COUNCIL leaders on both sides of the River Thames are joining forces to fight plans for a lower Thames crossing east of Gravesend.
The leaders of both Thurrock Council — a unitary borough — and Gravesham Borough Council are both opposed to a scheme backed by Kent and Essex county councils to create a new link which would put valued green belt land under tarmac and threaten villages on both sides of the river.
In an unprecedented cross-river, cross-party agreement the two leaders have vowed to fight the proposals which will be determined by the Department of Transport.
A study commissioned by Kent and Essex counties came down firmly in favour of the east of Gravesend option which would cross the river near Tilbury.
Cllr John Kent (Lab), Leader of Thurrock Council said: “No new crossing should be considered until all the alternatives have not only been considered, but enacted.
“Before going to the expense of building another crossing and blighting land on both sides of the river — financially and environmentally — the tolls should either be removed entirely or a number plate recognition system to allow the free flow of traffic.
“In addition the long-overdue improvements for Junctions 30/31 must be carried out as soon as possible.
“If both of these far cheaper options are taken the need for a new crossing will recede and give everyone time to consider sensible alternatives.”
Gravesham leader Cllr Mike Snelling (Con) said: “The counties have not consulted us and they have come up with a plan which rejects the simplest solution without adequate reasoning. No one doubts the need for extra capacity but it patently obvious that increasing capacity at Dartford and getting rid of the tolls booths would not only be cheaper but also could begin to ease congestion infinitely quicker.
“The proposal as it stands would see marshland and countryside of international scientific importance sacrificed and rural life threatened on both sides of the river. I am very pleased that we can stand alongside Thurrock Council to fight the scheme. This is an issue which transcends mere party politics because it is about defending local communities and goes to the very heart of the Localism Agenda itself. The views of the people most affected and their elected representatives must be sought and taken fully into account.”