The £1.2 billion Silvertown Tunnel project should be dumped in the wake of “unprecedented changes” to transport across London caused by the Covid-19 pandemic as cycling and pedestrian rates soar, a new report claims.

The plan to build the new cross-Thames link between Silvertown and the Greenwich Peninsula was also damned as “incompatible” with the Greater London Authority’s target of achieving carbon-neutrality by 2030 in the report, titled ‘The Silvertown Tunnel is in a hole, so stop digging’.

Compiled by Oxford-based senior research fellow Simon Pirani, the report is also littered with references to Greenwich Council’s support of the plans, with the authority repeatedly backing the scheme.

This Is Local London: Silvertown Tunnel opponents protest against the project last year. Silvertown Tunnel opponents protest against the project last year.

Written against the backdrop of the coronavirus drastically changing levels and modes of public transport, the report states the need for, at least, a review of the tunnel’s necessity due to the marked changes around London caused by the pandemic.

“First, (the pandemic) has triggered an economic recession that will oblige government at all levels to reconsider investment priorities,” the report states.

“Second, the rapid changes in work and transport practices during the lockdown are counteracting economic drivers towards car dependence.

“Some demand for car journeys, for road space, and for cars, will be permanently reduced.”

The report adds the “construction of the tunnel would have a considerable carbon impact” alone.

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan rejected the report’s assertion the tunnel would hinder environmental goals.

“It’s just wrong to suggest you can’t reduce congestion and improve river crossings in the east of London while also tackling the climate emergency,” the spokesperson said.

“Sadiq has been clear that he doesn’t want to replace one health crisis with another, and he is determined that our city’s recovery from coronavirus will be clean, green and sustainable.

“But it is essential that we also continue with our plan to build a new tunnel at Silvertown as the existing infrastructure is both antiquated and worn out.”

The Mayor’s office said introducing tolls at Blackwall and Silvertown tunnels would “play a crucial role in tackling congestion, improving OVERALL air quality and providing much-needed additional bus services across the river”.

A multi-national consortium called Riverlinx successfully bid for the contract from Transport for London in November and will chip in private capital to fund the project, receiving repayment via a vehicle toll on the tunnel in a private finance initiative (PFI).

This Is Local London: The proposed route of the tunnel, showing where it'll cross the River Thames. The proposed route of the tunnel, showing where it'll cross the River Thames.

As a result, the Mayor’s office said the funding arrangements mean if the project “hypothetically weren’t to proceed, there would not be a penny available to reinvest in anything else”.

The consortium includes Aberdeen Standard Investments, BAM group, Cintra (a subsidiary of Ferrovial), Macquarie Capital and SK Engineering & Construction.

The funding of the project is one of the points of contention picked out by long-time opposition group Stop the Silvertown Tunnel, one of the publishers of the report.

“Sadiq Khan’s Silvertown Tunnel is economically worthless, spending £1.2bn to build a massive, environmentally destructive new crossing that’s so badly designed it won’t actually move any more people across the river,”spokesperson Victoria Rance said.

“It undermines his 2030 carbon neutrality target, and his goal of increasing cycling and walking – instead giving incentives to keep traffic levels high to pay off the massively expensive off-books PFI loan that he has taken out to pay for the scheme.”

The group also raised concerns the tunnel would bring more traffic and pollution to the 80 per cent black and minority area of Newham, which already struggles with air quality issues.

Other publishers of the report include the Transport Action Network, Speak Out Woolwich and Extinction Rebellion Greenwich.

Among those who have backed it are Kevin Anderson, professor of energy and climate change at the University of Manchester; London Cycling Campaign’s chief executive Dr Ashok Sinha; and Professor Frank Kelly, the director of the  environmental research group at Imperial College London.