Published: 09:34, 12 April 2017
Years of frustration and uncertainty has been brought to an end with the announcement that the Lower Thames Crossing will be built east of Gravesend.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling will be at the Dartford Crossing this afternoon to fully unveil plans for the long-awaited project, more than a year after 47,000 people took part in Highways England’s consultation.
While many in Gravesham opposed the consultation’s tunnel, dubbed Option C, months of campaigning to persuade the government not to build another crossing at the existing site in Dartford has proved successful.
The government say the new crossing will create a new link between the A2 and the M25 and reduce the burden on the busy Dartford Crossing. The Lower Thames Crossing is expected to carry 4.5 million heavy goods vehicles in its first year.
The planned route will run from the M25 near North Ockendon, cross the A13 at Orsett before crossing under the Thames east of Tilbury and Gravesend. A new link road will then take traffic to the A2 near Shorne, close to where the route becomes the M2.
Highways England say it is still too early to know exactly where it needs to build until further design work, assessment and consultation is carried out as part of the statutory planning process.
Chief executive Jim O’Sullivan said: “The decision for a new crossing east of Gravesend and Tilbury is underpinned by years of studies, assessments and careful consideration of the record breaking response to our 2016 consultation.
"As we progress there will be further consultation and opportunities to be part of shaping the detail for the area, now and for future generations.”
Mr Grayling said: “We are making the big decisions for Britain. The new Lower Thames Crossing, and other improvements in and around Dartford and Thurrock announced today, will further strengthen our economy while also creating thousands of jobs.
“Our £23 billion investment into our roads is already making a difference, with schemes being completed across the country, including the M1 Catthorpe junction and A556 at Knutsford, cutting journey times for millions of motorists.
“The schemes announced today not only show we are taking decisions, we are planning upgrades and we are completing roads – making the lives of millions of motorists better.”
Dartford MP Gareth Johnson is one of the first to welcome the decision, describing it as ‘the most significant affecting Dartford in a generation’.
“It is not only the right decision for Dartford but also for the whole country,” he said.
“Many of us have worked hard, often behind the scenes, to convince the government that it would have been wrong to locate another crossing at Dartford and funnel more traffic into the area and onto roads that can’t cope as it is.
“It would have been catastrophic for Dartford if we had lost this argument. Locating the Lower Thames Crossing east of Gravesend is the right approach and I am pleased the government has agreed.
“This decision gives motorists a choice and will provide resilience for the road network.”
The finalised plans differ slightly from those laid out in the consultation, taking a different route around Shorne.
The scheme will cost £4.4 billion and the new 70mph, 13 mile route and crossing will improve journeys for drivers. Capacity for vehicles crossing the Thames east of London will increase by 70 per cent.
Construction is still not expected to be complete for 10 years.
Despite the further wait, Mr Johnson is relieved that the prospect of disruptive roadworks in Dartford over the next decade had been lifted, with £10 million reportedly set aside to ease existing problems in the meantime.
“Nobody is claiming this money will completely remove the current problems but they should provide some benefit,” Mr Johnson continued.
“In addition, Highways England will continue looking at ways to improve the flows of traffic across Dartford whilst the building of the Lower Thames Crossing takes place.”
He added that he understood the decision may not be welcomed by residents in Gravesham, with MP Adam Holloway having previously described the prospect of the Gravesend crossing as ‘a looming disaster’.
But Mr Johnson said the new crossing would ultimately prove beneficial to all who get stuck in traffic caused by the Dartford Crossing, including people in Gravesham, and that work would be done to ensure the environmental impact was ‘limited’.
He added: “For more than a decade there has been uncertainty about where this crossing would be placed. Now the decision has been made we must get on with the task of building it.
“Dartford residents have suffered misery on the roads for years and I am convinced this decision will mean a better future, with less congestion and less pollution.”
The MP’s delight was shared by Dartford council leader Jeremy Kite, who had signed letters to both Mr Grayling and Prime Minister Theresa May urging them not to approve another crossing in Dartford.
Cllr Kite had been concerned that the announcement might not arrive until next month due to the Kent County Council election, with purdah rules usually preventing the government from making announcements that could influence voters.
He said: "In welcoming the decision, it’s worth making the point that as a society we must continue to search for cleaner and greener alternatives to road building in the future.
