The council for the area of Kent earmarked for the south portal of the planned Lower Thames Crossing has joined criticism of National Highways for a lack of candor over its environmental impact.
Gravesham Borough Council pointed out that National Highways’ Design Refinement Consultation is the sixth consultation into proposals for a new tunnel under the Thames and argued that so much has moved on since the original route was chosen in 2017 that the basis of any decision made then ‘ has to be seriously questioned’.
The council’s response states: ‘The major comment has to be that a whole series of incremental changes have been made over the years, but it is very unclear that there is any understanding of the cumulative impact of these and how they integrate together in terms of the landscape, ecology, management access and any other factors that may be relevant.
‘This overview needs to be integral to the process and stating that it will be dealt with the Environmental Statement is not helpful.’
Council leader John Burden (pictured) said: ‘There are still many fundamental environment-related issues which are still far from clear.
‘Our borough will be dealing with the environmental effects of this development for generations to come, and uncertainty and ambiguity around these important issues are not acceptable.’
Cllr Burden said the council remains ‘steadfastly opposed’ to a Lower Thames Crossing to the east of Gravesend, but would continue to lobby and campaign for the best outcomes for residents should the development go ahead.
Thurrock Council covers the area of Essex that would host the north portal. Last month its leader, Rob Gledhill, warned that the scheme would fail to provide value for money and criticised National Highways for its poor engagement and excessive secrecy.
In a letter to Treasury minister Simon Clarke MP, he wrote: ‘The Council believes that the project in its current form would underdeliver on benefits, overrun on costs and fails to take advantage of the significant potential of a project of this nature. The Council therefore requests prior to approval of the Outline Business Case, that the scheme be referred back for serious and substantial discussions between the National Infrastructure Commission, National Highways and stakeholders.’
Among a long list of criticisms, Cllr Gledhill cited ‘aspects where National Highways’ approach is inconsistent with Government principles, policy, or practice’; problematic treatment of traffic forecasts, including assumptions used to assess future changes in traffic demand and CO2, appearing to underplay the importance of factors such as induced traffic and the role of public transport; and problems of consultation.
He wrote: ‘Given the continued lack of meaningful engagement the Council is concerned that there is high risk that the current scheme will fail the test of acceptance by the Planning Inspectorate, and that ultimately it would likely fail to secure consent.’
Cllr Gledhill added that the council had ‘recently and reluctantly considered it necessary to submit a Freedom of Information request to gain sight of the Outline Business Case to help provide a better understanding of these issues’. This was refused.
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