The Silvertown Tunnel: how to stop this polluting project affecting Woolwich as well as Peninsula and the rest of the Borough

by Ramesh Perera-Delcourt (Chair, Greenwich Borough Liberal Democrats, and Woolwich resident)

On Thursday 11th July 2019 I attended a full Public Meeting organised by SpeakOut Woolwich, the active residents group in Woolwich, at St Peter’s. Speakers included Adetokunbo Fatukasi (Liberal Democrat Greenwich & Lewisham GLA Candidate, reading out a statement on behalf of Caroline Pidgeon, AM), Caroline Russell (Green Party London Assembly Member), Councillor David Gardner (Labour), as well as local residents and activists from Extinction Rebellion and Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition. Greenwich Liberal Democrats are amongst those continuing to oppose the Tunnel – I summarise what I took from the meeting in terms of where we are now, and the need for urgent action to halt the Tunnel before it’s too late. People need to contact the Mayor, their Councillor and GLA representative before August.

The damage the Tunnel would do

Speakers took us through the history of the proposed tunnel (which would link Silvertown and Greenwich Peninsula), including how green initiatives to which the Tunnel had initially been tied, such as extending the DLR, had now been axed due to lack of funding. Most speakers were clear about their opposition to the Tunnel on the basis of air quality as a public health issue, congestion and noise. So much has been written about this elsewhere, I shan’t repeat it here e.g. https://silvertowntunnel.co.uk/# An important issue that was flagged up was how the Tunnel could disastrously interact with the proposed extension to the Ultra Low Emissions Zone, which covers only part of Woolwich, and could potentially shunt more polluting vehicles our way: https://853london.com/2019/07/18/greenwichs-air-pollution-chief-slightly-optimistic-about-ulez-effect-on-woolwich/

As Caroline Pidgeon, Lib Dem AM, said – the Tunnel is the ‘wrong answer to the wrong question’. Instead of looking at how we can redistribute traffic, massive new infrastructure projects like this should be addressing how to improve public transport, walking and cycling, and accessibility.

Labour’s mixed response

Despite the presence of Labour activists campaigning against the Tunnel, Cllr Gardner gave a speech in defence of the proposal, which writer Christian Wolmar wryly described as a ‘valiant attempt’. Cllr Matt Morrow (in the audience) also made a pro-Tunnel speech. A statement was read out on behalf of Matthew Pennycook MP, which was against the Tunnel; that on behalf of Len Duvall (Greenwich and Lewisham Labour GLA member) was pro the Tunnel and said it had gone too far to be stopped. The organisers were understandably upset that no-one from City Hall had responded to their invitations to attend nor sent a statement.

A long campaign entering its Endgame

Jenny Bates (Friends of the Earth) acknowledged that there has been a relay of campaigners and campaigning groups, which is understandable given the length of the process and the toll being involved takes on participants. Greenwich Liberal Democrats were the first local party to come out against the proposal back in 2013: https://www.newsshopper.co.uk/news/10788439.greenwich-liberal-democrats-come-out-against-silvertown-tunnel/

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Local members continue to be involved in the cross-party campaign to this day. Charlton activist Charlie (pictured above) writes: “As a father of two boys under 4, and living a stone's throw from the Blackwall Tunnel approach road, I feel it is incredibly important that this polluting and expensive project is stopped.

Spending £1bn to INCREASE road capacity which will only see the air quality stay the same IF expensive tolls that will damage the local economy remain in place indefinitely is no way to combat the Climate Emergency.

My sons will go to school in an area where air pollution already breaches legal limits which is detrimental to their health and development.

For this reason I continue to support the Stop Silvertown Tunnel coalition and attended a protest outside City Hall with LibDem and Green London Assembly Members as well as activists from Extinction Rebellion to petition the Mayor to rethink his support.”

What can we do to stop the Tunnel?

The decision now lies solely with the Mayor (it was stated at the meeting). Contracts are due to be signed in August. Pressure needs to be put on him and other elected Labour officials. Remind them there is an election next year! Liberal Democrat GLA and Mayoral candidates oppose the Tunnel and would be willing to invest in greener solutions – will Labour listen to the people and follow suit?

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London: [email protected] 

Len Duvall, London Assembly Member for Greenwich and Lewisham: [email protected]

Danny Thorpe, Leader of the Council: [email protected]

Denise Scott-Mcdonald, Cabinet Member for Air Quality, Sustainability and Transport: [email protected]

The full text of Stop the Silvertown Tunnel’s suggested text can be found at their website, but the main points are:

I am writing to you about the Silvertown Tunnel. On the basis of the quality of the evidence in terms of air quality, congestion and public health – the Liberal Democrats, Greens, residents groups, environmental campaigners and others continue to oppose this. Cancel the Tunnel – don’t sign the contracts. The £1bn road tunnel would result in a net increase in carbon emissions of 153,000 tonnes of CO2 over doing nothing (from construction alone). It is retrogressive, irresponsible and unaffordable in a climate emergency: new road infrastructure will bring more vehicles, and with them not just emissions but also particulates. Instead, commit to looking into other solutions to London’s traffic and air quality problems, such as smart road pricing, and investment in the quality, reach and frequency of public transportation, walking and cycling infrastructure in South East London (for example the extension of the DLR to the south of the borough and further east to Thamesmead). Ahead of the 2020 and 2022 elections, we are looking to you to listen to voters and do what is right.

