Sadiq Khan
Image credit: Creative Commons, Centre for London

The cancellation of a major urban road project – the M4 relief road in Newport, Wales – announced on 4 June, should embolden London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan to take a similar stance towards his ill-conceived plans for a Silvertown Tunnel.

Later this summer, if the Mayor has his way, Transport for London will sign a PFI contract to build a new road tunnel under the river at Silvertown in East London. The £1bn costs of the project, justified according to Khan by the need to relieve congestion at the Blackwall Tunnel, are to be met, over the next 50 years, by charging motorists to use it.

However, following his recent declaration of a climate emergency in London, Mayor Khan’s Silvertown project -designed to facilitate increased car journeys – seems somewhat out of date.

Dramatically reducing our carbon emissions, which the science tells us is essential over the next few years, will not be possible without significantly lower levels of car use. Indeed, Transport for London estimate that up to 7m journeys every day could easily be made by bike or on foot, instead of by car.

To make this happen, we need to do more to make walking and cycling safer, to make public transport easier to use, and to make sure people pay a fair price when they do decide to drive.

With this in mind, the Green Party proposes a smart congestion/pollution charge – similar to the one that the Centre for London recommended in a recent report – across all of Greater London. By charging people fairly according to distance, time of day, route and engine emissions, we’ll be able to reduce driving – and congestion, and pollution.

Once this charge is in place, and traffic jams are lessened, the business case for the Silvertown Tunnel – which is founded on time savings from reduced congestion – disappears. What’s more, because TfL will need drivers to keep paying tolls to pay off the construction debt, the very existence of the tunnel will become an incentive to keep traffic levels high even if, in future, they want to reduce them.

Following the recent occupation by Extinction Rebellion activists of roads and bridges in London, Mayor Khan, told protestors: “You must now let London return to business as usual.” Missing the point of the protests entirely, the Mayor’s “business as usual” puts us firmly on the road to catastrophic climate breakdown.

So last week I asked Sadiq to think again on Silvertown, to take inspiration from Wales and cancel this project in light of the climate emergency. As he knows very well from his experience with the ill-fated Garden Bridge, once a contract is signed, cancelling the tunnel at a later date will prove far more costly than doing so now.