Published: 14:00, 12 April 2017
| Updated: 14:38, 12 April 2017
Business leaders say the new Lower Thames Crossing will boost the economy by supporting trade across the country when it opens in 10 years.
The tunnel, which will be built to the east of Gravesend, had been long supported by trade campaigners in the county but opposed by residents and environmentalists.
Channel Tunnel operator Eurotunnel and the Port of Dover said it will support growing levels of freight traffic expected to travel between the UK and Europe.
Highways England said in its consultation the new crossing will carry 78,500 vehicles each day in its opening year and would reduce traffic at the Dartford Crossing by 14%.
The Government predicts there will be a 40% growth in freight traffic crossing the Channel by 2030.
Eurotunnel director of public affairs John Keefe said: “Easing traffic congestion to the East of London is essential for the supply chains that feed our industry and to access the markets where the UK sells its goods.
“We now need to build the crossing as soon as possible and fully connect it to the surrounding infrastructure.”
Port of Dover chief executive Tim Waggott described the new tunnel as “an essential ingredient of the strategic infrastructure mix required to deliver national economic prosperity”.
Highways England had initially consulted on three options for the Lower Thames Crossing.
Alongside the tunnel to the east of Gravesend, it considered a crossing on the Swanscombe Peninsula, known as Option B, which was taken out of the running in 2013 after objections that it would jeopardise plans for a Paramount resort there.
It had also proposed a route next to the present crossing in Dartford, known as Option A.
Jo James, chief executive of Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce, said: “Another crossing at Dartford would have been an absolute nightmare.
“It would have hindered business even further and built no resilience on our network and that’s what we need.”
"Whichever option was selected was going to be controversial for its own reasons..." - Kamal Aggarwal, Thomson Snell & Passmore
Geoff Miles, chairman of Kent & Medway Economic Partnership, and Kent chair of South East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Kent – and Dartford in particular – has borne the burden of congestion on the M25, which has held back trading links with Essex and beyond.
“A new crossing will unlock the local economy and help create an environment in which businesses can flourish.”
Kamal Aggarwal, partner at law firm Thomson Snell & Passmore in Dartford, said: “Whichever option was selected was going to be controversial for its own reasons.
“The fact is that another river crossing is crucial and now that a decision has finally been made, we need to see progress on the ground as soon as possible”.
Paul Spooner, interim chief executive of Ebbsfleet Development Corporation, said the mission is to make sure the crossing has a positive impact on business before it opens in a decade’s time.
He said: “The Lower Thames Crossing presents a significant opportunity for business in this area.
“A multi billion pound contract will require a huge number of subcontractors and suppliers throughout the whole planning, design process through to full construction.
“Its important to work with local partners to maximise the number of local jobs that can be created through this important piece of infrastructure.”
The decision has been welcomed by national business groups.
The Federation of Small Businesses’ national chairman Mike Cherry said: “It is good to see a specific commitment from the government on this project, which will have benefits not just for the South East and London, but for trade and travellers far beyond.
“While there have been differences of opinion over where the new crossing should be located, we welcome the fact that a choice has been made and money committed. “However, we urge all authorities to get on and build the crossing as fast as possible. It is now time to get shovels in the ground on both sides of the river.”
Eddie Curzon, London director of business group the CBI, said: “With official projections showing that the volume of vehicle traffic is set to increase by 34% on current levels by 2041, the construction of a Lower Thames Crossing is an essential long-term solution to reducing congestion at the existing Dartford Crossing.
“A new crossing will boost capacity on the strategic road network, enabling a greater flow of passenger and freight traffic from A to B, thereby unlocking economic growth across the UK.”
More by this authorChris Price