A fourth London council has voted to oppose a new £2billion road tunnel under the River Thames in east London, putting the capital’s mayor at odds with local authorities over his biggest plan to ever infrastructure.
Sadiq Khan accused the councils of “wanting[ing] to postpone tough decisions,” after Greenwich councilors voted overwhelmingly to call for all work on the Silvertown tunnel to be immediately halted.
The vote means that the two boroughs that would primarily be served by the tunnel now oppose it. Silvertown would connect the Greenwich Peninsula to the Royal Dock in Newham, where councilors voted two weeks ago to cancel the tunnel. Lewisham and Hackney councils voted against the tunnel in 2015.
Khan insists the tunnel, in combination with new bus routes, road pricing and emissions control systems, will reduce congestion. But opponents say the new road would lead to increased traffic, especially trucks, and any successor to Khan could eliminate tolls he says will deter drivers.
Khan spoke to reporters on Thursday about a town hall analysis showing that black and Asian Londoners were more likely to suffer the effects of the climate emergency. He denied that Silvertown, a major road project in the midst of some of the UK’s most diverse and deprived communities, was at odds with his stance on environmental justice.
He suggested opponents of the project failed to understand the reality of life in the area, which lacks the “abundance of bridges and level crossings” enjoyed by residents of the city’s wealthier western neighborhoods. .
“These doctors campaigning against this may not live in this part of London, some of these people you’re talking about who are objecting may not be stuck in traffic,” Khan said.
“But the consequences of those stuck in traffic are the poor air quality suffered by children playing in the playgrounds around their schools and residents who cannot safely use their gardens due to particles and nitrogen dioxide.”
Nonetheless, the Greenwich vote, after years of equivocation, leaves Khan politically isolated on Silvertown, a plan he inherited from Boris Johnson’s tenure as London mayor. The Labor leadership of the council is believed to have finally allowed a vote on the draft after internal party wrangling, and fears it could be an issue in the upcoming local elections.
“I can understand as the election approaches why people want to put off tough decisions,” Khan said. He said his administration had improved Johnson’s plans, adding: “It would have been very easy, by the way, for me to completely cancel those plans in 2016. But that doesn’t solve the problem in this part of London. , it’s putting your head in the sand. I’m not ready to do that.
Simon Pirani, of the group Stop the Silvertown Tunnel, dismissed Khan’s claim that the campaigners against the tunnel were not residents of Newham and Greenwich. The retired energy researcher, who lives in Greenwich, said on the contrary, he and his fellow activists had struggled to raise awareness outside the immediate area.
“We are delighted that Greenwich Council has changed its mind after its leaders spent months trying to prevent a discussion about this,” Pirani said. “It gives us hope that the Mayor of London too can come to his senses, even at this late stage, and put the project on hold for proper consideration.”