The mother of Ella Kissi-Debrah has called on the mayor of London to rethink his plans for a new four-lane road tunnel under the Thames warning it will drive up pollution with a potentially devastating impact on young people’s health.
Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, speaking after a coroner ruled that illegal levels of air pollution had caused the death of her nine-year-old daughter in 2013, said it was critical Sadiq reconsider the £2bn scheme.
“I am kindly asking the mayor of London to take another look at the tunnel as there is absolutely no evidence that air quality will improve especially for the most polluted schools,” she said.
Kissi-Debrah fought a seven-year campaign for justice for her daughter, and the coroner’s ruling is believed to be the first in the world to identify air pollution as a cause of death.
In a landmark narrative verdict, Philip Barlow, inner south London coroner, said Ella died from acute respiratory failure, severe asthma and air pollution exposure.
Now Kissi-Debrah says she has looked at the “impact assessment reports” of the proposed Silvertown Tunnel and is convinced it would increase dangerous levels of toxic air in an already polluted part of London.
Khan has come under increasing pressure over the proposed tunnel with a growing list of MPs, councillors, environmentalists and residents coming out against the project. They argue it will increase pollution, drive up car use and increase emissions in the midst of a climate crisis.
Labour’s environment secretary, Matthew Pennycook, whose Greenwich and Woolwich constituency would contain one end of the tunnel, earlier this year called on Khan, a Labour mayor, to reverse the plan. Lyn Brown, the Labour MP for West Ham, where the other end of the tunnel would be, has also called for the project to be scrapped.
The rising cost of the scheme has come under scrutiny. In September the Guardian revealed that the project could cost nearly £2bn over the next three decades if it goes ahead. The figure – which includes the construction, maintenance and operation of the tunnel as well as interest payments on the debt – is more than twice the original estimate.
In June, a report from the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, backed by some of the UK’s leading climate scientists, found that the development was incompatible with the Greater London Authority’s aim to become carbon-neutral by 2030.
But Khan’s administration has repeatedly defended the scheme, saying it was essential to improve river crossings in east London that are “antiquated and worn out”.
City Hall insists the new tunnel would provide a “public transport-focused river crossing” with improved bus links, and be paid for by introducing tolls on both the Blackwall tunnel and at Silvertown.
But Kissi-Debrah said instead of focusing on a new road tunnel the mayor should extend the planned ultra low emissions zone [Ulez], which is due to be widened from its current central London zone to the north and south circular from October 2021.
“Based on the success of the Ulez can the mayor rather consider implementing it London wide? 250,000 children have an asthma diagnosis and they will breathe better and it would save lives.”