The mayor of London is being urged to intervene at the 11th hour and halt plans for a new four-lane road tunnel under the Thames which opponents say would worsen pollution and exacerbate the climate crisis.
Tunneling equipment is on site on the banks of the River Thames, and work on the £2billion Silvertown Tunnel is due to start in the coming weeks.
But the program has faced widespread opposition from locals, politicians, climate scientists and medical experts who say it would increase traffic and worsen public health in some of the country’s most deprived boroughs. . They also say it will lock in high-carbon transport for generations to come.
Siân Berry, a Green party member at the London assembly, said it was not too late for Sadiq Khan to change his mind.
“This is the mayor’s very last chance to stop this and save the majority of the project costs…if he stops the tunnel boring machines now, he can not only avoid creating traffic and pollution in the vast area of London, but also avoid wasting money on a project that belongs to the last century.
Simon Pirani, an honorary professor at Durham University and a member of the Stop Silvertown Tunnel campaign group, agreed: “It is still not too late to cancel this project, which will be so damaging and will exacerbate local pollution problems in the air and undermine London’s efforts to meet its climate targets.
The tunnel is expected to be built near the existing Blackwall Tunnel in east London and would carry four lanes of traffic – two in each direction. The Guardian has revealed the project could cost more than £2billion over the next three decades if it goes ahead.
Opponents privately acknowledge that the chances of stopping digging at this point are slim, but say the fight is not over. Next week the Green Party will hold a meeting asking for ideas on what the tunnel could be used for – if built – instead of private fossil fuel transport.
Berry said Londoners were able to come up with many other options that could work, from new train and bus links to cycling and walking routes under the Thames. She said they might even want something completely different from the tunnel, like an art or music room.
“The mayor must hear us absolutely clearly, if the digging starts, it is not the end of the opposition to this project. It’s a plan that just can’t go forward.
The plans faced opposition from a growing list of MPs and councillors. Shadow climate change minister Matthew Pennycook, whose constituency of Greenwich and Woolwich would contain one end of the tunnel, called on Khan to reverse the plan. Lyn Brown, the Labor MP for West Ham, where the other end of the tunnel is believed to be, has also called for it to be scrapped.
At least eight constituency Labor groups have passed motions opposing the plans in recent months.
Climate justice campaigners, anti-pollution campaigners and key youth groups within Labor also oppose the scheme and warn that unless Khan cancels it, he and Labor could lose the lead. support from a generation of young voters.
Khan’s administration has repeatedly defended the scheme, saying it is essential to improve river crossings in east London – particularly the Blackwall Tunnel – which are ‘outdated and worn out’ and claim that it would reduce pollution.
A spokesperson pointed out that cross-sectional bus services would use the tunnel and added: ‘The Blackwall Tunnel and the new Silvertown Tunnel will be subject to user fees and, when combined with the Mayor’s comprehensive policy of reducing car use in Greater London in favor of active and public transport options will help reduce congestion without increasing the volume of traffic crossing the river.