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!