Silvertown Tunnel vision

This week, TfL launched a public consultation for the planned Silvertown tunnel, which would link Greenwich Peninsula to the Royal Docks. The plan would reduce the strain on the Blackwall Tunnel, create a direct road link between two of London’s biggest development areas and provide an alternative option whenever the Blackwall Tunnel decides to have one of its little closures.

We’ve kept out of the Silvertown Tunnel debate until now, because the details of the plan hadn’t been released and because there are people we respect who have mounted a very credible campaign against it on the basis of the deleterious effect it would have on air quality in the area. But now, a consultation leaflet’s been shoved through our front doors, it’s time to wade in.  

Opponents are right to highlight the risk of increased air pollution as new capacity encourages more cars and lorries. Air pollution is already bad across London and the Blackwall Tunnel approach is among the capital’s worst hot spots. Air pollution kills thousands of Londoners a year and harms the health of many more. It is arguably the single biggest problem we need to fix. But the campaigners are still wrong to oppose Silvertown.

Back in 2008, when the Thames Gateway Bridge plan for Thamesmead was cancelled, BC argued that the pitiful number of river crossings in East London was the biggest brake on employment growth in the city and it was time to build not just one, but several river crossings here:

“South East London needs more cross-river journeys. It needs more business people jumping in taxis to get across the Thames. It needs more tourists strolling or catching a bus across the river from the north bank. It needs to be part of the same city as north east London. The fact that one of the key crossings is a ferry only strengthens the feeling that the two places are foreign countries to one another.” 

Now, six years and one cable car sop later, wellity, wellity, wellity – everyone’s talking about the urgent need for more crossings to cope with London's rapid growth. Prospective London Mayor Andrew Adonis and a new report called Linking London argue that East London needs four more links to boost the economy by up £1 billion annually. For its part, TfL promises a “package” of new crossings, “including improved connections for cars, public transport, pedestrians, cyclists and freight.” They say:

"We recently held a consultation on options for further river crossings in addition to the Silvertown Tunnel; at Woolwich, Gallions Reach and/or Belvedere.  The Department for Transport has also proposed building a new ‘Lower Thames Crossing’ to provide additional capacity at Dartford."
The planned new river crossings
And it's in this context that Silvertown deserves support. In the absence of other crossings, Silvertown would encourage too much traffic into Greenwich - forcing traffic that doesn't need or want to come in to inner London through Zone 2. But with a range of new options and smart traffic management, Silvertown will be a huge asset, massively reducing the congestion, which is the biggest cause of air pollution. Yes, new supply begets new demand, but proposed tolls at Blackwall and Silvertown, as well a bridge at Belvedere will deliver smoother traffic flow even as the number of journeys grows.

Instead of trying to stop the tunnel as a way to reduce air pollution, we should be campaigning for positive solutions - pushing for a 'Bridge and Tunnel and Ferry' strategy to stop the Peninsula being treated as a funnel - or maybe even lobbying for electric vehicle-only crossings. By the time any of this stuff gets built, we'll all have self-driving, fusion powered, hover cars.

You don't fix London by trying to halt - or worse, ignore - its growth, we have to find smart ways to manage the network. Let the call go out - four more crossings!

28 comments:

Emma said...

I agree more river crossings need to be created. However I would be nice if some of those crossings also catered for pedestrians and not just for cars and trucks.

Lep Recorn said...

if we have to pay £s to cross the river East of Rotherhite - will there be a similar toll west of Westminster? Otherwise TFL must mean Taking East's Libras!

thim said...

It's delusional to think that a car tunnel is going to have any "benefit" other than locking-in car dependence for more people and sending already-high pollution levels in the area even higher.


A disappointing post.

Max Calò said...

Well said, as Nick says "we should be campaigning for positive solutions", for me from this principle it follows that this plan should be opposed until it includes walking and cycling provision on at least an equal standing than cars. Honestly we shouldn't be saying that pollution is awful and kills and in the same breath endorse this plan.

terrencetrentderby said...

The debate is stupid, anyone who can read a map can see there is a serious river crossing deficit in east London.

Build the sodding bridges and associated infrastructure, it will make everyone's lives easier and open up more land for development and economic growth. If there's money for a stupid and needless garden bridge west then we can do this.

terrencetrentderby said...

