The re-election honeymoon period has come to an end for Mayor Sadiq Khan and it’s all to do with transport.
He faces difficult decisions ahead as Transport for London (TfL) will have to start cutting or changing the services it provides as part of strict conditions imposed on it by the central government in June’s £1.9 billion emergency funding bailout.
This weekend, one of his transport plans, the controversial £1-2billion Silvertown Tunnel – which will provide an additional crossing under the Thames – has brought him into conflict with his own party.
READ MORE: The £1 billion Transport for London project that locals are furious about – but you might not have heard of it
At the London Labour Conference, which is being held virtually due to rising Delta variant cases across the capital, 74% of around 300 members voted for a motion to cancel the project, despite construction just starting.
The motion was brought forward by local branches of the Labour Party representing Greenwich, Peckham, Lewisham, Leyton and Thamesmead.
This is where the tunnel will run
(Image: Transport for London)
These are all areas which are under ten miles from the tunnel’s location between the Greenwich Peninsula and West Silvertown and would be directly impacted by any traffic changes.
The tunnel would charge motorists to use it, just like the Dartford Crossing currently does, stoking fears that traffic could divert to the already congested Rotherhithe Tunnel or Tower Bridge.
Plans would also impose the same toll (likely £2.50 per car) on the currently free-to-use Blackwall Tunnel.
One of the tunnel’s most controversial points is its financing model – a Private Finance Initiative (PFI).
This method was stopped by the central government in 2018 because it was seen as poor value for money and not as transparent as if the government raised funding for projects itself.
The Silvertown Tunnel is the last major project in London to use the PFI set-up. As construction costs of the tunnel are now expected to reach £2 billion, Labour Party members are concerned about who would truly benefit from the scheme.
The motion stated: “TfL will be reliant on high traffic revenue from tolling the Blackwall and Silvertown tunnels to repay PFI financing at a time when reducing car usage is crucial.”
Mayor Sadiq Khan, who did appear in a separate section of the conference on Saturday (July 24), told MyLondon in June: “We’ve got to avoid a car-led recovery. What we don’t want is, across the country, people jumping back in their cars and that includes London as well. ”
This was at the launch of the capital’s first hydrogen double decker bus fleet.
The Silvertown Tunnel will not have a dedicated cycle lane or be accessible to pedestrians.
The Green Party, which opposes the tunnel, welcomed the move. Zack Polanski, London Assembly Member and Chair of the Environment Committee tweeted: “This is a staggering blow to the Mayor of London by his own party. He needs to do the right thing by both the Labour Party but more importantly the local residents and cancel what was Boris Johnson’s project.”
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TfL, which aims to open the tunnel in 2025 maintains: “The scheme will reduce congestion at the Blackwall Tunnel and improve the reliability and resilience of the wider road network. It will also allow for better transport links, with more cross-river bus journeys planned for East London.”
The Mayor is not obliged to take action following this motion, which was only advisory. He did win support on three other transport-related motions on insourcing TfL services, prioritising making stations and trains fully accessible across the TfL network and opposing cuts to TfL services proposed by central government.
What are your thoughts on the Silvertown Tunnel? Let us know in the comments below.
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