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This page covers the successful campaign against proposals for congestion charging in the London Borough of Greenwich, and what we said at the time.

In 2005/6, Transport for London (TfL) and Greenwich Council conducted a joint study of “road traffic demand management” in the Greenwich area. This included consideration of a congestion charge tax (ie. a road toll) on the area bounded by the A102 and A2 – which includes Greenwich park and Greenwich town centre. 

As you can see on the map, the proposal also covered the Blackwall Tunnel and one option that was discussed, even if a wide area charge like the central London congestion tax was not implemented, was to impose a toll on the Blackwall Tunnel.  The Blackwall Tunnel and the A2 are of course the main routes used by traffic from South-East London and Kent to reach central London.  

Greenwich congestion charge

The joint study of the options had been supported by surveys of residents – by Accent Group and by Mori. The latter survey asked respondents to consider two possible zones – marked A and B on the map, the time of operation and the charges - £2, £4 or £6 were mentioned, but that it might be higher for larger vehicles.  

Note that the proposed charging zone also included the A2209 (Deptford Church Street) to the west which is the normal way for traffic from the Surrey Quays, Rotherhithe and Southwark areas to avoid Greenwich town centre, and it might also cover the A2 over Blackheath so most of the diversionary routes would  also be covered. In fact to avoid paying the charge, traffic would have had to go through the centre of Lewisham which is already severely congested, or take some minor back roads.  Clearly this congestion tax would not be readily avoidable by most traffic. In addition a lot of traffic would likely divert to other river crossings that are already heavily congested. 

It is worth pointing out that the use of “surveys” to lead public opinion in the preferred direction was a common element of TfL practices. By using a biased survey they can pretend that people support a scheme without doing open and full consultation. And of course there was no attempt to consult the road users, such as people who use the Blackwall Tunnel.  

Bob Neill, MP for Bromley and Chislehurst spoke in the House of Commons on this issue in questions to then Minister Stephen Ladyman. When talking about the proposed Greenwich scheme he said “That would have ramifications well beyond Greenwich and the immediate area and would have an enormous impact on the national traffic network, including the A2 and A20, which are key feeder roads into London”. He requested the greatest possible public consultation be undertaken and that such a scheme not be imposed against the will of the public.  

Transport Innovation Fund 

The funding for the initial studies came from central Government’s Transport Innovation Fund (TIF) for congestion schemes.  The TIF funds were being used to bribe local authorities to set up congestion charging and road pricing schemes because the Government realised how politically sensitive such schemes are and did not want to be seen as promoting them directly. Of course if you get a local scheme in somewhere like Greenwich, which encourages traffic to avoid the area, then you generate major congestion problems in adjoining areas which in due course can then justify their own scheme. 

In the TfL Bid document it points out: “…any attempt to impose significant peak hour traffic reduction on Greenwich Town Centre would give rise to objections similar to those associated with the earlier lorry ban. Measures that serve only to reduce traffic in one locality by transferring it to other equally sensitive locations, clearly, offer no net community benefits, while proposals that benefit one interest group by inconveniencing others will always present difficult choices. The Council would not wish to be a party to measures that are liable to inflict detriment on other communities or local authorities.” 

This revealing document even manages to suggest that because of the problems of traffic diversion if a congestion charge was introduced at peak periods, it might be best to introduce an “off-peak only” charge – this would definitely be a world first – a congestion charge when there was no congestion!  

But Greenwich estimated the cost of a scheme at over £100 million, an enormous amount of money with no clear benefits. 

The Problems of Greenwich 

Greenwich town centre has been a notorious traffic bottleneck for many years. The nature of the geography also causes any generated air pollution over a wide area to collect in the river valley. Two alternative solutions have been suggested in the past to remove traffic from the town centre and enhance this World Heritage site – the first was to improve the A2 route over Blackheath, possibly by using a tunnel to avoid damage to the park – the second was by constructing a new road along the river frontage – both projects were effectively blocked by environmental objectors.  

Air Pollution Issues 

In 2002, an Air Quality Action Plan (AQAP) was adopted by Greenwich because of the known air pollution problems on some of the major roads. But although clearly many of the major routes in Greenwich generate much air pollution from traffic (for example the Blackwall Tunnel handles over 100,000 vehicles per day with heavy congestion during rush hours), it is not at all clear what the overall impact of traffic is on air pollution levels in Greenwich. Indeed the report fudges many of the key issues.  For example it says “local road transport constitutes approximately 28 to 80% of NOx emissions in the borough…” and “approximately 50% of the remaining background sources arise from road transport sources outside the borough”.  For PM10 (particulates) it says “between 5% and 40% of concentrations result from primary road transport emissions in the borough, depending on location, with approximately 60 to 95% arising from background sources”.  

In reality nobody knows how much general air pollution in Greenwich comes from local traffic, from industrial or other sources, or how much from outside the borough.  

The proposed plans also didn’t seem to have taken any account of the Low Emission Zone (LEZ) which now covers the whole of the greater London area and will reduce emissions from HGVs and buses quite substantially in the next few years.  In addition the general improvement in the technology of vehicles is reducing emissions by large amounts. 

Note that private cars seem to produce less than 20% of total emissions of pollutants such as PM10s as HGVs, LGVs, buses and taxis are the main sources. It is also worth pointing out that the central London Congestion Charge has not resulted in improved air quality within the congestion charge zone. We suggested that it was unnecessary to introduce congestion charges in Greenwich to tackle air pollution issues and doing so would not be effective in tackling air pollution. We said more steps should be taken to reduce congestion which itself is the major cause of such pollution. 

Cessation of the Blackwall Tunnel Tidal Flow 

One action that was taken by TfL was the cessation of the Blackwall Tunnel tidal flow system. This undoubtedly increased congestion, and hence resulted in higher air pollution. They justified this on the grounds of safety but the tidal flow system has been in use for 30 years without major incident, the accident statistics show that the tunnel actually has fewer reported accidents than most major roads in London, and independent consultants had actually recommended that alternative measures to improve safety be taken. TfL went ahead and stopped the tidal flow system without any public consultation, not even with the local boroughs, and without any prior notice. Of course many commentators have said that as allegedly happened with the London congestion charge, if you first make congestion worse then there is more justification for introducing congestion charges. 

How We Opposed the Proposals 

We mounted a major public campaign to have road tolls in Greenwich thrown out.  The public do not like road tolls of any form, and these proposals were in essence just an attempt by anti-car fanatics to raise the cost of motoring and restrict your freedom of movement. An on-line petition was set up to assist. We circulated over 100,000 leaflets to residents of the borough of Greenwich and received hundreds of responses.

As we received an enormous response to our leaflet on the proposed congestion charge in Greenwich, but Transport for London still had not published their detailed proposals, we held a public meeting on Saturday the 22nd September 2007 at Mycenae House in Blackheath.

On the 4th November 2007, we issued a press release which showed that based on the surveys undertaken by Transport for London, there was overwhelming opposition to any congestion charge scheme in Greenwich. Only 16% supported such an idea, with 77% opposed according to the latest survey.

Soon after (in 2008) Mayor Livingstone was of course ejected by the electorate in favour of Boris Johnson who had publicly opposed any extension of congestion charging to Greenwich or other outer London boroughs. He also made a manifesto commitment to reinstate the Blackwall Tunnel Tidal Flow. Indeed it was said by some commentators that Mr Johnson won the election because of the votes of Londoners in South East London stimulated by a local motorists pressure group, but you can take that with a pinch of salt.

Unfortunately, he subsequently reneged on his commitment to reinstate the Blackwall Tunnel Tidal Flow system.

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