Who said just cars will use it? There will be space for you and your granny bike I am sure.

Rich said...

This seems very out of sync with the discussions on the tunnel. I am by no means a "no" activist but there is a lot of material available that quite comprehensively questions the sanity of the plan. One of the primary reasons for the objections has been the entire smokescreen by the council in the last X years against the pollution issues, or any other issue associated with it.


In fact, there has been no significant attempt to engage on the pollution issues of East Greenwich for a number of years, with various planning proposals (Ikea) being supported in the face of the frankly appalling traffic and pollution issues.


In general, Silvertown is a poorly considered and very suspect piece of planning that seems to be driven more by vested interests than a long term plan. That, overall is the problem. An infrastructure plan that cannot have honest conversations with various groups about its impact is unacceptable and should not be supported.


The fact that it is a tunnel for starters raises questions. With increasing traffic on cycle and foot in London, how is a 1960s style tunnel with no provision a long term solution?

Deptford Dame said...

Surely you missed a chance for a quote here? 'If you build it, they will come' from Field of Dreams would be my choice.

Brockley Nick said...

"This seems very out of sync with the discussions on the tunnel."


Well in the sense that I disagree with the "no" campaigners, yes it's out of sync.


"I am by no means a "no" activist but there is a lot of material available that quite comprehensively questions the sanity of the plan."


There are good arguments it, yes. That's why I only support it with the caveat that it needs to be part of a wider plan. Fortunately, it is.


"One of the primary reasons for the objections has been the entire smokescreen by the council in the last X years against the pollution issues, or any other issue associated with it."


I think a lot of the opposition to this scheme is coloured by a dislike / distrust of Greenwich Council - but they are not the architects of the plan.

"In fact, there has been no significant attempt to engage on the pollution issues of East Greenwich for a number of years, with various planning proposals (Ikea) being supported in the face of the frankly appalling traffic and pollution issues."


Agreed - I am opposed to the Ikea plan, for example. But that's a different matter.

"In general, Silvertown is a poorly considered and very suspect piece of planning that seems to be driven more by vested interests than a long term plan."


I'm not sure what vested interests you are referring to, but I tend to trust the professional engineers and planners who come up with plans, on the actual technical merits of a scheme.


"The fact that it is a tunnel for starters raises questions. With increasing traffic on cycle and foot in London, how is a 1960s style tunnel with no provision a long term solution?"



No one is going to walk through this tunnel, even if space were provided. And there is a pedestrian route already - the cable car. As a cyclist, I'd support any campaign to have cycling accommodated in the tunnel - why not campaign on that?

Brockley Nick said...

Bit obvious ;) I like to be more obscure.

Brockley Nick said...

"Cars" don't cause air quality problems. Cars with petrol or diesel engines stuck in traffic jams cause air quality problems.


At the moment, we have lots of cars stuck in traffic every day. That is causing terrible problems. The status quo is not an option, IMO. The status quo is what the No campaigners are arguing for.


As the article says - let's campaign for low emission vehicles to get priority, smart road pricing systems to manage congestion and better consideration for other forms of transport (like the buses that will be able to use the tunnel). Above all, let's argue for the tunnel to be delivered alongside a bridge, further down river.

Max Calò said...

Nick, isn't your trust in the professional engineers and planners who come up with plans, on the actual technical merits of a scheme a bit shaken by the abysmal oversight that is the complete exclusion of cycling from the scheme?

Dave said...

That's entirely the point , build a road /tunnel and it will fill up with traffic !
have seen the traffic congestion every morning on the southern approach to Blackwall Tunnel ? The traffic for the proposed new tunnel will use the same approach road causing yet more congestion.
Traffic in the opposite direction in the afternoon/evening heading towards Kent will also bring the same congestion and higher levels of pollution which are already above legal leves

Rhian said...

I recently attended a series of workshops on air quality and interestingly between 50-75% of particulate matter pollution is thought to be caused by vehicle motion (friction of tyres and engine parts, braking etc) so electric/low emission vehicles sadly might not be quite the answer we are looking for

Brockley Nick said...

It's not true that all new capacity simply fills up - that is an oversimplification put forward by opponents of road projects to avoid having to talk about trade offs. The M6 toll road is a good example of a well conceived scheme. This will also be tolled and a bridge further down river will help further.