(You are likely to need to include your postal address in the email the meet the requirement for elected officials to be able to respond to only those who live in their area.)


London Lib Dem leadership hustings

On Friday 31st May Ed Davey and Jo Swinson fought it out in the first of at least 15 hustings across the country. I went to watch along with other Greenwich members to decide who should be the leader of the party. The conclusion for me and many is that either would be great – they differ little on policy and message. Both clearly respect and like each other and share many common ideals on the future of the party.

Themes for the evening were not surprising including Brexit, co-operation with other parties and how to take advantage of recent political advances. On Brexit nothing surprising was said – as Jo pointed out Channel 4 news had earlier on that evening tried to get them to disagree but both clearly sing from the Liberal Democrat hymn sheet. A people’s vote is essential to move forward. This will come about by persuading MPs from other parties that it is the only way to break the deadlock. Both said that they would prefer a No Deal not to be on the ballot as it is only a fantasy and means nothing. This time round the options need to be well defined and crystal clear.

As to how to win hearts and minds – both pointed to the emotional arguments behind the decision to stay in the EU. Ed pointed to the peace that has come across Europe and in Northern Ireland. Jo reminded of the arguments that had worked in the Scottish Indy Ref including the shared institutions that both side love – the BBC, the NHS, the Army as well as family and friends.

Where both candidates shined was when asked what their key policy outside Brexit is. Ed pointed to the Climate Crisis facing our earth and the successes we had with Green Energy in coalition. Jo vowed to make the economy work for the planet but for people too. She pointed to New Zealand’s decision to target wellbeing not GDP. When asked how to improve poverty levels Jo pointed to her work in coalition on things like shared parental leave and targeting dodgy lenders. She said that work must be meaningful, and people should be treated with respect. Ed pointed to the work the police do with the poor and highlighted increased home build. Both candidates were keen to push international cooperation against tax avoidance by corporations.

On working with other parties – both candidates said more or less the same. The Liberal Democrats must be the rallying point for Remainer voters, fighting against a tide of nationalism. Both speakers left it to local parties to decide local pacts. On specific issues deals should be done to support each other including Brexit and plans to tackle climate emergencies. Jo pointed out that with 11 MPs the Lib Dems cannot make a difference unless they influence other parties. Ed stated that we have to work with other parties but he did have problems with both Change UK and The Green Party on policy.

Other topics that came up in questions were transport, diversity, LGBT rights, young people and previous leaders of the party. Asked each other’s strengths Jo pointed to Ed’s climate change work and Ed stated that Jo was an amazing campaigner especially on diversity. In closing speeches both were impressive, talking about how they would tackle the media and clear messaging.

The view in the bar afterwards were split with strong support for both candidates. For me personally I will be supporting Jo, on both policy and personal grounds. I like her balance on economy, wellbeing and green issues. She talked of becoming a rallying point for the liberal movement and that’s what I’m looking for. While she came across as less “nice” than Ed, I think we need someone strong, differentiated and able to cut through the hype. Also I think its time we had our first female leader at a time where both other major parties (and indeed the Brexit party) are likely to have white middle-aged men.

To find out more about their campaigns please check out their websites https://www.joinjo.org.uk/ and https://edforleader.org/

There are currently more hustings planned across the UK, see here. You can see a recording of the hustings here.

What did other Greenwich Borough members who attended think?

Ramesh (Woolwich): I agree it's a tough and important decision, as both would be good leaders but offer different things at this significant time for our Party and country. Personally my preference is still for Ed (although I haven't fully made up my mind), as although I think Jo could potentially have more immediate media appeal, and would contrast with the leaders of other Parties, I felt Ed's answers showed greater clarity of messaging and strategy, and more precise and substantial policy ideas, that would provide a solid foundation for the Liberal Democrats going forward. "Decarbonising Capitalism" and investing in social home building and public services as a means of addressing poverty, in particular, I though were vital.

John (Middle Park and Sutcliffe): Jo spoke of the need to appeal to people's emotions as well presenting realistic policies based on the facts. As the present position we are in regarding Brexit is very much derived from emotion, then I think that it is  very important that we can tap into that emotion while not ignoring the facts and expert advice.

Janet (Greenwich West): I liked what I heard from both candidates, but would slightly favour Ed Davey, because I think his knowledge of energy and green issues will strike more of a chord with the electorate, in other words he would be better able to ”out-green the Greens”.

Richard (Glyndon): I agree that we have fantastic candidates, both would be great as leader. For me personally, I can't make my mind up yet... I think it'll be best to wait to see what other policies/details both candidates come out with.


Lib Dems Win London!

London has elected 3 Liberal Democrat MEPS - the most for any one Party in the Region.

This is thanks to the people of London being so decidedly Remain, and thanks to local campaigners for helping get the Lib Dem message of 'Stop Brexit' out. Check out our Twitter feed for photos and feedback from the intense campaign: https://twitter.com/GreenwichLibDem/

And join us if you want to be a part of this too!


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