The Government has delayed its decision on the Silvertown Tunnel project’s planning application amid concerns over its impact on air pollution.
In a written parliamentary statement, transport minister Paul Maynard said ministers were extending by a further month the deadline for a decision, which was due today (11 October).
He told MPs: ‘This extension is to enable further consideration of the recent responses to the secretary of state consultations on the scheme which relate to the updated UK plan for tackling roadside nitrogen dioxide concentrations published by government on 26 July 2017.
‘The decision to set a new deadline is without prejudice to the decision on whether to give development consent.’
Campaign group Friends of the Earth (FoE) has argued that Transport for London (TfL) is wrongly relying on a finding that building the tunnel will not have a negative impact on the ability of London as a whole to comply with the European air quality directive, while admitting that it could worsen air pollution in some areas.
TfL said in response that while it is required to apply the test concerning London as a whole, it also believes the tunnel will have a positive impact on air quality in more local areas than would suffer a deterioration as a result of the project.
The dispute has echoes of the arguments over the air quality impacts of expanding Heathrow airport, which both parties oppose and which has also been affected by the Government’s changes to its national plan to bring nitrogen dioxide pollution within EU limits.
Prior to the announcement regarding the delay, a TfL spokesperson told Highways: ‘The scheme has been subject to extensive air quality assessment that shows it complies with the requirements set out in the National Policy Statement and results in an overall improvement in air quality.’
FoE air pollution campaigner Jenny Bates said: ‘This delay hopefully shows that the air pollution effects of this outdated four-lane road scheme are being taken seriously. This Silvertown tunnel would make already poor air quality even worse in some areas – and that is simply not acceptable.
‘Major road-building should have no place in a city which desperately needs to cut traffic levels and cut pollution. If Sadiq Khan is serious about protecting Londoners’ lungs he should pull the plug on this scheme, and look at cleaner alternatives.’
Caroline Russell, Green Party Member of the London Assembly, said: ‘The mayor’s toxic tunnel would blow the UK’s cleaner air plans out of the water in east London, people there already suffer from living in one of the most polluted parts of London.
‘I have been urging Sadiq Khan to bin the plans for this backwards-looking project and instead invest in cycling, walking and public transport river crossings. He has a great vision for healthy streets, but this scheme is totally at odds with that vision.
‘The mayor has consistently portrayed his stance on air pollution as more ambitious than the Government’s position but the boot is on the other foot this time. Delaying the decision on the Silvertown Tunnel shows just how worried the Government is about this scheme. It is clearly incompatible with the Government’s legal obligation to reduce nitrogen dioxide (N02) levels to safe limits in the shortest time possible.’