It was a fine day on the South Downs yesterday, the opposite of November, one of those days which could be early spring. Misty air shone above the hills’ green humps, and on one side of our faces the sun was almost warm. Even there it wasn’t possible to escape traffic – the roar of an A road floated up from the valley.
Here in South East London, traffic sound is constant: on summer nights with window open, the Blackwall Tunnel (under the Thames) road half a mile away sounds busy at 3am. During the day it is often congested as are the main east/west roads, Trafalgar Road parallel with the river and the A2 further south.
The air’s polluted: up to 2.5 times the EU limit for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the worst spots – which are mostly in the poorer areas. From the GLA’s website: “At high concentrations, NO2 causes inflammation of the airways. Long-term exposure can affect lung function and respiratory symptoms – it can also increase asthma symptoms.”
But all this may soon get worse. Here are two reasons why, one a large-scale project, one local.
The powers that be, including the GLA itself and TfL plus Greenwich and Newham Councils, want to build a new Thames tunnel – a sort of relief road for the Blackwall Tunnel. It would be called the Silverton Tunnel. Haven’t they learned that more roads lead to more cars? How about spending the £750m they say this would cost on public transport instead, reducing congestion and pollution and allowing necessary vehicles a clearer road?
|Blackwall jam. From No to Silvertown website|
Another traffic-breeding threat is smaller scale, more local and immediate. IKEA has outline planning consent for a large store on the site of the Sainsburys in Greenwich Peninsula and the eco-park behind it.
In some inner urban areas IKEA have had to plan car-free stores, but not here. Greenwich Council rolled over. IKEA claim that the store will reduce traffic: but who’s going to take flat-pack furniture home on the bus (or more likely three buses)? A lack of parking spaces and nearness to… guess what… the Blackwall Tunnel will also add to congestion.
|Eco-park. From No IKEA website|
IKEA would bury the eco-park plus a community orchard – rare green spaces and scarce, pollution-filtering trees. It would replace Sainsburys’ pioneering eco-store with the usual box.
There’s a glimmer of hope. Local group No IKEA Greenwich has just been given legal advice by an experienced planning barrister that, contrary to what some councillors have been saying, the plans could still be changed.
Demo: next Saturday afternoon 6 December, starting in the eco-park. See No IKEA (another good campaign website) for details.
As an antidote to all that, here are the first three verses of ‘November’ from John Clare’s long poem ‘The Shepherd’s Calendar’. The rest is here.
The landscape sleeps in mist from morn till noon;
And, if the sun looks through, 'tis with a face
Beamless and pale and round, as if the moon,
When done the journey of her nightly race,
Had found him sleeping, and supplied his place.
For days the shepherds in the fields may be,
Nor mark a patch of sky — blindfold they trace,
The plains, that seem without a bush or tree,
Whistling aloud by guess, to flocks they cannot see.
The timid hare seems half its fears to lose,
Crouching and sleeping 'neath its grassy lair,
And scarcely startles, tho' the shepherd goes
Close by its home, and dogs are barking there;
The wild colt only turns around to stare
At passer by, then knaps his hide again;
And moody crows beside the road, forbear
To fly, tho' pelted by the passing swain;
Thus day seems turn'd to night, and tries to wake in vain.
The owlet leaves her hiding-place at noon,
And flaps her grey wings in the doubling light;
The hoarse jay screams to see her out so soon,
And small birds chirp and startle with affright;
Much doth it scare the superstitious wight,
Who dreams of sorry luck, and sore dismay;
While cow-boys think the day a dream of night,
And oft grow fearful on their lonely way,
Fancying that ghosts may wake, and leave their graves by day.