I am aware that the Government’s decision on the location of the Lower Thames Crossing may be imminent. I would ask you to spare just 2 minutes of your time to read this communication. At the very least, give it to one of your senior aides, rather than forwarding it straight to Highways England.
During last year’s consultation, the then Transport Minister Andrew Jones MP stated on behalf of the Government; “I can confirm that Option A is included within the consultation and remains an option for consideration”.
But Highways England had already stated in writing that “a route option at Location A will not be taken forward and therefore this option is not included in the public consultation”. How can these two statements be reconciled? Clearly Highways England did not consult in accordance with the Government’s intention, and most of the 1.2 million consultees would have been unaware of this. Surely this invalidates the consultation?
For Highways England to say otherwise is patently not true. Consultees were only offered choices of variations of Option C east of Gravesend. There were no questions on Dartford. In fact the consultation booklet categorically stated that “we are inviting you to provide your views and comments on our proposals”, and that “our proposal is a bored tunnel crossing at Location C, east of Gravesend and Tilbury”.
Highways England’s proposed crossing east of Gravesend is still forecast to leave traffic volumes at the Dartford Crossing well in excess of its designed capacity. In fact all it is forecast to do is reduce traffic volumes back to today’s congested levels. How does this warrant spending upwards of £4 billion on a new crossing east of Gravesend if it does not even meet the objective of relieving congestion at the Dartford Crossing?
It is noted that the stated objective is “to improve performance by providing free-flowing north-south capacity”. Minister, traffic already flows freely in a north-south direction via the QE2 Bridge. It is the south-north direction via the tunnels that needs improvement, but Highways England is not intending to do anything about this.
Is the Government aware that Highways England’s proposals do nothing to improve south-north traffic flow through the tunnels? At the moment, traffic is brought to a standstill 800 to 900 times a week to allow petrol tankers and other hazardous loads to be escorted through the tunnels. Traffic is held up for 2 minutes on each occasion, but sometimes longer. Minister, this means that one or both tunnels is closed to traffic for around 4 hours every day.
Option C east of Gravesend is primarily intended to cater for cross-channel traffic. In terms of HGVs, this amounts to around 20% of those which currently use the Dartford Crossing. Very few (if any) of these continental lorries are petrol tankers, so we can expect the frequent interruptions in south-north traffic flow at Dartford to continue.
Before it’s too late, I implore you not to accept Highways England’s preferred option. It will not meet the fundamental objectives of relieving the congestion at Dartford. This is the primary reason for needing a new crossing, and should take precedence over less-tangible economic growth considerations.
There are other options which will increase capacity at Dartford by 60%, reduce congestion and pollution, and overcome the tunnel restrictions, none of which are achieved by Highways England's proposal.
Thank you for taking the time to read this communication.