Transport for London (TfL) has been accused of burying climate change and pollution issues during the Silvertown Tunnel approval process, in breach of promises made by prime minister Boris Johnson.
As London mayor, Mr Johnson pledged that carbon dioxide emissions would be a key planning consideration when deciding whether to go forward with the £1bn tunnel.
However his administration then lobbied to downgrade the importance of the carbon factors, giving them little space or prominence in a key planning report.
The discovery has prompted angry reactions from climate campaigners.
Dr Andrew Boswell, a ‘climate emergency consultant’, told Transport Network: 'It is absolutely outrageous that under Mayor Boris Johnson, TfL lobbied the Planning Inpectorate to take traffic carbon emissions out of the Environmental Statement, especially as he committed to the London Assembly that carbon emissions would be fully investigated.'
He added: ‘The most important issue of our time was effectively censored from the Inquiry.’
Mr Johnson told the London Assembly in 2014: ‘TfL will include extensive environmental impact data and an Environmental Statement in its Development Consent Order (DCO) application to the Planning Inspectorate, who will assess the scheme in accordance with the relevant planning policies.’
However TfL downgraded important climatic analysis from its Environmental Statement on the tunnel.
In a scoping report for its Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), TfL revealed that the ES would not include its include its own 'separate climatic factors topic', instead carbon would be subsumed under the ‘Air Quality’ heading. The Planning Inspectorate, on behalf of the transport secretary, agreed to this.
As a result, the (2016) ES gave only a brief account of the estimated carbon dioxide across TfL’s whole road network, both with and without the tunnel, in both its scheduled opening year (2021) and 15 years later (2036).
A separate Energy and Carbon statement estimated a short-term beneficial impact on carbon emissions from building the tunnel, resulting in a decrease of 3,000 tonnes per year of CO2 emissions in 2021 if the tunnel is build compared to doing nothing.
It also estimated 'an increase of 23,000 tonnes per year of CO2 for the design year 2036 (15 years after opening the Scheme’.
Officials added: ‘The annual road transport emissions for the Greater London Area (GLA) are projected to be 5,728,930 [tonnes] CO2 in 2030 according to the London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory (LAEI) 201330 data.
'Therefore the calculated increases in the do-something scenario for 2036 are roughly equivalent to 0.4% of the GLA’s projected road transport emissions.’
Neither document set out the full assumptions on which the modelling was based, although both cited the planned user charge for the tunnel as a mitigation measure, to dampen traffic demand.
Another document, the Charging Policies and Procedures, states that TfL assessed ‘a range of user charging scenarios’ for when the scheme opened.
Charges such as £1 per car or van off peak or £3 during peak hours were used to produce the estimates of traffic and emissions levels in 2021. The document notes that all charges would need to be kept under review.
Asked what level of charge was used to calculate 2036 emissions levels, a TfL spokesperson told Transport Network: ‘We assumed that the charge would be constant in real terms (so just increasing with RPI [inflation]) which when modelled showed it would be appropriate.’
The spokesperson said: ‘A number of assumptions were made in the assessment work as part of our DCO submission for the Silvertown Tunnel. The carbon assessment was based on the outputs of our traffic model and Defra’s Emission Factor Toolkit, which provides assumptions around the emissions of the current and predicted traffic fleet.’
Jenny Bates, Friends of the Earth air pollution campaigner, described the scheme as ‘a massively expensive congestion re-distribution project’
She told Transport Network: ‘The mayor has declared a climate emergency in London, and traffic levels urgently need to be cut to address this. Building this outdated four lane road scheme would at best, if TfL's assumptions and assurances are accepted, just maintain the status quo on traffic levels. It must be scrapped.
‘The Silvertown Tunnel is not designed to help solve the capital's air pollution health crisis. It would lead to some people, with air pollution already over legal limits, breathing even more polluted air.'