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UK approves Silvertown Tunnel for London 11 May 2018

Patrick Reynolds for TunnelTalk

Despite ongoing debate over the handling of hazardous materials near its south portal, the UK Government met its 10 May deadline and has given consent for construction of the 1.4km long, twin-tube Silvertown road tunnel under the River Thames in south east London.

New Silvertown road underpass of the Thames in London approved
New Silvertown road underpass of the Thames in London approved

In its decision letter, the Department for Transport acknowledges the disagreement over hazardous materials consents at neighbouring industrial sites could delay completion of the scheme but expressed hope, given the length of the construction period, that the differences can be overcome during the project period.

Developer of the new road crossing, Transport for London (TfL), has stated that the unresolved question presents a continued challenge. Earlier in 2018 the TfL lawyers told the Department for Transport that TfL would not be in a position to award the contract should there be risk the tunnel might not open.

TfL is procuring the project on a design, build, finance and maintain (DBFM) model that will include development and funding risk. In March 2017 three groups were shortlisted to progress to the request for proposals (RFP) stage. Since then, Strabag has been awarded the first of three major tunnel contracts for development of the Woodsmith potash mine materials transportation handling tunnel in north east of the UK and has withdrawn from its Silvertown shortlisted group with Skanska and lead designer CH2M. This leaves the Cintra Global Ferrovial Group of Spain and the group lead by Hochtief PPP Solutions of Germany to vie for the project.

The nub of the debate at Silvertown is between TfL and the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) over managing hazardous materials consents at the Brenntag Inorganic Chemicals Ltd industrial site and the Greenwich Gasholder Station near the approach road to the south portal of the tunnel.

UK Planning Inspectorate assessed the TfL application for the development consent order (DCO) for the Silvertown Tunnel during June 2016 to April 2017, and gave its green light to the project in mid-2017. The Inspectorate’s assessment panel believe the issues would not necessarily prevent the Government from granting consent but did caution the Department for Transport which stated in its DCO approval letter that “a situation could arise where the development could not be opened for use or could be delayed due to compensation issues on the adjoining sites”.

The Government believes the differences are fixable and that there is time to do so and in time to meet the TfL stated project completion date of 2022-23.

The earlier schedule for planning assessment of the Silvertown Tunnel expected the approval process to conclude by late 2017, allowing time for contract award and construction start by mid-2018. But extra time was then needed to study new air quality rules. Within these months, the differences between TfL and HSE on how best to resolve their differences on handling the hazardous materials consents at the neighbouring industrial sites remains unresolved.

In granting the DCO, the Department for Transport says any legal challenges to its approval have six weeks to be lodged with the High Court.

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