TfL Blackwall Tunnel: Greenwich Council leader warns of ‘traffic gridlocks’ if planned tolls scrapped

Once the Silvertown Tunnel opens in 2025, the new river crossing and the Blackwall Tunnel are both due to be tolled.
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The leader of a south-east London council has warned that scrapping plans to toll the Blackwall and Silvertown tunnels would “create traffic gridlocks” and worsen air pollution.

Cllr Anthony Okereke, the Labour leader of Greenwich Council, also reiterated the authority’s position calling for the Silvertown Tunnel to be repurposed, and of the need for local improvements to help mitigate its potential impacts.

Both the Silvertown Tunnel and Blackwall Tunnel are due to be tolled once construction of the former is completed in 2025.

Proposals to introduce charges were first aired by former mayor Boris Johnson over a decade ago. Sadiq Khan has remained committed to implementing the tolls, partly to pay for the Silvertown Tunnel, due to connect Greenwich with the Royal Docks in Newham, and also to help manage local traffic levels.

Campaigners, including the Stop the Silvertown Tunnel group, have however raised concerns that future mayors are not legally bound to retain the tolls, opening up the possibility of huge hikes to vehicle numbers in the area. 

Louie French, the Conservative MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup, is among those to have called for the scrapping of the planned tolls, which Mr Khan indicated in a letter to transport secretary Mark Harper may be up to £5.25 per crossing when taking into account inflation.

The Silvertown Tunnel works, seen from the IFS Cloud cable car. (Photo by Siân Berry)The Silvertown Tunnel works, seen from the IFS Cloud cable car. (Photo by Siân Berry)
The Silvertown Tunnel works, seen from the IFS Cloud cable car. (Photo by Siân Berry)

Responding to a written question from Greenwich Conservative leader Cllr Matt Hartley ahead of a council meeting last week, in which Cllr Hartley asked for an update on discussions with Mr Khan on the Silvertown Tunnel, Cllr Okereke wrote: “The mayor of London is fully aware of this council’s position on Silvertown Tunnel. 

“This chamber agreed a motion reaffirming our stance in June, even though he and his colleagues abstained on it. It calls upon the Mayor to enact a number of points that would be hugely beneficial to local residents. These included the need to 'Ensure more effective mitigation of the A102 (and thus impact from Silvertown) along its length to reduce local traffic, air pollution, noise and congestion'. We continue to make our case to the mayor of London.”

Cllr Okereke wrote that the council opposes the call from Mr French to scrap the planned tolls, which if removed “would create traffic gridlocks across Greenwich and make air pollution in the area even worse”.

Roads leading to the Blackwall Tunnel in east London. Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images.Roads leading to the Blackwall Tunnel in east London. Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images.
Roads leading to the Blackwall Tunnel in east London. Credit: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images.

During the council meeting, Cllr Okereke refused to join Cllr Hartley in calling on the mayor for exemptions for all Greenwich businesses and residents once the tolls are in place.

Cllr Okereke said Mr Khan is right to be concerned about the costs to users, with the mayor having recently had a request for government support for discounts turned down by Mr Harper, though said without the charges there will be a rise in traffic passing through Greenwich.

“We must protect this borough from air pollution. We want clean air,” he said.

The Conservative candidate for the London assembly seat of City and East, Freddie Downing, is among those publicly calling for a review of the planned tolls.

In a letter to Mr Khan and Transport for London (TfL), Mr Downing requested details about any costs and discounts be provided “as soon as possible”.

He wrote he believes there is no need to “stick rigidly to plans drawn up a decade ago”, and that he felt “uncomfortable with plans to charge drivers for use of a tunnel that was previously free”.

A TfL spokesperson previously told LondonWord: “The Silvertown Tunnel, once open, will support growth in the local area, provide new public transport connections across the river via zero-emission bus routes and address the chronic issues Londoners face at the Blackwall Tunnel.

“We remain committed to delivering this project with minimal impact to those living, working and visiting the local area and the project remains on target to be completed in 2025.

“As has been publicised for many years, once the Silvertown Tunnel opens, drivers must pay a user charge for using either the Blackwall or the Silvertown Tunnel. This was proposed in 2012 and agreed with government ministers following a public examination of the proposals between October 2016 and April 2017.

“The exact charge levels for various types of vehicles using the new tunnel will be decided closer to the opening date. This user charge will pay for building and maintaining the tunnel - but its main purpose is to help us manage traffic levels. Any surplus revenue will be reinvested in London’s transport network.”