The Silvertown Tunnel is a proposed new motor tunnel under the River Thames, London, that is set to open in 2025 . TfL (Transport for London) states its primary objective is to relieve traffic from the heavily congested Blackwall Tunnel . However, the project has been met with strong resistance from local activists and environmental groups who are calling on Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, to halt the plans.
The tunnel is projected to start in Newham, North-East London. Newham is a multicultural borough that suffers some of the worst rates of poverty and inequality in the city. It also has the highest level of air pollution in the United Kingdom . Project planners claim that the tunnel will not add more vehicles to the roads or increase pollution in the borough, however this has been heavily criticised, with counter-claims it will actually increase traffic by 15-30% .
Since the plan was first proposed, community groups, environmentalists, trade unions, political groups and residents have mobilised in resistance to the project. They have formed a coalition under the overarching group ‘Stop Silvertown Tunnel’ . This group has been active and gradually expanding since 2013. Its latest campaign in February 2022 was publicly supported by over 50 groups, and saw hundreds of residents take to the streets in protest. Despite this resistance, plans to start tunnelling are due to start imminently in summer 2022 .
In February 2022, more than 125 health professionals signed a letter calling the project “an assault on the health of East Londoners”, that would “funnel traffic, including heavy freight vehicles, into areas of deprivation” . Local grassroots network ‘Mums for Lungs’ have similar concerns, and have been holding open meetings to discuss resistance to the project . Their primary concern is the health of young children in the area, who already suffer disproportionate levels of respiratory conditions compared to children in other parts of the city .
Environmental groups, including Extinction Rebellion, have also publicly opposed the plans. They state that the construction of the tunnel will make it impossible for London to meet its climate pledges. In contrast to the policy makers claims, a 2020 report made by Simon Pirani, a senior research fellow at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, claims that the tunnel will lead to increased dependence on car use, causing higher rates of pollution and greater social inequalities . Extinction Rebellion have made several actions against Silvertown Tunnel, such as three members locking themselves to a rig in the middle of the Thames , a protest outside the headquarters of Macquarie Capital , and a walk from Newham to City Hall to deliver a letter to the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan .