tunnels meet southbound at the afternoon peak hour.

3. The Silvertown Tunnel project costs have increased from £600m (Oct 2012) to £700m (Sept 2013) to £750m (Oct 2014). And now a staggering £2bn. Although Heidi Alexander’s office still claim it will cost £1bn in fact currently at £65mn a year plus inflation, nearly £2bn is projected to be paid to Riverlinx, a global PFI, raised by tolls on both tunnels. Before even being built it has risen to an eye watering amount of money to be taken from some of the poorest communities in London. No other river crossing is currently tolled.

4. The tolls for the Tunnel which pay for the scheme are presented as mitigation to keep the additional possible 100,00 extra journeys a day traffic down. TfL says in its document about the tolls

“Without a user charge, the benefits of additional capacity put in place by the new tunnel would be short-lived, owing to an effect known as ‘induced traffic’ in which the increased convenience of driving (owing to reduced journey times, for example) attracts additional traffic to the point where queues initially relieved return to their former levels. This would lead to there still being significant delay at the crossing and to continued adverse impacts on the wider road network in terms of congestion, journey time and journey time reliability. This in turn would undermine the resilience benefits brought about by having an additional tunnel. If no charge were applied, the Scheme would give rise to secondary adverse impacts in terms of the economy, environment and public transport.”

However, these very tolls could be reduced or scrapped by a future populist mayor for example. As TfL forecast, this would lead to massive increases in congestion and pollution across our communities.

5. Given that a toll is seen as a way to keep traffic down by TfL why don’t they simply toll the Blackwall Tunnel and use the £65mn a year on active travel measures? This would both deal with the problem of congestion, if the toll is set high enough, and bring in new income for a cash strapped TfL. They have not properly modelled this possibility. If we can raise £2bn through road charging we should be using it for reducing motor traffic, on public transport schemes, cycling and walking measures. Not to profit an offshore global conglomerate.

6. The Tunnel does not accommodate cyclists pedestrians and cargo bikes. The Mayor of London aims to increase active travel, yet this scheme flies in the face of these aims. Cargo bikes are the future of London’s transport and will help with deliveries of people and goods. This is an outdated scheme.

7. The original projections for the project did not include “change of land use”. We have all seen the huge developments on both sides of the river. Among new plans are the biggest freight depot in Europe on the Newham side, and another freight depot on the Greenwich side. A new road attracts new freight. The traffic projections are outdated.

8. One of the few benefits of the Tunnel is a new double decker bus route through Silvertown Tunnel. However, this commitment in the Development Consent Order to run these new bus services to help mitigate traffic volumes, congestion, and pollution that will be induced by the new tunnel is only funded for three years after opening. Given TfL’s funding situation, and the fact that the Silvertown Tunnel is not on the main bus user desire line, which goes through Blackwall, it is unlikely they will be continued, and, if they are not traffic will inevitably ramp up as bus users are forced to return to use cars. This effect alone will be sufficient to remove any claimed air quality benefit.

In summary we understand the very real issues of congestion at Blackwall, and of the lack of river crossing options in the East of London. However, in a context where you have an overall policy of traffic reduction the answer to these issues is a strategy of motor traffic reduction at the Blackwall crossing. This would be best served by the construction of new public transport, walking, and cycling crossings.

By Victoria Rance

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