Confirmation of Government backing and a preferred route for the Lower Thames Crossing – expected to cost £4.4bn – has stirred new controversy, with local Conservative MPs voicing their opposition to the longstanding project.
Highways England, which will be responsible for delivering the new tunnel and road links, said the 13 mile route and crossing would cost £4.4bn and increase capacity for vehicles crossing the Thames east of London by 70%.
Chief executive Jim O’Sullivan said: ‘This route will greatly improve journeys as well as unlocking more than £8bn of economic benefits and create some 6,000 jobs.’
He added: ‘The decision for a new crossing east of Gravesend and Tilbury is underpinned by years of studies, assessments and careful consideration of the record breaking response to our 2016 consultation.’
The preferred route for the crossing
However, Stephen Metcalfe, Conservative MP for South Basildon and East Thurrock, said in a statement on his website that he was ‘very disappointed and upset by the announcement’.
He wrote: ‘I will be seeking an urgent meeting with the Secretary of State for Transport to express our concerns about the decision and call for proper mitigation and consultation. I will also be asking the Secretary of State to meet with local residents to explain how the decision was arrived at so they can understand why our calls for an alternative solution have not been successful.’
Adam Holloway, Conservative MP for Gravesham, called the plan a ‘crazy idea’ and a ‘disaster for the people of Dartford’.
While leaders of the three political parties on Thurrock Council have described the decision ‘an outrage’ and claimed that the Government had kept residents ‘in the dark for months’, Kent County Council (KCC) backed the announcement.
Barbara Cooper, KCC corporate director for growth, environment and transport, said: ‘It is now essential that Highways England delivers the scheme at pace as this key piece of infrastructure that relieves the international corridor from Dover to the Midlands and North is needed now, and any delays to the delivery timetable will be detrimental to the UK economy.
‘Kent County Council has been campaigning for a new Lower Thames Crossing to be built for more than 15 years to relieve the congestion and overloading at the existing Dartford Crossing, which with peak flows often exceeding 162,000 movements per day has long exceeded its design capacity of 135,000 vehicles a day.’
The Freight Transport Association (FTA) also called on the Government to proceed with construction ‘as quickly as possible in the context of a broader roads policy which must keep transport moving nationwide for many years to come’.
Natalie Chapman, FTA head of policy for London and the South East, said: ‘The decision to proceed with the third crossing over the Thames is long overdue. Congestion at the Dartford Crossing is predicted to reach pre-Dart Charge levels by 2020, while the Blackwall Tunnel has become a cause of impossible delays for many of our members. ‘