Newham communities say: Stop the tunnel

“The long list of speakers showed how united the community is behind the demand to stop the tunnel project.” The Stop the Silvertown Tunnel coalition describes how Newham-based community groups rallied together at a protest that took place on Saturday 5 June in Canning Town.

Sian Berry at Silvertown Tunnel protest
Stop the Silvertown Tunnel Coalition

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 underway, and held a rally outside the Crystal building at the Royal Docks – which will be the new headquarters of the Greater London Authority, which is responsible for the project.

Rokhsana Fiaz, the mayor of Newham, started the rally, promising to support our campaign – the cancellation of the tunnel project – to the end. 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, co-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 by 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.

On Tuesday 15 June, from 6.0pm-7.15pm, Newham NEU is holding an online 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 through this Zoom link.

On Thursday 1 July, at 9am, we will demonstrate at City Hall, Queen’s Walk (3 mins walk from London Bridge station), before the London Assembly meeting at 10am