DoT) has announced its preferred route for a new multi-billion pound road link across the River Thames between Essex and Kent as a means of relieving congestion at the Dartford Crossing. With the hope that it could create more than 6,000 jobs and boost the economy by more than £8 billion, the government has opted for the most expensive route, Option C or 3, which will see a new link, between the A2 and the M25. Road haulage and wildlife groups have both immediately commented on what was always going to be a contentious decision.
The planned new route will run from the M25 near North Ockendon, cross the A13 at Orsett before passing under the Thames via a tunnel east of Tilbury and Gravesend. A new link road will then take traffic to the A2 near Shorne, close to where the route becomes the M2. The Lower Thames Crossing is expected to carry 4.5 million heavy goods vehicles in its first year.
Consultation on the crossing began in May 2013 when three options were announced. These were reduced to two in December 2013, one near the existing Dartford Crossing (known as Option A), and the other linking the M2 motorway with the M25 via the A13 (known as Option C), with a possible further link to the M20 (Option C Variant). According to the initial proposal for Option C, the new link would run from the western end of the M2, crossing the river just east of Gravesend and Tilbury and joining up with the M25 between junctions 29 and 30.
The authorities say Option C was identified by the majority of nearly 47,000 respondents to the consultation on a new Lower Thames Crossing, as the best solution for reducing traffic and congestion at the Dartford Crossing and for boosting the economy by improving links to London and the Channel ports. In a statement Highways England said:
“The preferred route was carefully selected as the one that minimised community and environmental impacts as far as possible, whilst providing the transport and economic benefits of a modern, alternative crossing. This new 70mph, 13-mile route and crossing will be built to the highest safety standards using the latest in engineering and information technology.”
A further £10 million will be used to improve traffic flow at and around the existing crossing as well as studying ways to further tackle congestion. This will include a wide-ranging investigation into options to cut ‘rat-running’ through Dartford and Thurrock. Christian Brodie, Chairman of South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP), said:
“This is excellent news for Kent and Essex and will have a significant economic impact. The investments announced will strengthen the resilience of our UK and European connections, imperative as we now move towards Brexit.
“However, the benefits go far beyond Kent and Essex. With the current Dartford Crossing already operating at capacity and freight traffic continuing to grow, the new crossing will also support the government’s wider economic aspirations for the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine.”
Opinions as to the value of a new crossing have been deeply divided with polarised opinions on both sides. The Channel Ports have obviously taken a keen interest in the debate whilst opponents say the problems at the Kentish ports will not be alleviated until a final solution to the problems of Operation Stack are resolved, something that occurs to the South of the Thames. Tim Waggott, Port of Dover Chief Executive, said:
“The Port of Dover handles up to £119 billion of trade or 17% of the UK’s trade in goods and is vital to the UK’s trading relationship with Europe, our largest and nearest trading partner. Half of its freight traffic is heading beyond London to support economic activity in the Midlands Engine and Northern Powerhouse government priority areas. With freight traffic through Dover growing by a third in only 4 years and with a forecast 40% growth in freight traffic by the end of the next decade, it is essential that traffic fluidity is maintained and enhanced on this key trade corridor connecting the rest of the UK with mainland Europe.
“The Lower Thames Crossing is an essential ingredient of the strategic infrastructure mix required to deliver national economic prosperity. The port fully supports today’s announcement by the government and warmly welcomes its commitment to keep the nation’s traffic and trade moving.”
In addition to the Lower Thames Crossing, the government says it is investing a further £66 million to widen the A13 Stanford-le-Hope bypass from 2 to 3 lanes. This will help create more than 4,000 jobs and unlock the development of hundreds of new houses, and improve links to Tilbury and new London Gateway ports. This investment is part of a £78.85 million Thurrock Council project scheduled to be complete by the end of 2019. Despite this some local politicians have also already highlighted misgivings at the chosen route. Jackie Doyle-Price, MP for Thurrock, said:
“While congestion at the Dartford Crossing demands a new Lower Thames Crossing, I have consistently told the Government that any new crossing must not lead to more congestion on Thurrock’s roads. Neither should it lead to more congestion on the M25 and A13 or a new junction on the M25 in Thurrock. This route fails those tests. We have a serious challenge with air quality in the borough and clearly congestion around the vicinity of the Dartford Crossing is the primary cause.”
Unsurprisingly the Road Haulage Association (RHA) is simply pleased that a decision has been arrived at. Any new route crossing the Thames has been the subject of intense lobbying over the years by the freight community and RHA chief executive Richard Burnett, whilst enthusiastic, sounded a cautionary note saying:
“The new crossing will have a tremendously positive economic benefit. The project itself will provide thousands of jobs and will give a real boost to business across the South East. Hauliers are responsible for moving 85% of the UK economy. The new route will reduce journey times, especially for those heading towards or away from the all-important Channel ports.
”The congestion on the Dartford Crossing will also be reduced and the potential savings for operators in terms of time, money and fuel will be considerable. Our main concern is that the anticipated completion date will be ten years from now. If traffic levels continue to increase at their current levels, the new crossing may be obsolete before it even opens.”
News of the new crossing route has not of course been welcomed by everyone. A spokesperson for the South Essex Wildlife Hospital, a charity dealing with injured and sick creatures in the area said:
“For us this is the second worst option, behind option four which would probably have led to the demolition of the hospital. This scheme will undoubtedly produce a massive loss of habitat and create extra physical hazards for wildlife such as swans which migrate regularly through the chosen area.”