Campaigners keep getting a message back from Labour politicians even as opposition to the £2.2 billion climate-trashing, polluting, Silvertown Tunnel project grows in east and south-east London: “The Mayor won’t change his mind.”
That’s Mayor Sadiq Khan, one of Labour’s most powerful elected politicians.
Campaigners have asked him to pause and review the project, given the climate emergency that London has declared and the air pollution crisis. The pandemic and Brexit have also upended traffic projections.
But the Mayor says no.
As Len Duvall, leader of the Labour group in the London Assembly, put it in correspondence about the tunnel project: “He [the Mayor] is not going to review it!”
To a warning that construction could be disrupted by civil disobedience, Duvall replied: “I suspect you’re right, there will be some form of direct action. And it [the tunnel] will still be built!”
Len, can I just remind you? This isn’t a mafia movie, or a third-rate Netflix drama about medieval burghers, in which you play the tough guy.
This is our lives, and our children’s lives – they are the ones at the schools near the tunnel site, getting choked by particulate matter, remember? – in the largest city in Europe, in the face of a climate crisis.
And you, Heidi Alexander, deputy mayor for transport.
You have been invited to all the largest public events at which the tunnel project has been debated – that huge public meeting organised by Speak Out Woolwich in July 2019, and the Stop the Silvertown Tunnel webinar in December last year, remember? – but you’ve been too busy. Too busy for democracy.
But at a behind-closed-doors meeting with campaigners, the one single time you met with opponents of the tunnel project, in July 2019, you declaimed that the traffic queues at the Blackwall Tunnel – which the Silvertown Tunnel would run alongside – were intolerable. A giant new tunnel was the only answer.
Reminded that, at a time of climate change, transport policy has to focus on reducing the number of cars, and that most cars queuing for the Blackwall Tunnel in the rush hour have a single occupant, you replied: “Well, that’s how people live.”
The politics of that are pretty clear. There is an analogy with the US diplomats, who, at the 1992 Rio earth summit, torpedoed attempts to write greenhouse gas emissions targets into international agreements. “The American way of life is not up for negotiation”, they said.