Silvertown Tunnel plans approved despite continued pressure from campaigners

Controversial plans to build a new twin-road tunnel beneath the River Thames running from Silvertown to Greenwich have been approved by the Department for Transport.

A development and consent order (DCO) - a formal process for giving the green light to a development of this size – has been announced today (10 May) with Transport for London claiming the route will cut congestion and ease pressure on the Blackwall Tunnel.

But the tunnel has had its opponents from the very start since plans were laid bare amidst a push for lessening the environmental impact of construction. Many believe it will increase air pollution.

A decision on the tunnel was set to be made in October, before being delayed until November, and then again for six months for an air quality impact assessment to be carried out. But with another road block bypassed, the 1.4km long tunnel is expected to start construction next year with it fully operational from 2023.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan who has been a has said he is "delighted" approval had been given for the crossing.

He added: “New river crossings are vital for the future prosperity of east London, and the scheme will have a substantial impact unlocking new jobs and economic growth, while easing congestion and poor air quality in the area.”

Charges will be implemented for using the new crossing and Blackwall Tunnel but road users will be charged different amounts at peak and off-peak times and low-income working residents in Greenwich, Newham and Tower Hamlets will be given a discount.

Campaign for Better Transport has responded negatively to the decision, saying the money should be used elsewhere.

Bridget Fox, sustainable transport campaigner for the group, added: "This is a bad decision for Londoners and sets a poor precedent for the rest of the country. Committing billions to build this six-lane road in east London will generate new traffic, worsen the environment, and undermine the many positive goals in the Mayor's Transport Strategy. The £1bn cost could be so much better spent: it could fund over 2,500 electric buses, build over 300 miles of cycle superhighway or pay for the Barking Riverside rail link four times over. Bland assurances that future pollution can be controlled by varying the user charge will not allay the concerns of communities affected by the proposal. Permission to build is not obligation to build: we urge the Mayor and TfL to think again and abandon these damaging plans."

However, the National Infrastructure Commission has backed the plans, claiming the crossing is a much-needed addition for the Thames.

The spokesman said: “The Silvertown Tunnel is essential if we are to tackle congestion, and continue to support the development of east London. “Today’s decision will at last bring certainty for communities and businesses in the area, and means work can start as early as next year to get this much-needed extra Thames crossing in place.”

The Freight Transport Association (FTA), which represents the interests of the logistics industry, has also welcomed the green light being given and says the Silvertown Tunnel will provide a welcome boost to businesses in East London and beyond.

Natalie Chapman, head of Urban Policy at FTA, said: "The new crossing at Silvertown will provide welcome relief for those moving goods and services across the Thames in and around East London. For too long, the Blackwall Tunnel has acted as a key pinch point on the capital's road network, with its long-term congestion problems and air quality issues causing misery for those using the route and those living nearby."

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