Chancellor of the Exchequer
1 Horse Guards Road
Re: Lower Thames Crossing Options
Before you make a decision to spend £5bn of public money on a new Lower Thames Crossing, we
would ask that you spend a few minutes of your time to read this letter and consider the points raised.
We know that you have received considerable lobbying from business interests, Kent County Council,
and Dartford Councillors, urging the Government to support Highways England’s preferred option to
build a completely new crossing east of Gravesend, but we urge you to take a long hard look at all the
options, rather than accept the only proposal that has been put forward by Highways England.
Most people agree that something needs to be done to relieve the M25 congestion and misery at the
Dartford Crossing. However a new crossing east of Gravesend will not address these problems. The
underlying problems at Dartford are caused by the 50 year old tunnels which do not meet modern
height and safety standards, and which severely restrict its capacity.
Since the removal of the toll booths in 2014, southbound traffic flows across the QE2 Bridge have
significantly improved. However, northbound traffic delays through the tunnels have actually got
worse. Traffic is frequently interrupted to intercept over-height vehicles, and traffic is brought to a
standstill 800 to 900 times a week to allow hazardous loads to be escorted through the tunnels. As a
result, traffic regularly queues for several miles back along the M25 and connecting roads.
A crossing 10 miles downstream will do nothing to overcome these restrictions. Whilst there is no
doubt that a new crossing east of Gravesend would provide an alternate route for traffic using the M2
to travel between Dover and the north of the Thames, it will do little for the vast majority of traffic
using the M25. In fact Highways England forecasts that, even with a new crossing east of Gravesend,
traffic volumes at the Dartford Crossing would still be 138,000 vehicles every day, considerably in
excess of its designed capacity, and only marginally less than the 140,000 it currently carries.
With the same tunnel restrictions and much the same levels of traffic, we can expect to see the same
congestion problems at Dartford, even after any new crossing is built east of Gravesend. This would
be a disaster for the UK economy, and condemn users of the M25 to a generation of continuing
congestion and lost productivity.
This will inevitably lead to fresh demands for another bridge at Dartford. Since this is the cheapest
option, and it would overcome the tunnel restrictions at Dartford at a stroke, there is a good case for
choosing this option now, in preference to an entirely new crossing 10 miles downstream.
Strangely, although a new bridge at Dartford was by far the cheapest option in 2013, and offered the
best value for money in terms of Benefit Cost Ratios (BCR), it is noticeable that the cost of this relatively
simple option increased by 170% between 2013 and 2016, making it much less attractive. Conversely,
the BCRs for a new crossing east of Gravesend doubled between 2013 and 2016. The Treasury is now
being presented with an entirely different business case on which to base its decision. At the very
least, we would have thought this needs investigation before deciding to spend £5bn of public money.
There is a better option, which is to build dual tunnels to link the M25 from south of junction 2 to
north of junction 30. This would have a number of advantages: it would completely bypass the A282
and the existing crossing, and it would finally complete the M25. All M25 through traffic would be
deep underground, thus avoiding the populated areas of Dartford and Thurrock, and it would be
possible to capture and filter the exhaust emissions, bringing a significant reduction in congestion and
pollution to the long-suffering residents of Dartford and Thurrock.
We consider that this option, which Highways England refers to as Option A14, would bring immense
benefits to the UK economy, freeing up this horrendous bottleneck on the UK’s strategic national
motorway network but without adding to traffic and pollution through the populated areas of
Dartford and Thurrock. Highways England do not recognise the level of benefits this would bring to
the local, regional, and national economy, and dismiss this option on the grounds of cost. It is
interesting to note that £3.4bn of their £6.6bn estimated cost is made up from risk, contingencies, and
inflation, and that they estimate this option would cost 10% more than the Trans Pennine Tunnel,
even though the latter would be 3 times the length.
Whichever option the Government finally decides on, we would urge you to keep an open mind and
to challenge the assumptions and recommendations of Highways England, rather than accept them at
face value. Please do not consign the people of Great Britain to a generation of continuing congestion
at Dartford. To build a new crossing east of Gravesend and to leave the problems on the M25 at
Dartford unresolved would be a national disaster.
Lower Thames Crossing Association