Published: 13:35, 25 March 2020
| Updated: 13:37, 25 March 2020
A Kent council has vowed to challenge Highways England over its plans to build a £6.8bn road link between Kent and Essex as a row over the scheme escalates.
Amidst a global climate change emergency, Gravesham council bosses have angrily slammed the national transport body over the environmental damage of the 14.5mile project, linking Gravesend and Tilbury, and its revised plans.
The latest spat centres over the removal of a 60m wide swathe of ancient woodland alongside the A2 at Shorne Woods Country Park and anger over further erosion into Claylane Wood, Brewers Wood and Ashenbank Wood.
Gravesham council leader Cllr John Burden (Lab) said the updated proposals were "unacceptable" following a cabinet meeting at Gravesend Civic Centre on Monday. He added: "Highways England are taking this scheme for granted."
But, the national transport body has defended its actions and told the Local Democracy Reporting service: "We are working closely with Gravesham council... to maximise the opportunities while minimising its impact."
This comes just days after the government-owned operator extended the deadline to respond to its second public consultation, to Thursday, April 2, amid coronavirus concerns.
In the supplementary consultation, changes have been made to the original proposal, including plans for a toll discount to Gravesham residents using the crossing and the inclusion of an electricity substation on Rochester Road.
Transport bosses continue to focus on the benefits of the major scheme, which they say will create thousands of jobs, double road capacity across the London Thames and take 22% of traffic away from the Dartford Crossing.
However, Gravesham Borough Council says it will be writing separately to Highways England and the planning inspectorate highlighting several concerns as the plans continue to face harsh criticism from councillors.
Gravesham council's main opposition leader, Cllr Jordan Meade (Con), said plans to "further erode" into Gravesend's ancient woodland was "frankly appalling", adding: "I urge Highways England to go back, listen to the concerns of the community and think again."
But, Highways England stresses it continues to prioritise efforts to minimise the impact on the local environment, particularly where protected habitats and species are based, ahead of the submission of its planning application.
If granted permission, 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.
A Highways England spokesman added: "We are proud of our track record of delivering vital infrastructure improvements in an environmentally responsible way, and are bringing this same approach to the Lower Thames Crossing."
Kent county councillors have also taken shots at the development in recent weeks, with former KCC highways boss Cllr Bryan Sweetland (Con), branding the scheme as "stupidly expensive" last month.
Cllr Martin Whybrow (Green) previously said: "When we are trying to address the climate crisis, it's a woeful misuse of capital in this day and age."
KMTV has previously reported on fears over woodland being lost to the Lower Thames Crossing scheme
Construction work has not started, but the planned opening date for the crossing is still set for 2027. It has yet to be approved at the planning stage.
People can view the public survey on the transport body's website.
More by this authorCiaran Duggan, local democracy reporter