Delays in announcing a route and funding for the Lower Thames Crossing have been slammed as “unacceptable”.
Pressure is growing on the government to make a decision after months of radio silence since the consultation on plans for a crossing east of Gravesend ended in March.
Theresa May recently told Gillingham and Rainham MP Rehman Chishti a decision would be made “in due course” and many were expecting an announcement in Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement after his predecessor George Osborne announced plans for a £250m lorry park 12 months before.
However, the crossing was missing from a list of funding for infrastructure projects released by the Department for Transport (DfT) following the chancellor’s statement.
Now, the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP), which champions the economic growth of areas including Kent and Medway, has revealed it is not expecting any announcement this year, and its members have agreed to step up the pressure on MPs, ministers and the government to get the project moving.
SELEP is also enlisting the support of other local enterprise partnerships from the south of the UK to present a united front to the government.
Chariman Christian Brodie said: “The message from businesses on both sides of the Thames is unequivocal – we need a new crossing and we need it now. The current delay is unacceptable.
“It is short-sighted and shows a lack of ambition for growth when we need it more than ever.
“Businesses in our region overwhelmingly support Highways England’s preferred route east of Gravesend.
“While Gravesend, Southend and Thurrock Councils oppose that location, the current inaction is causing delays to their own growth plans, as they cannot produce coherent strategies in an atmosphere of such uncertainty.
“As such, SELEP is united in its view that an alternative to the current bottleneck at the Dartford is urgently needed.”
SELEP’s strategic board decided at its December meeting to bring even more pressure to bear on the government through contact with local MPs and directly with ministers in the Treasury and the DfT, calling for a decision to be taken.
“We need to sit down with the secretary of state as soon as possible to emphasis the impact their lack of decision is having and understand why they are not acting on the recommendations from Highways England based on the significant consultation earlier this year,” Mr Brodie added.
“Our business representatives have made it crystal clear the impact the ongoing delays at the Dartford Crossing are having, both operationally and financially.
“We are increasingly concerned that the situation will have a serious impact on inward investment into the south east until an alternative is provided.”
“We have received support from all our sister LEPs around the M25 and in the Anglia region who recognise the direct and knock-on effects the Dartford bottleneck has for business in their areas.
“With that in mind, we will be writing to MPs in those areas explaining the implications further delays to the Lower Thames Crossing project will have for their constituencies and urging them to add their weight to our representations to government.”