Bogged down in details…

The last Highways England CONsultation on the Lower Thames Crossing we went to was in Linford, way back in November 2018 – this was our write up of the event: The dice are loaded against us, but… Suffice to say that the Highways England staff at that event were pretty obnoxious – basically know it all ‘geezers’ with an attitude problem.

We went along to the consultation in Stanford-le-Hope on Wednesday 18.8 that Highways England had grudgingly added to their schedule: Pressure pays… It was very different from the event in Linford back in 2018 – the difference being that the Highways England staff were disarmingly polite which initially did throw us out for a few minutes while we worked out how to respond. Different staff as well – younger, with a more equal balance of the sexes and more diverse. Going in with a confrontational attitude would have been counterproductive so instead, we treated it as a fact finding mission and asked loads of questions.

Before we go into the discussions we had with Highways England, here’s a pointer for anyone going to the remaining consultations. Because of Covid regulations, there are two options – an outside one in a tent and an inside one in whatever hall they hire. Don’t bother with the outside one as the display is a vastly slimmed down version of what’s on offer inside and appeared to be staffed by the juniors. The inside option is a full display and there are more staff with more ‘expertise’ to talk to. Okay, the inside option means having to wear a mask which we’re aware not everyone is happy about but we chose to suffer from steamed up glasses for the duration in order to get as full a picture as we could.

We decided to focus on just a few aspects of the proposal in order to have as detailed a discussion as possible in the time we had. Firstly, we wanted some clarity about the ‘Stanford detour’ which we covered in this post: ‘No impact’…really? This refers to southbound traffic wanting to go from the Lower Thames Crossing onto the A1089 down to Tilbury and having to go east down the A13 to the Stanford interchange up onto the roundabout and then all the way back to access it. According to the Highways England staff we talked to, the detour would be via the nearer Orsett Cock roundabout instead. It’s still a detour though – let’s just call it the ‘Orsett detour’ instead. By the way, if you’re going northbound from Tilbury up the A1089, you can get straight onto the northbound carriageway of the Lower Thames Crossing without any detour.

The reason we raised access to the A1089 to get down to Tilbury was that if the proposed London Resort theme park over the river on the Swanscombe Peninsula goes ahead, to avoid traffic congestion on the Kent side, it’s been suggested there could be a park and sail ferry service running across the river from Tilbury. If that happens, that would mean a lot of vehicle traffic coming down the A1089. If any of that comes southbound down the Lower Thames Crossing, that would mean a lot of vehicles having to make the ‘Orsett/Stanford detour’ with the potential for…chaos. The impression we got was that Highways England haven’t really factored that into their calculations. One of the staffers we talked to said she lives in Dartford and there’s been talk about a theme park development on the Swanscombe Peninsula for ten years and she thought it’s actually unlikely to ever materialise. Let’s just hope she’s right!

Then there’s the ‘community’ woodland being planted near Great Warley by the M25. This is what we wrote about the proposal: Any chance of some tree planting actually taking place in Thurrock? This is what the Thames Crossing Action Group had to say about it: HE community woodland nothing to do with LTC. Our questioning about creating an extra woodland in an already well wooded area was diverted to the ‘parks’ they’re planning to create by the tunnel entrances and exits at Chalk over in Kent and at Tilbury Fields on our side of the river. Ingrebourne Valley Ltd. have been contracted to create these. These ‘parks’ will be landformed using spoil from the boring of the tunnel. Basically ‘parks’ is the polite term for what to all intents and purposes will be landscaped spoil dumps. This is what the Thames Action Crossing Group have to say about these ‘parks’: LTC – New Parks. Basically, the parks are greenwashing.

This did answer one question but raised another. Ingrebourne Valley Ltd. currently have an application under consideration by Thurrock Council for a massive sand and gravel quarry between Stanford-le-Hope and Linford. After excavation of the minerals, the plan is to backfill the quarry. There was some speculation that this would be with spoil from the Lower Thames Crossing tunnel excavations. After the conversation we had yesterday, that does not appear to be the case. Which leaves us trying to work out just what Ingrebourne Vally Ltd. propose to use to backfill this proposed quarry. If anyone can provide an answer (with sources), we’d love to hear from you…

We didn’t have the time to ask Highways England about issues regarding air quality, particularly monitoring when/if the crossing in completed and operational. This is how Thurrock Nub News have reported this: Concerns raised over future monitoring of health impact of planned new crossing. The concerns cover air quality issues during the construction of the crossing as well as traffic emissions when it’s operational.

So that was it… The reason we used the term CONsultation at the start of this piece was because the whole process is rigged to get you bogged down in discussing the details of the proposal with a view to allowing a few tweaks to be made here and there to the design. Walking away from the event, that’s what we felt – that we’d been bogged down in questions and answers about details while the bigger picture is firmly kept off the agenda. Highways England set the terms and conditions of any discussions to suit them. From the outset, there’s never been any opportunity to challenge the rationale for the Lower Thames Crossing and to forward more sustainable alternatives. That’s how they intend to get this proposal through…

Construction isn’t due to start until 2024, then it’s a projected six year build. There’s still two more years of the planning process to go through. A lot can happen in that period. However, it will mean a change in strategy and tactics with opponents of the crossing being the ones setting the agenda, not Highways England…

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