By Lachlan Leeming, Local Democracy Reporter
Transport for London (TfL) has not ruled out a coronavirus-induced delay to major construction works on a new tunnel under the River Thames.
TfL awarded a £1 billion contract to the Riverlinx consortium in November to build the Silvertown Tunnel, a 1.4km under-river road which will connect the Greenwich Peninsula to west Silvertown.
And while major construction work was due to begin on the tunnel later this year – with a completion date set for 2025 – TfL now says it will continue to review the situation amid the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic.
TfL said detailed design and planning work on the tunnel has continued after the body suspended construction on its projects as part of a ‘Safe Stop’ across London in March.
A TfL spokesman said: “Since awarding the contract we have been working closely with Riverlinx to mobilise their team and commence the next stages of design and planning work. We are currently in the detailed design stage.
“While the Safe Stop is in place, work continues on the design and planning for the scheme where it is possible for this work to be carried out safely and in line with relevant guidance. For example, design teams are able to work from home.
“Main construction works were not anticipated to commence until later this year but, as with all our construction activities, we will be continuing to review our plans in response to the coronavirus crisis. We are working through any implications of this on the programme with Riverlinx.”
However, TfL did water down concerns that financial troubles facing the government body could impact the building of the Silvertown Tunnel, stating that private finance already had covered most of the project.
TfL was forced to place about 7,000 employees – or 25 per cent of its workforce – on furlough from April 27, after the coronavirus pandemic saw travel on the underground fall by 95 per cent and bus trips by 85 per cent.
“We are working closely with Riverlinx, who are delivering the Silvertown Tunnel for TfL, to understand and plan for any impacts due to the coronavirus pandemic,” TfL said in response to enquiries about the financial ramifications of the virus.
“The Silvertown Tunnel is being delivered by Riverlinx through a design, finance, build and maintain contract.
“This means the vast majority of the scheme’s costs will be covered by private finance, which has already been raised.
“Payments from TfL towards the scheme are scheduled to begin once the tunnel is constructed and open for use and will come from revenue generated via the user charging at Blackwall and Silvertown Tunnel.”
Advocates say the project will provide important new routes across the Thames for east London and reduce traffic congestion.
However, sceptics have attacked the project for being “outdated” and fear it could have harmful health impacts for residents exposed to extra vehicle pollution around the tunnel.
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