London’s new river crossing schemes get mixed reception from green campaigners

A new tunnel feeding into this A102 southbound queue can only make congestion and pollution worse, campaigners say (Photograph: No To Silvertown Tunnel)
A new tunnel feeding into this A102 southbound queue can only make congestion and pollution worse, campaigners say (Photograph: No To Silvertown Tunnel)

Sadiq Khan’s commitment to press on with building the controversial Silvertown Tunnel road link, which he announced amid a raft of measures today, has angered green campaigners.

But they have warmly welcomed the mayor’s decision to “accelerate” proposals for a new bridge, designed for bikes and walkers, connecting Rotherhithe with Canary Wharf.

As part of his package of announcements on new river crossings in East London, the Mayor of London also said the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) would be extended to the suburb of Thamesmead.

Assessments will also be made about the viability of a new passenger ferry to link North Greenwich with the Isle of Dogs, he added.

And he vowed to look into the potential for a new London Overground rail bridge to connect the ambitious Barking Riverside development with Abbey Wood south of the river.

Mixed verdict

The plans received a mixed reception overall, with passenger watchdog London TravelWatch calling the proposed DLR extension and cyclist-pedestrian bridge “very positive”.

Politicians in economically booming areas of East London have long demanded more crossing points, particularly for cyclists, who currently have to ride across Tower Bridge or push their bikes through the foot tunnels at Greenwich or Woolwich if they want to cross the Thames anywhere east of the City.

Caroline Pidgeon, Liberal Democrat London Assembly transport spokesperson, called the Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf pedestrian-cycle bridge “London’s most needed river crossing”.

She added: “It will enable thousands of people to cross the Thames by bike or foot in a part of London where it practically impossible to do so at present.

“I cannot think of any other proposed river crossing that will deliver such huge benefits for so little public money. The bridge will also play a critical role in reducing pressure on the overcrowded Jubilee Line, especially between Surrey Docks and Canary Wharf.”

However, she said she was “disappointed that the Mayor is still obsessed with a new Silvertown Tunnel”.

Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs, one of just four directly elected council mayors in the capital, last week said Silvertown Tunnel was part of a joined up approach to transportation which he supported.

He insisted the tunnel scheme was vital in relieving pressure on the Blackwall Tunnel and insisted it would not necessarily worsen air pollution.

Critics counter that the tunnel is likely to exacerbate traffic congestion elsewhere on London’s road network, such as heading southbound through Sun-in-the-Sands on the A2, and north of the river along the Lower Lea Crossing and Aspen Way.

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

Biggs told London Citizen’s sister publication the East End Citizen: “The lazy thing for me to do, if I was down the Dog and Duck talking about this, would be to say: ‘Building roads – more traffic. I’d never support it.’ But I think in the case of East London it’s a bit more complicated than that.

“Silvertown will have two lanes each way, only one of which will be for private vehicles. The other will be for HGVs that need to cross the river – they’ll have to pay – and buses.

“So we’ll finally be able to get double decker buses under the Thames, which would be pretty good because we can’t get them through Blackwall.

“We’ll be able to get a more intense bus network, which is another benefit. I’m not happy with Silvertown because you can’t get bikes through it.

“Obviously you don’t want cyclists to cycle through the tunnel, but what is the cycling option to cross the Thames?

“Transport for London have rather feebly said it’s the cable car. But it’s slow, it’s ponderous and cyclists who are commuter cyclists don’t want that.

“What I proposed in the consultation was that we could have something a bit like what they have in some other cities around the world where you have perhaps a bus that hops across the Thames that has bike racks on it.”

Environmental implications

Khan insists modifications made to the Silvertown Tunnel plans will mean it is less harmful for the environment.

Environmentalists, however, remain strongly opposed to the scheme, which would connect Royal Docks with the Greenwich Peninsula and is estimated to cost around £1billion.

Friends of the Earth has cited “strong evidence” that building new roads generates extra traffic and leads to worse congestion overall and more noxious air.

And campaign group No To Silvertown Tunnel today accused Khan of “betraying” those who voted for him in the belief he would clean up London’s dirty air.

“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,” the group’s chair Anne Robbins said.

She added: “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’ll have to live with the consequences if his scheme is given the go-ahead.”

Green London Assembly Member Caroline Russell said measures intended to deliver a greener tunnel were “tokenistic” and tweeted that the scheme represented a “missed opportunity”.

Economic growth

Khan said: “It’s no secret that London has long needed more river crossings in the east. With new homes and economic growth across East London, it becomes even more important that we deliver new greener transport links that allow Londoners to cross the river quickly and more easily.

“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 Silvertown Tunnel would open in 2023 and be paid for via a user charge, which City Hall says will help to significantly reduce traffic queues.

Transport for London has confirmed it will look into providing a bespoke cycle-bus, similar to that proposed by Biggs, which will carry cyclists and their bikes through the tunnel on a “turn-up and go basis”.

Other initiatives to mitigate the environmental impact will include making the new tunnel a “low emission bus zone” from the moment it opens.

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