Silvertown tunnel protesters arrested after chaining themselves to platform on Thames

By Jessie Mathewson, Local Democracy Reporter

Three Extinction Rebellion protesters were arrested after they chained themselves to a drilling platform on the Thames to oppose a planned road tunnel under the river.

Activists staged the demonstration on Saturday, and vowed to continue disruptive action when construction starts.

The Silvertown tunnel will connect the Greenwich peninsula to the Royal Docks in Newham, and is expected to open in 2025.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, claims it will ease congestion around the Blackwall Tunnel.

But activists fear it will increase traffic and worsen pollution in some areas – and say the Mayor should consider a high toll on the existing crossing.

In a step change in direct action, three protesters boarded a Thames drilling rig early on Saturday morning, and unfurled a banner reading “No toxic tunnel”.

The protesters attached themselves to the platform by the neck using bike locks, and sent the keys to the Mayor with a letter asking him to come and talk with them.

The rig is believed to be carrying out preparatory work for the tunnel ahead of construction – although this has not been confirmed.

Police were quickly on the scene, but protesters were not removed for 11 hours.

Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition spokesman Dominic Leggett said demonstrators had showed they “will not take it lying down” when construction starts.

Mr Leggett claimed there were “clear gaps” in the business case for the tunnel, and said the environmental impact will be serious.

“If you look at all carefully at the economic case for Silvertown the benefits just disappear,” he said.

The scheme is “entirely inconsistent with City Hall’s own carbon targets,” he added – arguing that a new road will increase traffic, and stop the mayor reaching net-zero by 2030.

Mr Leggett accused City Hall of keeping the project “under the radar” and pushing it through despite local objections.

He said many people were unaware of the £1.2 billion scheme, but there was significant opposition.

A spokesman for the mayor confirmed that the tunnel will go ahead, arguing that existing infrastructure is “antiquated and worn out”.

The case for the scheme has been peer reviewed and a public consultation was held, they said.

“It is possible to reduce congestion and improve river crossings in the east of London while also tackling air pollution,” they added.

Introducing tolls on both the Blackwall tunnel and at Silvertown – and the extension of the Ultra Low Emission Zone from 2021 so that Silvertown will be within the area covered – will play a crucial role in tackling congestion, improving overall air quality and providing much-needed additional bus services across the river.”

Pictured top: A police boat approaches the rig (Picture: Extinction Rebellion Greenwich)


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