DfT approves Silvertown Tunnel despite air quality concerns

Concerns over the air pollution impact of a road tunnel beneath the River Thames between Greenwich and Silvertown have been dismissed, with the government having backed the plans.

Proposals to develop the tunnel have been put forward by Transport for London which claimed that the development would reduce congestion at the Blackwall Tunnel and improve the reliability and resilience of the wider road network in London.

Plans for the proposed Silvertown Tunnel (source: TfL)

However, opponents to the plans claimed that the development would encourage more traffic and potentially have an impact on air pollution in the area.

A six-month public inquiry into the proposals was carried out in late 2016, with the Planning Inspectorate having recommended the plans for approval by the Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling.

A decision was expected late last year, but the Transport Secretary deferred the decision to allow time to assess the likely impact on air quality and whether it would cause a further delay in efforts to meet air quality limits within the capital (see airqualitynews.com story).

Decision

However, in a planning decision issued today, the Secretary of State has offered his approval for the proposals, after concluding that the development would not result in a delay in compliance with air quality limits within the capital.

In a letter on the decision, published yesterday, the Department for Transport, wrote: “The Secretary of State notes that whilst there might be worsening in air quality of some receptors that are already over the limits for NO2 the Secretary of State is content that with the mitigation measures secured through the DCO, the Development can operate at the levels of traffic and emissions that were assessed by the Applicant.

“The Secretary of State is therefore satisfied that the Development will not result in a delay to the Greater London urban area (which is currently not compliant) being able to achieve compliance with the Air Quality Directive.”

Campaigners have criticised the decision to approve the development, claiming that the money used to fund the tunnel could be better used in other projects to improve transport links within the capital.

Campaign for Better Transport has called upon the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, to consider the plans further before deciding whether to go ahead with the development.

Opponents

Responding to the Secretary of State’s decision, Bridget Fox, sustainable transport campaigner at the CBT, said: This is a bad decision for Londoners and sets a poor precedent for the rest of the country. Committing billions to build this four-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 £1 billion 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.”