Plans to build a four-lane road tunnel under the Thames in London should be dropped as part of an overhaul of transport spending in the capital, campaigners say.
Opponents of the proposed GBP1.2bn Silvertown tunnel scheme have written to the authors of two separate reviews of Transport for London finances, asking them to look again at the project.
Victoria Rance, of the Stop Silvertown Tunnel Coalition, said that if the reviews – one being run from No 10 and the other by independent experts commissioned by the London mayor, Sadiq Khan – examined the tunnel scheme, they would see it was “fatally flawed”.
“We hope that the reviewers will carefully examine the economic case, the initial assessment of options, and the funding arrangements for the Silvertown tunnel,” Rance said. “If they do, they will certainly find that there are fatal errors in TfL’s workings; that building this GBP1.2bn project is not just environmentally destructive but offers almost zero economic benefit.”
If it goes ahead, the tunnel would be funded with a loan to be repaid by introducing tolls on the Blackwall and Silvertown tunnels.
Rance said the scheme would undermine efforts to clean up the capital’s air, as well as the mayor’s wider environmental targets.
“Scrapping Silvertown and using the income from tolling the Blackwall tunnel to protect at-risk public transport and active travel schemes … offers far better value for money, and far better environmental outcomes for Londoners than building a massive new road in a climate emergency,” she said.
A spokesperson for Khan defended the scheme, saying it was essential to improve river-crossing in east London. “A new tunnel at Silvertown is important as the existing infrastructure is both antiquated and worn out, and it will be funded by a toll, not TfL cash,” they said.
The spokesperson said the introduction of tolls and the extension of the ultra-low emission zone from 2021 would “play a crucial role in tackling congestion, improving air quality and providing much-needed additional bus services across the river”.
The mayor has introduced a raft of environmental measures ranging from declaring a climate emergency to setting a 2030 carbon-neutral target.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, London has unveiled plans for one of the biggest walking and cycling zones of any capital city, to encourage people out of their cars.
Khan’s spokesperson was adamant the Silvertown tunnel project would not undermine those aims. “[Khan] 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,” they said.
In June a report from the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, backed by some of the UK’s leading climate scientists, found the Silvertown tunnel was incompatible with the Greater London Authority’s aim to become carbon-neutral by 2030.
In a sign of the growing opposition to the scheme, Extinction Rebellion activists locked themselves to a drilling rig at the site last month in an attempt to hold up preparatory work on the tunnel.