Friends of the Earth urges Mayor John Biggs to fight Silvertown Tunnel

A map showing the route of the planned tunnel. Image: Transport for London

The local branch of Friends of the Earth wants people to write to Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs urging him to oppose the Silvertown Tunnel – a planned road link from Silvertown to the Greenwich Peninsula which they say would worsen already shocking air pollution levels locally.

In an email to supporters, Tony Black from Hackney and Tower Hamlets Friends of the Earth wrote: “Through traffic is the cause of 60 per cent of air pollution emissions in the borough [of Tower Hamlets] and there is strong evidence that building new roads generates extra traffic, which leads to worse congestion overall and to worse air pollution.”

It is thought nearly 9,500 people die early each year in London owing to long-term exposure to air pollution.

The tunnel, a proposal put forward by the former Mayor of London Boris Johnson during his time in office, would be a four lane road route under the Thames.

The proposal must now steer its way through the final stage of the planning process in order to become a reality, having been rubber stamped by the Planning Inspectorate earlier this year.

The tunnel is intended to ease cross-river congestion, but groups opposed to it say it will merely exacerbate the problem.

TfL supports the project, however, and has stated that the tunnel will “create opportunities for new jobs in the local area, help local employers to access new markets and reduce the environmental impact of traffic congestion”.

Opponents dispute the jobs claim and say better public transport links would be favourable.

A special planning inquiry is now due to take place under a process that kicks into action for all nationally significant infrastructure schemes.

It will begin later this year and run until early next 2017, and Mayor Biggs is being urged to raise objections at this stage. His views on the scheme are not known.

Construction would begin in 2018 and the earliest the Silvertown Tunnel could become operational is in 2022, according to TfL.

The East End Citizen has asked Mayor Biggs whether he will be objecting to the tunnel but he has not replied to the question.

Updated: At 10am on Thursday 15 September Mayor Biggs sent the following response:

“Improving air quality in the East End is a key priority for me. People die younger, and our children’s lungs are stunted because of it.

“I can understand why people are concerned about the Silvertown Tunnel proposal but the fact is that not building it will not solve this problem. Indeed it distracts from the actions we need to take.

“In East London we have very few river crossings, and as a result the queues for those we do have, like the Blackwall Tunnel, stretch for miles poisoning the surrounding area and making it one of the most polluted parts of our borough.

“Of course we should make public transport more attractive and get people out of their cars but some people will continue to drive, whether for personal or commercial purposes.

“On balance, I support the Silvertown proposal, including tolls and traffic restraints with it, because it will relieve pressure and damage at the Blackwall Tunnel approach.

“Nothing is more toxic than hundreds of stationary vehicles stuck in queues. By keeping traffic moving more efficiently, and also reducing its volume, it is possible we can reduce overall air pollution and keep our city moving.

“We must also take steps to reduce car use in East London. People, not just commuters but local people too, need to change their behaviour and it is increasingly urgent that we do this too.”