By Eric White
MORE than 47,000 people took part in a consultation for a new lower Thames crossing, Highways England revealed yesterday (Tuesday 24 May), making it the largest ever public consultation for a UK road project.
The consultation, which closed two months ago today, invited views on proposed routes for a new road crossing below the Thames, which would be the first new road crossing for the Thames east of London for 25 years and would unlock massive economic benefits for the region and the whole country.
Nearly 30,000 people had their say online, with a further 3,700 people completing a paper questionnaire and around 13,000 sending a letter or an email in response to the consultation. More than 500 local government and industry groups also responded to the consultation.
In total, 47,034 responses were received.
The responses are now all being analysed before a final decision on a preferred route is made by the government, expected later this year.
Highways England consultation manager Martin Potts said: "This is a fantastic level of engagement, and I am grateful to everyone who took the time to take part in the consultation.
"We set out to reach as many people as possible, to let them know about our plans and to seek their views, and public’s response has exceeded our expectations.
"The route for a new Lower Thames Crossing is a massive decision and it is vital that we get it right. I am very encouraged at the significant number of responses that we have received, as they will really help us to make the best possible recommendation to government about the route that this vital new road link should take."
The new road could be open in 2025 and would open up new areas for economic growth, relieve congestion at the existing Dartford Crossing and improve the resilience of the road network by providing a new alternative link across the Thames.
The Lower Thames Crossing will be the first new crossing of the Thames east of London since the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge opened at Dartford 25 years ago.
In 2014, following a public consultation led by DfT, two locations were shortlisted for a new bridge or tunnel across the river: one near the existing Dartford Crossing and the other linking the M2 with the M25 via the A13, with a possible further link to the M20.
Since then, Highways England has carried out detailed work with a wide range of stakeholders to assess the shortlisted options and develop possible routes at each location. Following that evaluation, a new road crossing through a bored tunnel was proposed at location C.
The route proposed at consultation would run from the end of the M2, crossing under the river just east of Gravesend and Tilbury and joining the M25 between junctions 29 and 30.
A consultation on the proposals ran from 26 January to 24 March this year, and will be used to help decide a preferred route for the crossing by the Secretary of State later this year.
From there, Highways England will develop the next stage of the project’s assessment and design, which will be the basis for a further public consultation, following which Highways England will make a Development Consent Order application – beginning the formal planning process for the new road.
Subject to the necessary funding and planning approvals, the new crossing would be open in 2025, if publicly funded. If private funding is also used to meet the costs of the project, it is anticipated the crossing would be open by 2027.