Green fears could scupper £7bn Thames tunnel

BRITAIN’S biggest road building project has been thrown into doubt after senior planners warned that the proposals would be rejected in their present form reports The Times.

Highways England has been forced to withdraw plans for a new 2.6-mile tunnel under the Thames after a series of concerns were raised over the environmental and ecological impact.

The government-owned company will be required to submit revised proposals early next year to push ahead with the £6.8 billion project, which is the largest single scheme of its kind since the construction of the M25 in the 1970s and early 80s. It could lead to a delay in the building work which was due to start in about 18 months’ time before a possible opening in 2028.

The Lower Thames Crossing involves creating a 14.3-mile motorway east of the Dartford Crossing to relieve congestion on the M25 and improve journeys to and from the main ports in southeast England. The motorway will run between the A2/M2 in Kent and the A13 in Essex, with vehicles going through Britain’s longest road tunnel beneath the Thames. It forms part of the government’s £27 billion upgrade of England’s motorways and major A-roads over the next five years.

Highways England submitted an application for a development consent order (DCO) — planning approval for major projects — in late October. However, the Planning Inspectorate, a government agency, announced this month that it would “not accept the application” as it stands because of a series of shortcomings. Highways England has withdrawn the plans and will resubmit them early in the new year.

Yesterday, Highways England released an update on the issues raised by inspectors. This included the impact of construction traffic in the local area. The inspectorate also requested further explanation of the road’s impact on natural habitats around the Thames Estuary and how potential damage would be mitigated. Further concerns surrounded the disposal of waste, the consultation with local councils and the extent to which a jetty being built to service the construction scheme would have Thames river traffic.

Highways England has already said it plans to construct “green bridges” through the site to allow wildlife to thrive, alongside the planting of new woodland, grassland and hedgerows.

Matt Palmer, executive director for the Lower Thames Crossing, told New Civil Engineer magazine that the intervention represented a speed bump, not a complete stop. “We have spent three years working on this and obviously we have a different opinion to [the Planning Inspectorate] and believe that all the information needed is within the DCO application,” he said. “The application itself is 42,000 pages. We have taken all the lessons learnt from other, successful Highways England projects and applied those to the DCO.”

The Thames Crossing Action Group, which is campaigning against the plans, criticised the company’s “ludicrous” approach to the scheme. “They have constantly misled and withheld info from everyone throughout the whole process,” it said.

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