"For the sake of our environment, economy and air quality we must all work for a smarter transport network not just an expanded one.
"But be in no doubt, the new Gravesend crossing is desperately needed and Mr Grayling has called it right. The location provides both resilience and the additional capacity to relieve pressure across North Kent and get our communities moving.
"The existence of an alternative crossing point also creates new opportunities to re-balance flows, a point sometimes underestimated by campaigners against this proposal."
Cllr Kite continued: "Of course, today’s decision still leaves an enormous concern about the congestion at Dartford for up to a decade until the new crossing opens.
"We have been clear from the outset that a new crossing alone is not enough and I am delighted that Mr Grayling has recognised the need for improvements at Dartford.
"In terms of our friends east of Gravesend, I hope they will now accept our offer to join forces with them to ensure that every possible mitigation and design innovation is deployed to safeguard the local environment along the route C corridor."
A Gravesham council spokesman said: "At present we are digesting the announcement and technical material that is appearing on the Highways England website.
"We will be considering the impact the announced route will have on Gravesham’s residents and environment and pressing hard for measures to mitigate the most harmful aspects of the selected option."
Around 55 million journeys are made each year on the Dartford Crossing, six million more than it was designed for.
Business chiefs had also pushed for a decision, claiming the indecision was hurting the country’s economy.
Last month a letter was signed by the Port of Dover, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Freight Transport Association to warn the government that a failure to make a decision threatened to bring the South East to a standstill.
Christian Brodie, Chairman of South East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “This is excellent news for Kent and Essex and will have a significant economic impact.
"The investments announced will strengthen the resilience of our UK and European connections – imperative as we now move towards Brexit.
“However, the benefits go far beyond Kent and Essex. With the current Dartford Crossing already operating at capacity and freight traffic continuing to grow, the new crossing will also support the government’s wider economic aspirations for the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine.”
Port of Dover chief executive Tim Waggott added: “The Port of Dover handles up to £119 billion of trade or 17% of the UK’s trade in goods and is vital to the UK’s trading relationship with Europe - our largest and nearest trading partner.
"Half of its freight traffic is heading beyond London to support economic activity in the Midlands Engine and Northern Powerhouse government priority areas.
"With freight traffic through Dover growing by a third in only four years and with a forecast 40% growth in freight traffic by the end of the next decade, it is essential that traffic fluidity is maintained and enhanced on this key trade corridor connecting the rest of the UK with mainland Europe.
“The Lower Thames Crossing is an essential ingredient of the strategic infrastructure mix required to deliver national economic prosperity.
"The port fully supports today’s announcement by the government and warmly welcomes its commitment to keep the nation’s traffic and trade moving.”
Kent county councillor Bryan Sweetland, who represents Gravesham Rural, quit his cabinet post in protest over Kent County Council’s support for Option C.
Yesterday he tweeted: “According to those who know (?) tomorrow pm is now when the LTC announcement will be made. What a totally shambolic process this has been!”
MP for Gravesham Adam Holloway feels the decision is bad for his constituents but also for those in the neighbouring constituency.
He said: "It's a disappointment for the people of Dartford who are now condemned to one decade or two or even three more of appalling congestion and murderous pollution.
"It will also be terrible for the residents of Riverview Park, Chalk, Higham and Shorne.
"This started as a project to reduce congestion and has become about economic development. They're spending almost £5,000,000,000 to create lots of jobs and reduce the congestion at Dartford by less than 15% in 20 years' time but they're only spending £10million on mitigating the consequences of this action.
"The only way to fix the congestion problem at Dartford is to fix it at Dartford. The M25 runs from Dartford to Thurroock, it doesn't run from somewhere east of Gravesend to somewhere else in Essex."
Gravesham council also opposed Option C, as did the borough’s representatives at Kent County Council.
In addition to the Lower Thames Crossing, the government is investing a further £66 million to widen the A13 Stanford-le-Hope bypass from two to three lanes, creating more than 4,000 jobs and unlock development of hundreds of new houses.
It will also improve links to Tilbury and new London Gateway ports. This investment is part of a £78.85 million Thurrock Council project scheduled to be complete by the end of 2019.
More by this authorTom Acres