Doctors and healthcare workers have warned that plans for a new tunnel under the Thames will be an “assault on health” for some of the poorest people in London.
In a letter released last week, 25 GPs, nurses and specialists said the proposed Silvertown Tunnel will funnel traffic into east London’s poorest boroughs.
The proposed four lane tunnel—including a dedicated lane for HGVs—will make air pollution in those boroughs significantly worse.
Victoria Rance from the Stop Silvertown Tunnel Coalition told Socialist Worker, “Roads are already congested, we have awful air quality. This will bring more of that.
“It’s unique to have HGV only lanes. The tunnel will worsen air quality and affect birth rate, asthma of children and the climate emergency.
“Many locals, MPs and councillors are opposed to it. But London mayor Sadiq Khan won’t listen to them. We don’t really understand why he’s doing it—who’s pushing him?”
In their letter, addressed to Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs, the 25 health workers branded the tunnel “an assault on the health of east Londoners and on the climate”.
“It is now widely accepted that without drastic action the planet is hurtling towards catastrophic, irreversible climate change,” they said.
Air pollution kills tens of thousands of people a year in Britain.
In the east London borough of Newham, residents are victims to a level of airborne particulate matter that is 35 percent greater than World Health Organisation’s guidelines. Activists in the Stop Silvertown Tunnel Coalition have been campaigning against the tunnel for eight years.
And their fight is growing.
London mayor Sadiq Khan faces growing pressure from below to oppose the plans. Rosamund Kissi-Debrah—the mother of Ella Kissi-Debrah who died from air pollution in 2013—wrote to him asking him to halt the plans.
“I am kindly asking the mayor of London to take another look at the tunnel as there is absolutely no evidence that air quality will improve,” she said.
Yet Khan insists on ploughing ahead with the £2 billion project, outsourced to private consortium Riverlinx. He claims the tunnel “will play a crucial role in tackling congestion and improving air quality”.
But as the 25 health workers pointed out, “New roads just increase traffic and with it, pollution.
“We cannot see the rationale behind building another road crossing across the Thames.”
Mike Bold from Extinction Rebellion Newham told Socialist Worker the tunnel would put people’s health at risk for the sake of keeping HGVs moving.
The tunnel “is for people driving through or for lorries,” he said. “Newham has the North Circular, City Airport and now the tunnel. Sadiq Khan’s priorities aren’t the same as ours.”
Campaigners also point out that the tunnel goes against the London Assembly’s target to become carbon neutral by 2030.
Mike said the money spent on the tunnel should be used to build green infrastructure instead.
“We need to cycle and walk more, but we need a long term plan and better public transport that diverts the need for cars,” he said.
The Silvertown Tunnel puts business and commercial interests ahead of people’s lives and safety.
It should be scrapped.