Why Londoners have the silver-tongued Mayor to thank for the new, unecessary Silvertown Tunnel

Fresh from his success in not lowering the emissions from London taxis, Boris Johnson has topped his achievement by increasing the emissions via a new East End river crossing.

As we saw from this morning’s Boris-cronies post, the London Mayor has a rare talent for ignoring professional advice. When it suits him.

A new tunnel for East London – the Silvertown – is being proposed. But according to Transport for London (TfL)’s own assessment of options for new river crossings in East London, it seems clear that:

1. Not boring Silvertown at all but instead tolling the Blackwall would reduce motorists using it by half. Or

2. Boring Silvertown and tolling both it and Blackwall could be a brilliant solution, if the money’s there. However

3. The worst option would be to go for 2. above but not toll either of them. As the report notes, ‘charging is essential as building the Silvertown Tunnel would not in itself reduce congestion and delays’. Which sort of makes the enquiring mind wonder why the Silvertown project is being considered at all in a time of national fiscal crisis-cum-Armageddon.

Working on the endlessly proven theory that new roadways merely attract yet more traffic, TfL goes on to state, ‘If the new [Silvertown] crossing were not charged, then widespread congestion in the area is forecast, with the crossing resulting in much higher volumes of traffic in the surrounding area”.

The option of tolling the Blackwall Tunnel without building a new crossing was included in the ‘options’ paper, but was not put to the public in TfL’s Thames River Crossings consultation. This reflected Boris Johnson’s well-established practice of not putting in options he doesn’t like. It tends to ensure that they thus cease to be options, as such.

But only last October, Johnson promised live on LBC Radio that this would not happen – as this direct quote from the show’s transcipt confirms:

“We’ve got to look at all the options of how to finance it, and it is only sensible that in the consultation which is going on at the moment we should ask people about tolling.”

But it was only sensible. It clearly wasn’t obligatory, because it didn’t happen.

If this approach doesn’t solve the problem of narrowing down the options to one (his) then the BoJo roughshod strategy is employed: so even as the consultation was ongoing about the proposed Silvertown Tunnel until February 2nd 2013, Johnson neutered it by saying – at Mayor’s Question Time in January – that the Silvertown 4-lane road project would go ahead anyway. (In doing so, he was probably also guilty of corrupting it…but don’t dwell on that one too much: nobody will care, and it’ll only annoy you).

It all does make a nonsense of the verb ‘consult’. It should perhaps be replaced by ‘box-ticking’, or ‘through-motions going’. Indeed, local campaigner Alan Haughton observed that “The Mayor has corrupted the consultation. Why would any member of the public now respond when the Mayor has said it is going ahead anyway? Boris Johnsons comments show that the public input into any TfL consultation is irrelevant. The decision has been made. East London residents are being gagged by the Mayor.”

But why doesn’t Boris want to follow the tolls solution? Simples: because he is a shifty, power-mad politician thinking more about his political future than what’s best to reduce traffic and pollution in East London….where he is, of course, very likely to ever live. Tolls simply don’t play well with drivers: BoJo admitted this himself on radio last year, when long before any consultation had been even started, the ethereal Mayor averred that “I certainly won’t be putting in a toll in my Mayoral career… my Mayoral lifetime…”. But you see, when the electorate’s busy, distracted, asleep or drunk, you can just keep on contradicting yourself and fibbing away gaily, because nobody but sad bloggers will notice.

Two things to keep a beady eye on from here: who will get the construction job, and how much will it be over budget in the end. Because let’s face it, we taxpayers are not too keen on paying through the nose to have something that simply isn’t necessary.

Related: Boris and the Earls Court development scam