A new Thames crossing will not cut through the Swanscombe peninsula
One of the routes for a new Thames crossing has been ruled out today - safeguarding an area earmarked for the huge Paramount theme park project.
Transport minister Robert Goodwell has this morning revealed that the idea for a crossing through the Swanscombe peninsula has been abandoned following consultation.
The route for option B would have gone through an area being earmarked for the proposed multi-billion pound Paramount theme park.
However options A, next to the existing Dartford crossing and C, between Gravesend and Strood, are still on the table.
Option C would link the M25, A13 in Essex with the M2 at junction 1 (Strood). A new approach road would spur off the motorway through Shorne and cross the river east of Chalk.
It has caused the greatest concern for wildlife lovers with Shorne Woods Country Park facing the prospect of being cut in half by the crossing work.
But it is preferred by most people in Dartford, who are concerned about increased pollution if the new crossing is built effectively alongside the existing one.
A decision on which of these two will be built is to be made after further environmental studies of the remaining options.
However, a Department for Transport source said a final decision on the chosen route is not expected until at least May after the local elections.
Options considered for a new Thames crossing
Tony Sefton, project director for London Resort Company Holdings, developer of the £2.3billion Paramount Park, welcomed the news.
He said: "I'm delighted for the area, especially for the people of Dartford and Gravesham because it will make a big difference. I'm delighted for the project, which stays very much on track.
"We are looking forward to working with the Department for Transport and the Highways Agency in a close partnership for the regeneration of the area."
Where should a new Thames crossing be built?
It is understood that land acquisition is close to completion, with confirmation expected early in the New Year.
The developer has said it is keen to use local design, business and recruitment firms on the project which could create up to 27,000 jobs.
London Resort Company Holdings' Tony Sefton on the Swanscombe Peninsula
Transport minister Robert Goodwell said: "The department's review of options showed that option B has the weakest case.
"Consultation feedback has additionally shown that option B receives limited support and instead raises serious concerns that it would jeopardise major redevelopment of the Swanscombe Peninsula, a key part of the growth strategy for the Thames Gateway area.
"The consultation evidence has persuaded me that this decision is one that has far reaching consequences for local people and users of the crossing..." - transport minister Robert Goodwell
"A number of stakeholders have urged me to discard this option as swiftly as possible.
"I have therefore decided that there are sufficient grounds to discard option B and that government should focus on the choice between options A and C.
"The consultation evidence has persuaded me that this decision is one that has far reaching consequences for local people and users of the crossing. It is therefore not a decision to be taken lightly."
He added he is now taking more advice on the impact the schemes would have on air quality and the environment before making a further statement "as soon as possible".
Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: "We had over 5,700 responses to the consultation and we have carefully considered each of them.
"Ruling out the least attractive option now gives some clarity for local residents and businesses.
"We are committed to making a decision on the location of the new crossing as soon as possible, but we recognise that whatever crossing location is chosen it will have significant impact for people in the area and the economy.
"These are tough decisions to be made and must not be taken lightly."
Dartford MP Gareth Johnson
Dartford MP Gareth Johnson said he is delighted by the government's decision to rule out building a new crossing on the Swanscombe Peninsula.
He said: "This will be welcome news for local residents and for developers who are keen to make a significant investment in that area.
"The government has recognised the huge potential that exists in Swanscombe and the potential for jobs and the future economic benefits for the Dartford area.
"The Swanscombe peninsular, right next to the High Speed 1 station at Ebbsfleet, has enormous potential.
"Paramount is very keen to build a theme park on the Swanscombe peninsular, which would generate significant jobs and revitalise the area. I am really pleased that the announcement today will help to facilitate this."
Heavy congestion at the Dartford Crossing
Mr Johnson added: "People in Dartford are fed up with the misery that the Dartford crossing has given them over many years. We don't want another crossing in this area and this decision does at least rule out one of the locations where we could have had an additional crossing.
"I am also glad the Department of Transport has listened to the environmental concerns which have arisen in the consultation and that further investigation will be carried out to assess the impact on the local area of having a crossing at either option A or C.
"I have always felt that it would be premature to give the go-ahead to another Thames crossing right now.
"Next autumn the automated booths at the Dartford Crossing come in to operation, and it would be far more beneficial to monitor the effects of this before committing to another Thames crossing in North West Kent."
Dartford council leader Jeremy Kite
Dartford Borough Council leader Jeremy Kite said: "I am naturally very pleased that the uncertainty surrounding the Swanscombe Paramount park project has been lifted.
"It had been a real issue in talking to potential backers because they have not been sure whether the bridge would cut through the sides of the site - so it is nice to see that lifted.
"I hope what the government is now doing is thinking about the environmental mitigations in regards to route C, but just about about every business voice in the region told them route C was the only viable option.
"We all want it implemented without major damage to the rural communities."
Gravesham council leader Cllr John Burden
Gravesham Borough Council leader John Burden said he always expected option B to be ruled out early - but said the decision leaves uncertainty.
He said: "This is still not a good thing for local people because it leaves a lot of uncertainty. It just continues the blight for them.
"I'm not surprised that B has gone, because of the Paramount scheme. All they're doing is leaving people further in the lurch."
The proposal for a new crossing was made in the autumn statement of 2011 and has been eagerly anticipated and hotly debated ever since.
Kent County Council leader Paul Carter expressed disappointment that a final route has not been selected - and pushed for a "rapid decision".
He said: "We were promised that there would be a quick turnaround on the decision for a third Thames crossing and I am disappointed that no decision has been made.
"It is a massively important project to unlock significant growth in the Thames gateway and we will be asking ministers for a rapid decision on the two options that remain. It is too vital a project to be allowed to drift any longer.
"Option C represents the best long-term logical solution to the transport challenges we face in Kent and the south east – by combining the greatest economic benefits for the residents of Kent, with a route that alleviates pressure on the M25 and our network.
"We undertook thorough analysis of each option and provided detailed evidence which showed clearly that this route represented the biggest gain for residents and the economy.
"We will continue to work closely with the Department for Transport to get the best for our residents and businesses and press to accelerate delivery of this much needed infrastructure."
A graphic of how Paramount Park on Swanscombe Peninsula might look
Gravesham MP Adam Holloway said: "A decision on the crossing was due to be made before the end of the year, and I am disappointed that this uncertainty will hang over us through Christmas and the New Year.
"That said, I am reassured to know that the Department for Transport is taking the issue seriously and wants to consider all responses to the consultation carefully before deciding one way or another.
"Hopefully they will recognise the strength of our local feeling against option C, and that there is a case for delaying any decision at all until we can see the effects of removing the tolls at Dartford next October.
"I spoke to the minister again on Tuesday and emphasised this point, as well as the abridge2far group's argument about running freight trains from the continent straight into Essex.
"I will continue to keep in touch with constituents about this and I hope it will not be too long into 2014 before we have a decision. If the news then is disappointing, I would like to reassure people that this is not the end – we will continue to fight this."
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