Sadiq Khan faces calls from Labour to scrap Silvertown road tunnel

a group of people in uniform: Photograph: Hollie Adams/Getty Images (C) Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Hollie Adams/Getty Images

The shadow minister for climate change has called on the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, to abandon his plans for a new four-lane road tunnel under the Thames. Matthew Pennycook, who is also a local MP, said there was still time for the Labour mayor to reverse the plans for the GBP1.2bn Silvertown tunnel project, which is opposed by environmentalists, climate scientists and many local residents. "There is time to think again," said Pennycook. "Serious works have not started and the financial situation at TfL [Transport for London] may lead to a reassessment of the project's viability."

Opponents of the scheme say it will be environmentally destructive, undermining efforts to clean up the capital's polluted air as well as the mayor's wider green targets - with dire consequences for some of London's most vulnerable citizens. Pennycook was appointed by Keir Starmer to the climate change role and is MP for Greenwich and Woolwich, the location of the tunnel's southern entrance. Along with another local MP, Lyn Brown, he has written to Khan outlining their objections and urging the mayor to review the project.

There is a strong case for looking again at the Silvertown Tunnel in light of the perilous state of TfL's finances.

That is why @Lynbrownmp and I are calling for a comprehensive re-examination of the scheme as part of the Mayor's independent review of TfL's long-term funding.

-- Matthew Pennycook (@mtpennycook) September 5, 2020 a group of people wearing costumes: An Extinction Rebellion protest in Woolwich, south-east London, against the planned Silvertown tunnel. (C) Photograph: Hollie Adams/Getty Images An Extinction Rebellion protest in Woolwich, south-east London, against the planned Silvertown tunnel.

"Green transport must be the future for our city," they state in the letter. "That means a focus not on road-building but on large-scale investment in adapted public transport, ensuring more frequent and reliable bus and rail services; and measures to significantly boost walking and cycling." They add that the "perilous state" of Transport for London finances "is reason enough to review the case for embarking on a major capital project of this scale, particularly given that the future health and prosperity of our city is more and more dependent on us reducing our reliance on cars". 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.

Campaigners insist the plans are fatally flawed and will be environmentally destructive, bringing no economic benefit. In a sign of the growing opposition to the scheme, Extinction Rebellion activists staged an anti-Silvertown tunnel protest last week, carrying posters demanding: "Community not cars," and vowing to make the plans a key issue during next year's mayoral elections. A spokesperson for Khan defended the scheme, saying it was essential to improve river crossings in east London. "A new tunnel at Silvertown is important because the existing infrastructure is both antiquated and worn out, and it will be funded by a toll, not TfL cash.

"Crucially, the tunnel will provide a public-transport-focused river crossing with improved bus links across the Thames."

They added that the combination of introducing tolls on both the existing Blackwall tunnel and at Silvertown, as well as the extension of the ultra-low emission zone from 2021, would "play a crucial role in tackling congestion and improving air quality".

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