Environmental activists under the Extinction Rebellion banner blockaded the entrance to London Concrete works by Stratford’s Olympic Park for several hours yesterday. London Concrete is part of LafargeHolcim subsidiary Aggregate Industries.
About 50 protesters joined the blockade in a bid to halt works for the day. Seven were arrested.
London Concrete was targeted partly because cement is deemed to be responsible for about 8% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions and partly in protest against the planned £1bn Silvertown Tunnel. As work has not yet started on the Silvertown Tunnel, the action was more symbolic than disruptive but could be a sign of things to come.
Tower Hamlets’ resident Morgan Trowland, aged 36, who is a structural engineer by profession and member of Extinction Rebellion, said: “I’m taking part in this action to disrupt concrete production because we have to pause and recognise the harm it is causing both locally and globally; locally with the dust in the air our children breathe and globally with the inextricable CO2 emissions involved which are destroying the world.
“As a structural engineer, I’ve been designing concrete structures throughout my 15 year career: bridges, buildings, a stadium. It is one of the core skills of my craft, my livelihood. In regions of the world which are seismically inactive, many new concrete structures could be replaced with stone masonry; the Pont du Gard aqueduct bridge in France has stood for almost 2000 years and was built with a tiny fraction of the carbon emissions of an equivalent modern structure.”
Another protester, 25-year-old Eleanor McAree, said: “Concrete has a huge environmental impact and building another tunnel will only make air pollution across East London worse. The air pollution is already at dangerous levels and is affecting the health of children and adults in the area. With the siting of this industry right next to two schools, these children face lifelong negative impacts on their health.”
However, not everyone shares that view. Nigel Jackson, chief executive of the Mineral Products Association, said: “Concrete is an essential material for our economy and our way of life. New homes, schools, hospitals, workplaces, roads and railways, as well as the infrastructure that provides us with clean water, sanitation and energy, all need concrete.
“The UK cement and concrete industry takes its environmental obligations extremely seriously and is committed to contributing to a net zero carbon society. Whilst global cement production is responsible for 7% of global CO2 emissions, UK cement emissions are amongst the lowest in the world at less than 1.5% of UK emissions. Whilst the embedded impact of CO2 emanating from cement production is real, the whole life environmental performance of concrete offsets it. Concrete’s thermal mass means less heating, less cooling and therefore less CO2 and concrete reabsorbs some of the CO2 emitted in cement production. The UK industry is continuing to innovate and develop solutions to mitigate its environmental impacts further and share these internationally.”