By Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter
London Mayor Sadiq Khan is facing renewed pressure to dump the controversial Silvertown Tunnel project, with shadow minister for climate change Matthew Pennycook leading new calls to ditch the proposed Thames crossing.
Labour’s Mr Pennycook, whose Greenwich and Woolwich constituency includes the southern entrance of the tunnel, wrote to Mr Khan urging the £1.2b project be scrapped amid Transport for London’s (TfL’s) financial woes.
It was co-signed by his cross-river colleague, West Ham MP Lyn Brown.
In the letter, the pair lobby for a review into the overall viability of the project given TfL’s well-publicised funding issues, which resulted in a £1.6 billion Government bail-out in May.
The duo also urged a review of “the robustness of the scheme’s financing model” due to “recent developments in respect of TfL’s financial position”.
While acknowledging there would likely be financial penalties if TfL back-flipped on the deal to build the tunnel, the pair expressed fears any blow-out in costs if they proceed would be borne by TfL itself, stating “even the most well-conceived major infrastructure projects have a tendency to overrun.
“As such, we believe the perilous financial situation in which TfL now finds itself is reason enough to review the case for embarking on a major capital project, given that the future health and prosperity of our city is more and more dependent on us reducing our reliance on cars.”
They also asserted that “green transport must be the future for our city”.
The letter went on: “That means a focus not on road-building but on large-scale investment in adapted public transport, ensuring more frequent and reliable bus and rail services, and measures to significantly boost walking and cycling.”
The move is the latest development in the internal Labour Party dispute surrounding the controversial project, which is backed largely by City Hall, decried by Labour MPs, and has split local party members at Greenwich council.
The Mayor’s office has steadfastly defended the project despite growing concerns over its viability, alongside long-standing concerns that extra traffic using the tunnel would harm air quality in the communities surrounding the entrances.
A spokesman for the Mayor of London said in June the tunnel would play a “crucial role” in tackling congestion and improving “overall air quality” across the river in east London.
“It’s just wrong to suggest you can’t reduce congestion and improve river crossings in the east of London while also tackling the climate emergency,” the spokesman said.
“Sadiq has been clear that he doesn’t want to replace one health crisis with another, and he is determined that our city’s recovery from coronavirus will be clean, green and sustainable.
“But it is essential that we also continue with our plan to build a new tunnel at Silvertown, as the existing infrastructure is both antiquated and worn out.”
A multinational consortium called Riverlinx successfully bid for the contract from Transport for London (TfL) in November and will chip in private capital to fund the project, receiving repayment via a vehicle toll on the tunnel in a private finance initiative (PFI).
As a result, the Mayor’s office said the funding arrangements meant that if the project “hypothetically weren’t to proceed, there would not be a penny available to reinvest in anything else”.
The consortium includes Aberdeen Standard Investments, BAM group, Cintra (a subsidiary of Ferrovial), Australia’s Macquarie Capital and SK Engineering & Construction.
Pictured top: An artist’s impression of what the entrance to the tunnel could look like
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