Friday, December 8, 2023

Lower Thames Crossing planning bid withdrawn ahead of fresh application next year

A PLANNING bid for the Lower Thames Crossing has been withdrawn while highways bosses have a rethink.

The decision to pull the application was made today and is said to be based on early feedback from the government’s planning arm.

Highways England, which is behind the proposal for the tunnel between Kent and Thurrock in Essex, said it would resubmit the plans early next year.

It added this would be done after it had time to collate the information required to address “specific points”.

The 16-metre wide tunnels have been dubbed Britain’s most ambitious roads project in a generation.

If approved, they will go under the river between Gravesend and Medway, and will be some of the largest bored in the world.

The Lower Thames Crossing has been designated as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP), which are large, complex infrastructure projects which require the consent of the government.

To get permission to build, highways bosses must seek consent through a special process and be awarded a Development Consent Order (DCO) from the government’s planning arm, the Planning Inspectorate.

Last week, bidding opened for contractors to build the new tunnel, which at £2 billion is said to be one of the largest contracts ever put out for tender.

But the scheme has also been met with opposition over claims of a ‘flawed’ consultation process.

A Highways England spokesman said: “We’ve withdrawn the Development Consent Order application for the Lower Thames Crossing based on early feedback we’ve had from the Planning Inspectorate.

“We will take time to collate the information required for the specific points raised and will be resubmitting the application early in the new year.”

Reacting to the announcement, Dartford council leader Jeremy Kite said he was disappointed to see plans temporarily shelved but does not believe it will affect the project’s progression.

Gravesham council and Thurrock Council put out a joint statement, saying they had “fundamental concerns” over the public consultation process.

The statement said: “The Lower Thames Crossing is one of the largest transport infrastructure projects we will see in our lifetimes.

“While we are yet to understand the full reasons behind the withdrawal or what feedback Highways England has received from the Planning Inspectorate, the impact a project of this scale will have on our communities means it is only right that as much time as necessary is taken to ensure every last detail of the project is understood and has been assessed thoroughly.

“Together we had fundamental concerns overthe adequacy of the public consultation conducted by the Highways England.

“While it will impact Gravesham and Thurrock in different and specific ways, we feel the overall impact on our local communities will be such that full, genuine and meaningful consultation on the proposals is an absolute minimum requirement if we are to ensure the views of the people we represent are fully taken into account.

“It remains to be seen whether that is a view shared by the Planning Inspectorate and therefore is a contributing factor to the withdrawal of the DCO application.

“We urge Highways England to take this opportunity to bring forward improvements to this scheme that will be for the benefit of all those who live in our boroughs.

“We await further information with interest.”


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