Business group calls on government to take action on new Lower Thames Crossing
PUBLISHED: 14:00 13 October 2015 | UPDATED: 14:00 13 October 2015
The group says that it is putting the brakes on economic growth in the area
Influential businesses from across the county are backing a call for chancellor George Osborne to get working on a new Lower Thames Crossing.
The group - which includes Eurotunnel, the Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce, Port of Dover, and the Freight Transport Association - are demanding action is taken by the chancellor to set a firm timetable for the new crossing which has been on the drawing board since being first discussed in 1989.
It’s a call which is being spearheaded by the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SE LEP) which is arguing that the crossing is one of the key infrastructure projects in the south east. Because of its importance to freight being driven from Europe to the north of Kent, the groups say it is of national significance as a key trade route.
The group want to see the chancellor make firm commitments on a timetable and funds for the project in the forthcoming Autumn Statement and November’s Comprehensive Spending Review.
George Kieffer, the interim chairman of SE LEP, said it would be key for the north Kent economy to get the project started.
He said: “It’s a truly transformational project for the economy of the Thames Estuary, and beyond. When the existing Dartford River Crossing is closed or heavily congested there’s a knock-on effect that can impact on businesses across the country, including those in the much vaunted Northern Powerhouse.”
Mr Kieffer said that currently, plans were not progressing quickly enough given a new crossing’s importance and more worryingly still remained ‘vague’.
He said: “At the moment, the possible location of a new crossing point are two vague outlines on a map. There’s no commitment to funding or delivery, which we need to see to progress our plans for further long-term investment in the area.”
Campaigners against a new crossing have said that no decision should be made until the impact of the freeflow system has been fully felt. Statistics released from Highways England seem to indicate that drivers who use the crossing daily save an average of one-and-a-half hours each week as a result of the freeflow system.
Gravesham campaigner, Alex Hills, says that there should be no decision made while the new fast-tolling system is being bedded in.
He said: “We have no idea just what effect this new fast toll system will have, so I don’t think anyone should be pushing for a new crossing without all of the evidence right now. It’s far too early to start making decisions on whether we even need a new crossing, let alone where one should be.”
However the businesses backing a new crossing say that doing nothing, or delaying action, will only make things worse. According to them the current crossing at Dartford is already working over its capacity, with projections for it to get worse over the coming years. The group says that increasing the resilience is vital for UK plc.
Jo James, SE LEP board member and chief executive of Kent Invicta Chamber, said: “The Lower Thames Crossing is much more than just a new bridge or tunnel to relieve congestion. It represents a once in a generation opportunity to reinvigorate local development, create new jobs and stimulate investment by supporting nationally important industries.
“It would improve our connectivity to Europe and competitiveness, and at the same time regenerate an overlooked part of southern England.”
One reason the new crossing has proved controversial is because a decision has yet to be made on where it should go. The government currently have two options on the table, with one next to the existing crossing and another further down the river east of Gravesend. That option - called option C - has been subject to fierce criticism in the past, with the MP for Gravesham, Adam Holloway as well as groups such as the RSPB saying it would be a terrible place for a new crossing.
One of the members of the business group pushing for decisive action on the crossing is Forth Ports, the owner of the Port of Tilbury, and a SE LEP board member. Its chief operating officer, Perry Glading, said option C was its favoured choice.
Mr Glading said: “We need the government to show its firm support for an additional lower Thames crossing in the Autumn Statement. The current capacity at the Dartford crossing is acting as a brake on national, regional and local productivity.
“Forth Ports believes option C will provide much needed congestion relief and will act as a catalyst for business growth in the Thames Gateway regeneration area.”