Thursday, January 30, 2020

Consultation for Lower Thames Crossing Opens but Freight Group Demands Better Driver Facilities

Time to Put Your Views After Record Dartford Crossing Profits Revealed
Shipping News Feature

UK – With the news just out of the annual profits made by the tunnels and bridge that span the River Thames via the M25 between Kent and Essex, the latest stage of the consultation for a further Lower Thames Crossing which just opened is bound to be a contentious affair.

The Dartford Crossings generated almost £200 million last year, and nearly a third of that was in fines for late or non-payment. With an annual net profit of £86.7 million, up by £7.4 million on the previous year, this means the operator has netted over £300 million in the five years since tolls were ‘scrapped’.

The change in system, now relying on ANPR technology has been much criticised as, for foreign drivers in particular, there is a paucity of multilingual information as to how to pay the charge. Hence the reason for a write off of £30 million by the Highways Agency which administers the scheme’s profits. A further £10 million is ‘currently outstanding’ as it was confirmed that around 20% of foreign vehicles never stump up the cash.

Now, after the previous consultation in 2018, the next stage has opened seeking the views of the public at large, together with any other industry interests, on the method and positioning of the next crossing point further downstream. Highways England have chosen a tunnel, how big in the final analysis will be an interesting factor given the growth rate of the upstream sibling, with the new road linking the tunnel to the A2 and M2 in Kent. On the north side, it will link to the A13 and junction 29 of the M25 in the London Borough of Havering.

The preferred option was announced in April 2017, when the minister releasing the news was one Chris Grayling, let us hope this does not carry his gift of a curse for every scheme he seemed to be involved with. You have until midnight on March 25 to give your views on the subject, but one organisation fast out of the blocks is the Freight Transport Association (FTA).

Whilst very supportive of the idea of an extra option to span the river the FTA has one serious concern, as expressed by Heidi Skinner, Policy Manager for the South East, who said:

”The FTA is urging government to include provision for driver facilities in its plans for a Lower Thames Crossing. There is already a severe lack of facilities for commercial vehicle drivers in the South East of England; the Department for Transport identified 37% more parking spaces are needed just to meet minimum requirements. Despite making a valuable contribution to the UK economy, these drivers are often denied access to very basic amenities; we are very disappointment to see plans for a ‘rest and service area’ have been removed from the proposals.

“The FTA and its members have been very supportive of the Lower Thames Crossing; it promises to help ease traffic and improve road capacity in a heavily congestion area. But failure to provide welfare facilities for drivers would be a disservice to these hard-working individuals; no other workforce would be expected to operate under such poor conditions.

"In an industry where you are compelled by law to take regular breaks and rest, it is vital drivers have access to these most basic amenities. The FTA will continue to work with Highways England to ensure facilities are placed close to the scheme.”

A visit to the Highways England Consultation website reveals dozens of events happening during the consultation period primarily in the areas which will be most affected by the development.

Photo: No, not the River Thames, the Mar Dyke where changes have been made to the original scheme to reduce the visual impact and the volume of flood compensation needed.