Mayor Boris Johnson’s claims to be cleaning up London’s air are meaningless while he’s proposing to build polluting new roads in east and south-east London, campaigners against his Silvertown Tunnel have told MPs.
Johnson will give evidence to the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, which is investigating the capital’s poor air quality, on Wednesday.
While the mayor talks up his plans for a low-emissions zone in a limited area of central London, the No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign warns the mayor is “failing to see the connection between traffic levels and air pollution in London’s inner and outer suburbs”.
Johnson’s submission also ignores his lack of action in transport and planning policies, including proposing to load more traffic onto the A102 and A2 through south-east London by building a road crossing between Greenwich Peninsula and Silvertown.
Traffic generated by the Silvertown Tunnel would blight communities south of the river from Eltham to Greenwich, and from Wapping to Silvertown and Canning Town north of the Thames.
The No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign has responded by asking MPs to quiz Johnson on why boroughs such as Tower Hamlets, Lewisham, Greenwich and Newham aren’t in his “ultra-low emissions zone”, and to ask why he is embarking on a road-building programme when studies have shown that building roads simply generates extra traffic and pollution.
The campaign has already undertaken two studies of air pollution in the area, to demonstrate just how bad the situation is currently.
“If the mayor was serious about cutting air pollution, he would be scrapping his road-building programme and expanding public transport connections between east and south-east London so residents did not have to resort to their cars to make relatively short journeys,” campaign spokesman Darryl Chamberlain says.
Transport for London is expected to launch a new consultation on the Silvertown Tunnel later this year. Currently, TfL is consulting on separate plans to build bridges at Gallions Reach and Belvedere, which the campaign is advising supporters to vote against.
The No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign is continuing to spread its message, and will have a stall at Britannia Village, Royal Victoria Dock for the Newham Waterfront Festival on Saturday 20 September.
Full text of our submission to the Environmental Audit Committee:
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to make observations on City Hall’s written submission to the Committee. As campaigners against a new road tunnel between the Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks, we note that once again, the Mayor is failing to see the connection between traffic levels and air pollution in London’s inner and outer suburbs. Indeed, while his Ultra Low Emission Zone is welcome news for central London, it risks merely exporting pollution to residential districts which are already blighted by illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere.
The mayor’s submission ignores his lack of action in transport and planning policies, which we will deal with in the answers to your questions.
1) How effective have GLA policies on air pollution been so far?
We believe that as long as the Greater London Authority plans to build new road-based river crossings to the east of London, many of City Hall’s policies on air pollution will be rendered worthless in boroughs such as Greenwich, Bexley, Newham and beyond. These areas in particular are threatened by his proposals for the Silvertown Tunnel, a vehicle-only crossing between the Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks which will add extra traffic to the approaches to the Blackwall Tunnel, which are already congested in both directions.
In particular, nobody at City Hall has been able to say how the four-lane southbound A2, which is congested most evenings, will be able to cope with extra traffic from the Silvertown Tunnel. The existing congestion contributes to nitrogren dioxide levels of 104µg/m3 at the Bramshot Avenue subway in Charlton, a route used by children attending local schools.
It has been proven that building new roads generates new traffic, which leads to higher pollution levels on the roads. A study by Hyder Consulting conducted for Greenwich Council says the Silvertown Tunnel will quickly overwhelm local roads. The mayor himself even told LBC radio on 1 April 2014 that the Silvertown Tunnel “would [put] much more pressure on that area”.
A more recent study of the widening of the A206 in Crayford – a scheme promoted by the previous mayor – bears this out, this mayor plans to compound the error by adding a nearby river crossing to Rainham. And a study for Newham Council reveals huge increases in traffic through Woolwich, Plumstead, Abbey Wood and Bexleyheath if a road bridge at Gallions Reach goes ahead.
If the mayor was serious about cutting air pollution, he would be scrapping his road-building programme, and expanding public transport connections between east and south-east London so residents did not have to resort to their cars to make relatively short journeys.
The mayor’s planning decisions also reveal a less-than-scrupulous approach to air quality issues, and a disinclination to challenge boroughs in areas where pollution is high. Earlier this year, Mr Johnson waved through a decision by Greenwich Council to allow an Ikea store at Greenwich – despite it being adjacent to one of his own Air Quality Focus Areas, at the Woolwich Road flyover.
Indeed, the mayor appears to be putting too much trust in boroughs on air quality issues. The worst air pollution in Greenwich borough is in the area by Plumstead station, yet that does not appear on his list of focus areas. Nor does Woolwich Road in Charlton, another area blighted by poor air, and one that will suffer if the Silvertown Tunnel is built. It is also surprising to discover that Bexley has just one air quality focus area, in Erith – despite frequent traffic congestion in areas such as Welling.
2) What are the pros and cons of the proposed ultra-low emission zone?
Clearly, the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) is great news for those who live in central London. But in practice, it will make little difference to the vast majority of Londoners. Indeed, it risks exporting the problem further out, rather than dealing with the problem. If the mayor wishes to make a tangible difference to Londoners’ lives, he should be extending the ULEZ far beyond central London. But instead, he is happy to encourage polluting traffic from Kent and Essex to use inner London as a rat run, by pressing for the Silvertown Tunnel.
3) What questions should we be asking the mayor?
– Why have you not included the boroughs of Southwark, Lewisham, Greenwich, Tower Hamlets and Newham in the ULEZ?
– What effect would including the boroughs of Southwark, Lewisham, Greenwich, Tower Hamlets and Newham in the ULEZ have on your plans to build road crossings at Silvertown and Gallions Reach?
– Why do you continue to push a road-building programme when studies have proved that building new roads generates more traffic?
– Do you accept studies that show building more roads generates more traffic?
– What are you doing to challenge London boroughs to up their game when it comes to dealing with issues surrounding air pollution?
– What consideration do you give to air quality when assessing planning applications?
– What have you done to address poor air quality outside central London?
We hope the committee finds these observations and questions useful.