Construction has begun on the Silvertown Tunnel, a 1.4km four-lane tunnel beneath the River Thames. Linking the Greenwich Peninsula to the region of west Silvertown in Newham, its ostensible aim is to reduce the congestion by acting as an alternative to the Blackwall Tunnel, which links the London Borough of Tower Hamlets with the Royal Borough of Greenwich.
The tunnel, which is funded by Transport for London (TfL), is set to cost billions of pounds over the next 30 years when taking into consideration maintenance, operation and interest payments on the debts. When it opens, the tunnel will be tolled alongside the Blackwall Tunnel, with user charges, many of whom will be locals, planned to repay the construction costs and cover any operational and maintenance works for 25 years after. According to TfL, the tunnel’s boring machine, which has been specifically made for the project, is the largest (by diameter) to be used in the UK. However, campaigners are still hoping to stop the Silvertown Tunnel.
The completion of the tunnel spells an environmental disaster for some of the most marginalised communities living in East London. In Newham, air pollution is at some of the highest levels in the UK. In this borough, toxic air quality is reported to kill 96 people a year. While construction of the tunnel won’t be finished until 2025, the tunnel will send thousands of cars and HGVs through narrow residential streets by design.
In this video, gal-dem speaks to activists and locals: Yara Rodrigues Fowler, Kevin White, Zain Miah and Zafer Felek.
At the forefront of efforts to stop the tunnel are Stop the Silvertown Tunnel coalition, alongside other local groups including Choked Up, Mums for Lungs, as well as the Climate Working Party of the local teacher’s union. The tunnel has also been opposed by Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, the mother of Ella Kissi-Debrah (the first young person in the UK to have air pollution listed on her death certificate).
Despite hostility from Sadiq Khan, local resistance isn’t stopping. With digging about to begin, activists are well-aware that a tunnel boring machine can’t be reversed – the machine has to go through to the other side, meaning at least one tunnel under the Thames will be constructed. But this has also given way to the hope of creating something different: in August, Green Assembly Member Sian Berry is hosting a space at City Hall to reimagine the city’s biggest infrastructure project, exemplifying how community will continue to be the root of local resistance.