Brockley Nick said...

Lack of cycling is a question of political priority not technical competence. I guess the reasoning was that it would cost a lot of money to serve a very small number of riders.

Max Calò said...

So you're saying that we should judge this by how well they delivered on a politically blinkered decision?

Fine for me if we are talking about the competence of the planners in this narrow sense, but we're talking about a scheme that comprises both a technical side and a political direction and whether one or the other has been lacking is not the point, the point is that there's no cycling provision at all, and this is unacceptable.

Emma said...

Assuming the cable car is actually in operation. I've seen it closed many times due to adverse weather. Also given the amount of housing development they are looking at in that area there will be more and more cyclists and pedestrians wanting to cross the river.

Dave said...

Sorry stats prove you wrong !

AliAfro said...

Cable car is £6.60 return. Thames Clipper is about £5 per day with a weekly season ticket. You have to walk your bike through the Greenwich foot tunnel and carry your bike up stairs if (and when) the lifts are out. The east could really do with a reliable and reasonably priced bike commuting river crossing option... Who knows, it might even cut down the congestion on the existing routes.
That said, I do agree with the thrust of the article - any new crossing is likely to be an improvement, but let us be weary of half arsed efforts.

AliAfro said...

*wary

Tim said...

You mean this M6 toll road?
M6 Toll: Is it a complete failure? - BBC
M6 Toll road: 10 years of debt for "basket-case" motorway - Birmingham Mail
Overpriced and underused: M6 toll road is going nowhere fast - Independent
I'd say you may be oversimplifying yourself Nick. Induced demand is wheeled out by opponents of road schemes but as one part of the trade off, exactly as it should be. It is routinely ignored by those proposing them (including TFL here) thereby overselling the benefits and underplaying the downsides.

Rich said...

This is, essentially, the crux of my point. There seems to be a wilful blindness/deafness to what is a prevailing wind of more and more cycling, and a lot of public grumbling about pollution.


I cannot see how it is justifiable to support a crossing just because it's a new crossing. That's the line of "Boris thinking" that got us multiple dangerously under-specced cycle superhighways that are now proving themselves to be deadly and rapidly replaced in order to reverse a disastrous reputation. It is exactly the kind of planning that makes areas unattractive at best and dangerous at worst.


The idea that people on the peninsula should navigate very tenderly around the Thames Path (in itself a very congested route that is often compromised by development) is absurb and just segregates the area as a practical and safe cycling destination.


Alternatively the suggestion is to use a cable car and pay for the privilege (not to mention the irony of using powered transport as part of a cycle journey)?!


The money vs. capacity argument is rubbish anyway, if city design is just about revenue why don't we just bring back the Westway all the way around London and make everyone sit under flyovers so we can keep cars moving?

Brockley Nick said...

You're talking about its finances. I'm talking about what it does for congestion. It's a private scheme, struggling with large debts.

Headhunter said...

So moving cars don't cause pollution?! OK gridlocked traffic causes worse pollution but I would bet my house that once these tunnels are built the increased motor vehicle capacity will quickly be taken up and once again we'll have gridlock but this time at more tunnels.... It's been proven time and time again that if you create capacity for something, people use it.... If you create capacity for cars, people drive and you end up with more traffic. In the 1980s the M25 was hailed as a major solution to traffic in London, apparently all traffic passing through London was immediately going to vacate London and travel on the M25 and Central London would be clear. What happened? London is still gridlocked and the M25 quickly became the orbital car park.... This is not a solution

Headhunter said...

And in any case, everyone seems to forget that electric cars still cause pollution once they are plugged in for a charge...

Stewart Christie said...

Unlike the Silvertown Tunnel which will be a PFI scheme with large debts?

Brockley Nick said...

a) Yes, moving cars with petrol engines produce emissions (though less than static ones), but electric cars don't (much) and hybrid ones produce a lot less. My point is, why not campaign for the tunnel to be for low-emission-only vehicles
b) Yes, increased capacity lowers the cost of congestion and thus increases demand, but a toll would offset this effect and keep demand lower.
c) the m25 is not the only bloody road increase there's ever been. Take another example, a road I know well - the A30 through north Cornwall. It's been widened in the last decade and congestion has been massively reduced. There is a finite number of cars, after all - induced demand has its limits - but in any case, see point b.

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