Published: 14:00, 02 March 2017
Speculation is growing that the government’s stance on the location of a new Thames crossing could be confirmed as early as next week.
During Dartford council’s budget meeting on Monday night, leader Cllr Jeremy Kite (Con) said he had reason to believe that an announcement “was not very far away”, a view shared by Kent county councillor Bryan Sweetland (Con).
It comes as an open letter published today - signed by the Port of Dover, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Freight Transport Association - warns the failure to make a decision threatens to bring the South East to a standstill.
Cllr Sweetland, one of the most vocal critics of Highways England’s preference for a crossing east of Gravesend, thinks Chancellor Philip Hammond may reveal where it will be built during Wednesday’s Spring Statement.
The statement will be delivered a few weeks before the start of purdah, the build-up to the county council elections in May, during which the government cannot make an announcement that could be seen as advantageous to any candidates.
Cllr Sweetland said: “I think the whole thing needs looking at again.
“I really don’t believe a crossing at Gravesend will solve the problems at Dartford.
“When money is tight the government needs to make sure every penny is spent on a solution that has a good chance of solving the problem.”
Highways England’s preferred crossing, which would burrow through part of Cllr Sweetland’s Gravesham Rural ward, could cost upwards of £6 billion.
The vast majority of county councillors also back the Gravesend crossing and leader Cllr Paul Carter described it as “a once in a lifetime opportunity”. Cllr Sweetland quit as cabinet member for commercial services in protest.
He said: “The solution they’re pushing for is 10 or 12 years old and times have changed. When this was first put forward there was no mention of Paramount or Ebbsfleet, but the KCC stance hasn’t changed.
“Labour and the Conservatives have been quite united on this in Gravesham, it’s just about the only thing we are united on.
“Whatever the decision, people in Dartford are still facing another 10 years of congestion.”
The government has been urged to make a decision on the third Thames crossing by business chiefs who say the indecision is hurting the county’s economy.