MEDIA COVERAGE

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Candidates running for the South Basildon and East Thurrock constituency, which includes the site of the northern part of the planned Lower Thames Crossing, have expressed opposition to the road scheme.

The £9bn Lower Thames Crossing scheme includes 23km of new roads and the country’s largest road tunnel, which will run under the Thames and connect Kent and Essex. The date for a decision on the Development Consent Order (DCO) was pushed to 4 October due to the General Election.

National Highways spent nearly £300M and seven years developing the DCO for the project, which elapsed in two stages as its first attempt was withdrawn in November 2020 before a decision could be made. It was resubmitted in November 2022 and is the largest DCO application ever seen, reportedly running to nearly 360,000 pages.

Essex Live reported comments made on the project by the parliamentary candidates for South Basildon and East Thurrock during a radio hustings on Gateway 97.8.

The most recent MP for the constituency said he wants the project cancelled. Conservative candidate Stephen Metcalfe said: “I do not want to accelerate it, I want to cancel it as it stands.”

He went on to say “I don’t think it is fit for purpose, the idea behind all this started 17 years ago and it was to alleviate congestion at the existing crossing.

“Putting a new crossing seven miles [11.3km] away further down the estuary that you would have to commit to at junction 29 of the M25 coming south is too far to have an impact on the catastrophic congestion we experience in Thurrock where the existing crossing fails.

“We need to rethink it because it was thought about 17 years ago first this is not the answer.”

Labour is widely expected to win a majority in parliament at the election scheduled for 4 July and would therefore form the government that takes the decision on whether to go ahead with the scheme.

Labour candidate Jack Ferguson said: “The proposal as it currently is, and always has done over the last 17 years, would destroy homes, divide communities. It’s not the right thing for the people of Thurrock and we need to scrap that.

“I will campaign against, wholeheartedly against, and continue to do so the Lower Thames Crossing.”

Green and independent candidates all opposed the scheme too.

Green candidate Elizabeth Grant said: “I think it’s no secret the Greens believe we need a more integrated, sensible and more environmentally sound transport infrastructure, this Thames crossing has just been so divisive and very upsetting to people and I am not for it.

“I quite like the idea of maybe trams, I think they’re quite cool.”

Independent candidate Neil Speight said: “We’ve had how many years it is now, 14 years, I remember sitting in initial meetings and the different routes that came up.

“We came up with a hair-brained scheme that has never had proper diligence on it, it’s just run absolutely wild, we’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of millions, people made fortunes buying properties in Thurrock, people in Orsett were selling, the government was buying it off them for vast amounts of money.

Independent candidate Steven Burnett said: “I agree with everything that’s been said in that it should be scrapped. The use for that funding forward should be used for improvements in the Dartford Crossing.”

Reform UK was less damning of the Lower Thames Crossing project. Its candidate is James McMurdock but was represented at the hustings by Keiron McGill who said: “I think if it was managed properly then you could support the acceleration of it, but, obviously, environmental factors would have to come into play as well as well as the ongoing congestion on both sides of the proposed bridge.”

McGill went on to say: “It would have to come with a big upgrade to local infrastructure [because] certainly infrastructure in place at the moment would not support it because you would see further congestion. But managed properly it could be done.”

Also standing in the constituency are Social Democratic Party candidate Simon Breedon and Liberal Democratic candidate Dave Thomas. At the 2019 general election, Stephen Metcalfe was elected with a more than 19,000 majority ahead of Labour.

Industry supports the Lower Thames Crossing

The Road Haulage Association represents people and businesses in the road transport industry and said the project is vital, citing the costs of congestion to HGVs (heavy goods vehicles).

RHA policy lead for infrastructure James Barwise said: “In order to keep the UK economy moving and competitive, the transport sector needs robust infrastructure which is fit for purpose, including a network of roads which are safe and reliable – with capacity to accommodate future growth in demand.

“Congestion costs the UK economy £30.8bn a year and the cost of an HGV stuck in stationary traffic for an hour is £120, a crippling cost at a time when businesses are under real financial pressure.

“We therefore continue to support the Lower Thames Crossing project and we want the next government to give consent to the proposals. This is a vital scheme for alleviating congestion, improving journey reliability and unlocking economic growth both locally and nationally.

“In development, the needs of drivers should be taken into consideration too. To unlock the full potential of this project, we want to see facilities included in the proposals so drivers can be supported and protected from freight crime.”

Environmental NGOs agree with the parliamentary candidates

Transport Action Network director Chris Todd said: “We welcome candidates’ concerns. It’s no secret that we think the Lower Thames Crossing is a white elephant.

“Its £10bn cost is just the tip of the iceberg and the money would be better spent on other priorities. Even before thinking about the harm it would cause.

“People want better transport choices and that means investing in public transport and getting more [freight carried by] HGVs off our roads and onto rail.”

National Highways highlights uncertainty over decision

A National Highways spokesperson said: “Due to the General Election and to allow appropriate time for any new secretary of state for transport to consider our planning application, the deadline for a decision has been extended.”

The Department for Transport declined to comment.

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