Newham communities say: Stop the tunnel
Six hundred people marched through Canning Town on Saturday 5 June, calling for the Silvertown Tunnel project to be cancelled.
We followed the Extinction Rebellion samba band over the Canning Town flyover, chanting “hey Mayor, we want clean air” and “Stop the Tunnel now”. There were banners from trade union and community groups, and Labour and Green party branches, and three more drummers bringing up the rear.
Postcards denouncing the £2.2 billion project as a waste of money, and calling for investment in public transport links instead, were handed to passers-by and to residents in the Britannia estate as we marched.
We stopped for a photo outside the site where preparatory construction work for the tunnel is under-way, and held a rally outside the Crystal building at the Royal Docks – which will be the new headquarters of the Greater London Authority, who are responsible for the project.
Rokhsana Fiaz, the mayor of Newham, started the rally, promising to support our campaign to the end – the cancellation of the tunnel project. Destiny Boka Batesa of Choked Up, an organisation of black and brown teenagers campaigning for clean air, was next.
A performance by the Extinction Rebellion Banshees followed. When Niall Mulholland from Newham Trades Union Council spoke, he pointed out that in Irish tradition, wailing banshees warn of hostile forces – which in this case are the property developers, haulage companies and other big businesses who would profit from the tunnel.
The long list of other speakers showed how united the community is behind the demand to stop the tunnel project: Ann Basu of Fossil Free Newham; Ruth Fitzharris of Mums for Lungs; Izzy Hickmet, vice chair of the National Education Union (London Region) and Labour for a Green New Deal; Silvertown resident and anti-tunnel campaigner Robbie Gordon, who passed on a message of support from the local MP, Lyn Brown; Jane Gwynne of the Rail Maritime and Transport Union; Naima of Stand Up to Racism (Newham); and Adetola Onamade of Young People/Global Majority, which is bringing legal action against the UK government over its “complicity in environmental genocide and ecocide” in Africa.
Political support came from Sian Berry, joint leader of the Green party; Zack Polanski, Green party London Assembly member; Newham Labour councillor Suga Thekkeppurayil; Zain Mir, deputy chair of West Ham Constituency Labour Party; and Joshua Williams of the Young Greens. Last but not least, Victoria Rance of the Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition urged everyone to keep campaigning. The tunnel project can be stopped.
Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, whose nine-year-old daughter Ella died in 2013 due to air pollution poisoning at her home near the South Circular road, sent a message of support to the rally, which said: “The Silvertown Tunnel means even more people will be impacted air pollution. The children of Greenwich have suffered enough and deserve a better quality of life. All parents living in the borough must get involved, it affects everyone. Ella’s death tells us we must never create more toxic air, but less. Building roads always means more traffic, and not less. Please continue to fight for the sake of your children’s health.”
The Stop the Silvertown Coalition thanks everyone who worked so hard to make Saturday’s protest a success, especially XR Newham who started the ball rolling.
► Two dates for your diary:
Tuesday 15 June, 6.0pm-7.15pm, Newham NEU is holding an on-line meeting for residents, parents/carers and school staff: “Our children deserve clean air – stop the Silvertown tunnel”. Speakers include Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, the air pollution campaigner. You need to register, using this link (paste it straight into your browser): bit.ly/tunnel15June
Thursday 1 July, 9.0am. We will demonstrate at City Hall, Queen’s Walk (3 mins walk from London Bridge station), before the London Assembly meeting at 10.0am.
What they said:
Rokhsana Fiaz, Mayor of Newham: “We won’t stop until this tunnel is cancelled. I will use every campaigning tool I can to stop this disastrous tunnel which will worsen the already illegal air pollution levels in Newham. We must put the health of our people front and centre. This tunnel will have a disproportionate effect on working people, especially those from BAME communities.”
Destiny Boka Batesa, Choked Up: “This tunnel is an act of harm against local residents. You’d never see a project like this in Kensington and Chelsea. It is a cruel and callous act against the people of Newham and Greenwich.”
Sian Berry Green Party Assembly Member, co-leader The Green Party: “Sadiq Khan had the power to stop the Silvertown Tunnel when he took over in 2016 and he still has the power to stop it now. Too many people are dying in London from air pollution. This is going to make it worse. We think it can be stopped and all power to all of you in carrying on the fight.”
Newham Councillor Suga Thekkeppurayil: “Refugees have come to this place as a safe haven. They have gone through misery before they came here. We must not make their lives more miserable by forcing them to breathe toxic air.”
Zain Mir, deputy chair of West Ham Constituency Labour Party: “Projects like the Silvertown Tunnel are being foisted on areas with large BAME communities. The people of Newham will not be treated like guinea pigs!”
Ruth Fitzharris, Mums for Lungs: “240,000 children in London have asthma. This is a much bigger problem than we think. This tunnel will only make it worse. It must be stopped.”
Izzy Hickmet, National Education Union and Labour for a Green New Deal: “I told my 8-year-old daughter what the Silvertunnel was for. She said ‘that’s bonkers!’. Even an 8-year-old knows this road tunnel is bonkers. Write to your head teachers, tell them to urge Sadiq Khan to cancel this tunnel, for the sake of our children.”
Zack Polanski Green Party London Assembly Member: “I’ve promised to work collaboratively with the Mayor and push him further and faster when there’s gaps in his plan or when he gets it wrong. And on this, he’s got it very wrong.”
Ann Basu, Fossil Free Newham: “Seven percent of deaths in Newham are due to dirty air. This tunnel will bring worse air, worse traffic, worse health. Why bring more traffic into Newham?”
Joshua Williams, campaign officer of Young Greens: “I believe we can stop this tunnel! But we will have to the courage, determination and must work together. If we stop this tunnel, then I believe that this can be the start of a movement that will show that people of East London will not be bullied.”
Niall Mulholland, Newham Trades Council: “This tunnel will leave a monstrous legacy for Labour – a legacy of deaths and degradation of our local community. We must not give up on this fight – we must put our leaders’ feet to the fire until they cancel this tunnel.”
Victoria Rance, Stop the Silvertown Coalition: “The Silvertown Tunnel is a climate crime. London Assembly members must act now to provide proper scrutiny over the decision to build this monstrous project with its lanes for juggernauts. In the year of the COP climate negotiations, the London Mayor would be showing strength, not weakness, in cancelling this tunnel now.”