Highways England are carrying out a range of preliminary operations along the route of the Lower Thames Crossing. One such operation was being undertaken in North Ockendon last year but completion was not possible owing to bad weather and the adverse effect this had on ground conditions. Highways England are now returning but, according to a confidential source, they haven’t exactly been transparent and honest when it comes to letting residents know about the fact that they were returning and how they intended to resume the works.
The work recommenced on Wednesday 19 May. Neither Havering Council nor the local councillors were aware of this, despite the fact that they had had meetings with Highways England only a few days earlier. Also not aware was the farmer whose land they would be working on. Grade 1 agricultural land at that. Land that has been ploughed, sown, fertilised and watered and is now yielding a healthy crop, some of which will now be dug up and destroyed!
Highways England wanted access to the land via Church Lane. This is a narrow, single track lane in the heart of the North Ockendon Conservation area. It’s totally unsuitable as an access route for heavy vehicles and machinery. Alternatives were suggested by well informed local residents who know the area intimately. These suggestions were dismissed. One of them was dismissed as it involved bridging a six foot gap from the highway into an empty field. Seriously, you’d think that Highways England would have the resources and technical know how to bridge a six foot gap! We’ll let you draw your own conclusions about that…
This isn’t a one off failing from Highways England, We’ve had some encounters with them over the last few years and it swiftly became apparent to us that they struggle with concepts such as transparency, accountability, diplomacy and treating residents with respect. Another thing they struggle with is taking a few steps back to review a proposal in light of drastically changed circumstances and assess whether it’s still actually needed.
Since March 2020, the world as we knew it has been turned upside down by the COVID19 crisis and the subsequent lockdowns and tiered restrictions that hugely impacted many aspects of our lives, including the economy. Whatever your views on the crisis and the way the government handled it, one thing is crystal clear – whether we like it or not, things are not going to go back to the ‘normal’ we knew back in January 2020. Patterns of working, commuting, shopping and travelling have changed radically. With a seemingly permanent shift to more working from home, there’s going to be less commuting.
We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again – the traffic forecasts Highways England are using to justify pushing ahead with the Lower Thames Crossing are obsolete and not worth the paper they’re printed on. How they can justify an environmentally destructive road proposal on the back of now redundant traffic forecasts beggars belief. Before they dig themselves any deeper into an already deep hole, Highways England really do need to drop that shovel pronto!