LOWER THAMES CROSSING
Highways England’s latest thinking, announced on 1st November 2017, is to remove the proposed junction from the A226 between Chalk and Shorne, in order to reduce the traffic impact on local roads.
However, the new plan indicates that the link roads will now be 3 lanes in each direction, and entails the widening of the A2 from 4 to 5 lanes from the junction east of Gravesend all the way to the M2.
The removal of the junction on the A226 is of course good news, although it is still included in the redline development boundary plans. The changes to the redline development boundary in other areas need further explanation and clarification.
In any event, people should be under no illusion about the level of traffic, pollution, and environmental damage that the crossing east of Gravesend will bring to this area.
The removal of the A226 junction allows the tunnel portals to be moved further south, away from Chalk, and it is disappointing that Highways England has not made this decision yet.
Whilst it is encouraging that they are continuing their assessment about the length of the tunnel and where to locate the entrances, it is essential that the tunnels are extended as close to the A2 as possible to minimise the impact on the lives of people living in Thong and Shorne West.
Representatives from Shorne Parish Council met representatives from Highways England on 21st December 2017 to discuss their latest thinking on the Lower Thames Crossing. Whist we welcomed the removal of the A226 junction, we urged Highways England to extend the tunnel portals south of the A226, and to consider a cut & cover green bridge either side of Thong Lane. We also urged Highways England to undertake further work on the A2 junction to improve local access to and from the A2, but to avoid creating rat-runs or attracting additional traffic to existing local roads. We particularly expressed our concern about additional traffic using Thong Lane.
Highways England agreed to look at these and other topics addressed, and to meet again in the New Year.
On 12th April 2017, the Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling MP announced the Government’s decision to locate the Lower Thames Crossing east of Gravesend.
The Parish Council is very disappointed, although not entirely surprised by this decision, since variations of Option C were the only choices option offered during the consultation. Perhaps the only surprise is Highways England’s change in recommendation from the Eastern Southern Link (ESL) to the Western Southern Link (WSL), which has been accepted by the Government.
Highways England say that they have listened to concerns raised about impacts on communities and protected environmental areas, and have conducted further assessment of both routes south of the river. Their assessment showed there is very limited opportunity to reduce the community and environmental impacts of the eastern link, particularly on the Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Sites of Special Scientific Interest and ancient woodlands.
Additional assessment was also conducted for the junction between the western link and the A2 to understand the extent to which the traffic performance could be improved. Their assessment identified that by re-working the design for the junction, it could offer a 70mph route without significantly increasing environmental or community impacts.
As a result of their further assessments, they amended their recommendation to the Western Southern Link, connecting to the A2 between Thong Lane and Marling Cross.
Whilst this may come as some relief to parishioners who would have been severely and directly impacted by the eastern link, it is no comfort to our parishioners in Thong and Shorne West. It also makes little difference to our neighbours in Chalk.
No-one should underestimate the potential impact on traffic through all parts of the parish, especially if the proposed junction with the A226 Gravesend Road goes ahead. This would entail the re-routing of the A226 southwards across farmland between Thong Lane and the Shorne boundary, and would result in a significant increase in traffic on Gravesend Road, as well as the feeder roads to it.
The Parish Council maintains that a crossing east of Gravesend will do little to alleviate the problems at Dartford, and that another crossing will inevitably still be needed at Dartford.
Legal opinion received from our barrister advised that there were insufficient legal grounds for a successful challenge against the consultation process, and that a challenge on the consultation decision itself would be doubtful.
This is particularly frustrating, since it appears that the responses from 13,240 individuals opposed to the crossing (including 946 from Shorne) have been discounted from the responses from members of the public in the post-consultation reports. The post-consultation reports purport to show that the majority of respondents supported the proposal for a crossing east of Gravesend, when in fact the opposite is true.
In view of the legal advice received, the Parish Council has decided not to embark on a legal challenge itself. However, this does not preclude us from providing evidence and support for any other challenge which may be mounted which has a reasonable chance of success in overturning the decision.
Meetings have taken place with Highways England to obtain a better understanding of their plans, and we will continue to engage with Highways England to influence the development of the design, and to obtain maximum mitigation against the adverse impacts. This will include:
- There must be no junction on the A226. This would result in heavy traffic on the A226 through Chalk, Shorne, and Higham, and lead to villages and local roads becoming rat-runs, and it would expose the area to the unacceptable sprawl of development we have witnessed around the approaches to the Dartford Crossing over the past 30 years.
- We will demand to see the tunnel portal extended as far to the south of the A226 as is possible, and the remainder of the link road in cut-and-cover and deep cutting, using the natural landscape to shield it from view from properties in the area.
- We expect the project to carry out sympathetic landscaping and tree planting to replace and compensate for any losses to the natural environment.
- We consider that it would be appropriate for the project to contribute to improvements to the local road infrastructure, including traffic restrictions and traffic calming, to discourage through traffic from using local roads and entering villages.
- We will expect generous compensation arrangements for those residents directly and indirectly blighted by the link road and crossing. Properties in Shorne and Thong have been blighted by these proposals for at least 4 years and probably longer, with property values and saleability significantly depressed in comparison to nearby areas, such as Cobham and Sole Street. Property owners most directly impacted by WSL must be generously compensated.
- We require an urgent study into the impacts of increased traffic using the A226, A227, and A228, and travelling through villages such as Shorne, Higham, Cobham, and Meopham, as well as Chalk, Thong, Riverview Park, and east Gravesend.