The £8.2 billion Lower Thames Crossing (LTC), billed as the “largest road scheme in a generation” has been beset by problems since it was first dreamt up a decade or so ago. Could its huge cost and massive carbon impact finally see the scheme face the Treasury axe?

The LTC has always been incredibly expensive, only managing to keep costs from spiralling even higher by removing associated link roads and road upgrades from the project. This hides the true cost of the new crossing which won’t function properly without this other infrastructure. It also doesn’t relieve the heavy burden on the taxpayer who will still have to pay for all these elements to make the scheme work.

National Highways has also been heavily criticised for its poor consultations with missing and inaccurate information. This ultimately led to it having to withdraw its draft Development Consent Order (DCO) (its planning application) at the last minute in 2020 after the Planning Inspectorate said they would not accept its submission. This was the first time that this had happened and was highly embarrassing for National Highways.

Just when things couldn’t get any worse, the Leader of Thurrock Council, Cllr Gledhill, blasted National Highways and its wholly inadequate and damaging proposals in a letter to the Treasury, published on the last day of the LTC’s latest consultation. This comes after National Highways has been on a big greenwashing and public relations splurge, trying to bolster support for its floundering scheme.

The letter further undermines National Highways’ credibility after its disastrous management of the Historical Railways Estate and badly implemented Smart Motorways programme. National Highways has also been left with egg on its face after its Stonehenge proposals were roundly rejected by the Examination Panel and UNESCO and accepted to cause significant harm by Grants Shapps, even if he had wanted to approve the scheme.

The letter, which goes into a lot of detail, highlights how the LTC fails to provide any real benefits and little relief for the Dartford Crossing, as low as a 4% traffic reduction. It says that with all the changes that have taken place (Covid, Brexit, climate change, etc), there is a need to review alternatives to the scheme. It said that the failure of the scheme to support public transport was just one of over 400 issues that remain outstanding between National Highways and the Council.

In the letter, Cllr Gledhill states that there is “substantial and growing evidence to suggest that the current scheme is at risk as it will fail to provide value for money”. He challenges the failure to consider more sustainable transport solutions and options that deliver carbon reduction. He says that “the presumption that the Lower Thames Crossing scheme impacts can be easily compensated by other initiatives conflicts with the current Department for Transport decarbonisation trajectories.” He concludes that “the scheme cannot therefore be justified in economic or environmental terms”.

This intervention is really quite unusual, as while local authorities can have disagreements with National Highways over the detail, they rarely challenge a scheme head on. Indeed, Thurrock Council has gone so far as to set up a website explaining its opposition to the crossing. It has become so frustrated with National Highways not sharing information with it that it’s had to resort to lodging a freedom of information request, which National Highways has refused.

Our own Freedom of Information requests have revealed that the construction and extra traffic caused by the scheme would increase carbon emissions by over 5 million tonnes, making this the biggest emitting scheme in the RIS2 roads programme.

We shall now have to wait and see whether the Treasury wakes up to the mismanagement of this project and that splurging probably nearer £10+bn on this crossing to generate more traffic and carbon emissions, really doesn’t make sense. This level of funding would go a long way to clearing much of the backlog in local highway maintenance, which exercises people far more than supporting grandiose projects like this.

If you would like to find out more about the Lower Thames Crossing you can read TAN’s response to the local refinement consultation, which has just ended, and visit the Thames Crossing Action Group’s website.


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