Report calls for Silvertown Tunnel to be scrapped due to “unprecedented changes”

By Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter

The £1.2 billion Silvertown Tunnel project should be dumped in the wake of “unprecedented changes” to transport across London caused by the Covid-19 pandemic as cycling and pedestrian rates soar, a new report claims.

The plan to build the new cross-Thames link between Silvertown and the Greenwich Peninsula was also damned as “incompatible” with the Greater London Authority’s target of achieving carbon-neutrality by 2030 in the report, entitled ‘The Silvertown Tunnel is in a hole, so stop digging’.

Compiled by Oxford-based senior research fellow Simon Pirani, the report is also littered with references to Greenwich council’s support of the plans, with the authority repeatedly backing the scheme.

Written against the backdrop of the coronavirus drastically changing levels and modes of public transport, the report states the need for, at least, a review of the tunnel’s necessity due to the marked changes around London caused by the pandemic.

“First, (the pandemic) has triggered an economic recession that will oblige government at all levels to reconsider investment priorities,” the report states.

“Second, the rapid changes in work and transport practices during the lockdown are counteracting economic drivers towards car dependence.

“Some demand for car journeys, for road space, and for cars, will be permanently reduced.”

The report added that the “construction of the tunnel would have a considerable carbon impact” alone.

A spokesman for the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, rejected the report’s assertion that the tunnel would hinder environmental goals.

“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.”

The Mayor’s office said introducing tolls at the Blackwall and Silvertown tunnels would “play a crucial role in tackling congestion, improving Overall air quality and providing much-needed additional bus services across the river”.

A multi-national 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), Macquarie Capital and SK Engineering & Construction.

The funding for the project is one of the points of contention picked out by long-time opposition group Stop the Silvertown Tunnel, one of the publishers of the report.

“Sadiq Khan’s Silvertown Tunnel is economically worthless, spending £1.2bn to build a massive, environmentally destructive new crossing that’s so badly designed it won’t actually move any more people across the river,” spokeswoman Victoria Rance said.

Pictured top: Protesters campaigning against the Silvertown Tunnel last year

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