Silvertown Tunnel could revive Royal Docks 'ghost town', traders claim

Royal Docks

The Royal Docks has been described as a "ghost town" by one trader. - Credit: Alastair Lockhart

Traders have claimed that controversial new tunnel could help revive a “ghost town” in east London. 

The Silvertown Tunnel will connect North Greenwich to the Royal Docks in Newham, and is intended to ease congestion in the nearby Blackwall Tunnel.

Transport for London accounts state that the project will cost almost £2.2 billion over the next 25 years.

TfL has already paid £56m to build the tunnel, though the scheme is still in its early stages and digging is yet to start.

Once open, drivers going through the tunnel will have to pay a toll which is planned to cover its building and operational costs. Those using the Blackwall Tunnel will also face a fee.

Campaigners have long called for the tunnel to be scrapped, arguing that it will increase the amount of traffic and pollution in east London. Some MPs have also spoken out against the new road link, which was signed off by the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, in 2019

However, businesses next to where the tunnel is under construction argued that it was needed to revive the economy in the Royal Docks.

Dariq Imam of So bar

Dariq Imam of So bar - Credit: Alastair Lockhart

Dariq Imam, who runs the So bar on the waterfront of the Royal Victoria Dock, said: “I think it will be somewhat positive – I don’t think it’s got any adverse effects.

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“Most [business] is at the weekend, but during the week around here this place is a ghost town.

“Because they are all new in this area so people don’t know to come here.”

Although some traders who spoke to the Local Democracy Reporting Service welcomed more people driving and walking through the area and having a wider range of options to get around, others said that building the tunnel would have to mean improving the already-limited parking. 

Manager of the Top Forever restaurant Maria Migle said that the tunnel would mean more customers from venues such as the O2 and ExCeL, but that parking was still an issue.

She said: “I don’t see how it could be negative. When a lot of shows are on it’s good business.

“Mostly the problem is parking so people choose not to drive. There’s enough public transport. Parking is the biggest issue – in this area you can’t park anywhere.”

Laura Carlig of Zero Sette

Laura Carlig of Zero Sette - Credit: Alastair Lockhart

Laura Carlig, manager at the Zero Sette Italian restaurant in the Royal Docks, said that the Silvertown Tunnel might not be as important as the new Crossrail station at Custom House.

She said: “It might not be so much with driving, but when Crossrail opens that will have more impact on bringing people here.”

Environmental campaigners have argued that the Silvertown Tunnel will mean more cars travelling through an already highly-polluted area. 

Dominic Leggett of the Stop The Silvertown Tunnel Coalition said: “What it’s going to do is it’s going to divert 20,000 to 30,000 vehicles a day through Newham rather than through the Blackwall Tunnel.

“Newham is already the most polluted borough in London, the most polluted borough in the UK, and what they’re doing is diverting a bunch of traffic from Tower Hamlets into Newham.”

Plans for the Silvertown Tunnel do involve an element of public transport, seeing some bus routes extended to connect the two sides of the river.

TfL has completed the tunnel’s first phase of construction which will allow tunnelling under the Thames to begin soon. The Silvertown Tunnel is expected to open in 2025.

A spokesperson for TfL said: “The Silvertown Tunnel will provide a public transport-focused river crossing with improved bus links across the Thames.

“Once open, the tolled crossing, which is within the Ultra Low Emission Zone, will also reduce congestion and improve the reliability and resilience of the Blackwall Tunnel, which will improve overall air quality in the local area – which is currently among the most toxic in London due to high levels of tunnel congestion.”