Published: 13:04, 21 February 2020
| Updated: 14:17, 21 February 2020
Angered Kent county councillors have slammed plans to build the £6.8bn Lower Thames Crossing, a new road link between Kent and Essex.
The main concerns centre around the escalating costs of the multi-billion pound scheme connecting Gravesend and Tilbury and environmental fears, by encouraging more drivers to take to the road amidst a global climate emergency.
If approved, the 23km three-lane dual carriageway would connect the M2 near Rochester and the M25 in Essex, between north and south Ockendon and include a 2.4-mile (3.8km) tunnel between Kent and Essex.
Highways England, who are spearheading the project, say the 14.5 miles of new roads, connecting the tunnel to the existing road network, will double road capacity across the Thames east of London.
They also say the scheme will take up to 22% of traffic away from the Dartford Crossing and "significantly relieve congestion" there.
But former KCC transport cabinet member Cllr Bryan Sweetland (Con), who quit as highways boss in opposition to the scheme four years ago, described the project as unnecessary and "ill-thought out".
Cllr Martin Whybrow (Green), who represents Folkestone and Hythe, described the scheme as 'stupidly expensive' and 'environmentally damaging.'
He added: "When we are trying to address the climate crisis, it's a woeful misuse of capital in this day and age. We are trying to get people out of cars."
But, Highways England say the road-based scheme will lead to the creation of thousands of new jobs, add billions to the UK economy and provide more than 90% additional road capacity across the Thames, east of London.
However, Cllr Sweetland feared the road-based infrastructure scheme would rise to £10bn over the next decade, adding: "If you look at any other major infrastructure project like HS2 the cost escalated.
"This is estimated to be £6bn to £7bn, but could go well over £10bn."
KCC's former highways boss added that the Government originally planned to build another bridge at Dartford Crossing to help mitigate congestion pressures, but was scrapped in favour of the Lower Thames Crossing.
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He said: "If the Government had stuck to that, the bridge would have been in operation by now, alleviating the problems at Dartford and costing less than £2bn."
Ground investigations and surveys have taken place under the Thames and across Essex, Thurrock and Kent since October, continuing until March. This will form the basis of the design of the crossing.
But, construction work has yet to start and Cllr Sweetland said he fears it could take at least 10 years to be finalised.
A Highways England spokesman said: "We're consulting on our latest plans for the project, and we are keen to hear all views on the proposals.
"We continue to work closely with businesses, communities and local authorities to unlock economic growth and provide improved access to leisure, retail and job opportunities.”
KCC says it supports the scheme, but has told KentOnline that outstanding questions remain over air quality and noise pollution.
Council bosses have also called for several road enhancement schemes to take place in conjunction with the Lower Thames crossing development, notably at Blue Bell Hill and in Gravesend.
The Department for Transport was contacted, but declined to comment.