Essex Chambers of Commerce are the leading business membership and representative group in Essex with a membership of around 1,000 businesses and other organisations ranging from sole traders and sme’s through to national and multi-national companies.
Our membership is distributed across Essex including in the Thames Estuary corridor and in Thurrock.
This letter is our response to the public consultation taking place on the proposed Lower Thames Crossing.
We are aware that these proposals have caused some concerns and opposition in Thurrock itself but believe that, on balance, the benefits of the project greatly out-way any dis-benefits. Having said that there are some aspects where we do have concerns and will highlight those in this response.
The existing crossings are a major link across the Thames and support economic activity local, regionally and nationally. Such is the pressure on them from the volume of traffic using the crossings that, all too often, Chamber members and other road users experience closures of the crossing themselves or the M25 and surrounding road network through accidents or vehicle breakdowns.
The effect of such incidents is not just the time lost sitting in stationary traffic but also the actual cost to businesses from those delays which be anything from a few pounds to several hundreds of pounds in lost revenue. Businesses have the potential to lose both customers and their reputation from actions that are outside their control.
Linked to this is the ability of the emergency services to be able to access any road traffic incidents because of the congestion caused by such incidents on the local road network.
It has been argued that the crossing is not necessary and that measures should be undertaken to reduce the volume of vehicles on the road network. Whilst desirable we are not sure how achievable this would be and believe that an option of doing nothing is not sustainable.
We believe that the combination of the new crossing and the existing will bring increased reliability to the road network around their immediate locations and give road users alternative options for crossing the Thames.
An added benefit to this should be the opportunities for significant growth in the economy around the crossing locations, along the Thames Estuary, the wider South East and nationally through reduced journey times and delays.
More immediately there are the opportunities to boost the local economies during the construction period of the crossing. Essex Chambers would urge Highways England to seek to use local labour and contractors wherever possible and are willing to work with them to help maximize those opportunities. Given that there is opposition to the project we believe it is important that the local community feels some of the benefits from it’s’ construction and not just any disruption that arises.
The project itself
There are many aspects to the crossing project that are innovative and beneficial to businesses but there are also aspects of the current iteration that actually act as dis-benefits to businesses and the communities adjoining the crossing.
We are disappointed to see that the scheme has limited access to the route of the crossing from the Thurrock area. Whilst we recognize that it is intended to provide a smooth link across the Thames it needs to also be capable of supporting businesses and residents along its’ route and in particular in Thurrock. The changes that have been made to slip roads and other links from previous designs mean that anticipated benefits to local businesses are no longer there.
We would like to highlight the following:
Tilbury Link – We are disappointed to see that this link has been removed from the proposed scheme. We understand that the reasoning behind this decision is the belief that it will create a rat run for northbound crossing traffic to travel Tilbury and the A1089 in order to access the A13 eastbound. This omission of the Tilbury Link means that certain movements to and from the Lower Thames Crossing (LTC) for trips originating or ending in the Thurrock area cannot directly access the LTC. These include all Tilbury Port inbound movements.
The result is likely to be that to achieve access these vehicles will have two choices:
a) To rely on existing routes via the existing Dartford Crossing, M25 and Junction 30 (i.e. choose not to use the LTC); or
b) To travel eastbound on the A13 to the A13/A1014 junction, u-turn at this junction and return on the A13 westbound
We think this is a retrograde step and reduces the ability of the crossing to help support the local road network as well as reducing rather than enhancing any economic benefits from the crossing by not linking one of the UK’s busiest ports with good connectivity.
Tilbury Junction – This junction is important in supporting growth in this area. The final scheme design should accommodate this junction, and recognise that it should have the capacity to serve much more than the proposed rest area. The design must incorporate new exits and links to ensure that opportunities for future development can be supported rather than just sit in isolation.
A128 Orsett Cock – We are disappointed that there is no link from the A128 junction to access the crossing southbound. This needs to be provided for to support longer term growth in the area.
A13 Interchange – We believe that there would be clear demand for the movement from northbound crossing traffic to the A13 East Bound and from the A13 Eastbound southbound crossing traffic. Provision for such traffic needs to be included in the scheme.
Wider Implications of the crossing on the local road network
Much as we support the Lower Thames Crossing project we do not believe that it can be seen in isolation from the rest of the road network in south Essex or the rest of the county.
If it is the success that we expect it to be and brings with it a boost to the local economies in south Essex we expect to see increased traffic flows on not just the M25 but other roads such as the A13, A127, A130 and the A12. These roads already have problems of their own in terms of the volumes of traffic using them and the congestion that arises as a result.
We have particular concerns about increased traffic using the Fairglen Interchange which serves the A127, A13 and A130 and Howe Green which links the A130 to the A12. We are aware that there are schemes at various stages of development to improve these roads and junctions but it seems to us that these are being considered in isolation to the Lower Thames Crossing project whereas we believe the Government needs to commit to them as part of the overall project.
Although we are not an environmental organisation we feel that it is important to recognize the impact on the local environment of a project such as this. Overall we believe that the ability to keep traffic flowing more freely than at present with the advent of the new tunnels will help to improve the air quality in the area around the crossing.
However we recognize that there are concerns in Thurrock about the project’s impact on the local environment and trust these will be addressed with sensitivity by Highways England and their eventual contractors.
The removal of what are likely to be significant amounts of spoil from tunneling operations needs to be handled with care and suitable uses found in a way that will enhance the environment.
We have also received comments from members in the Thurrock area about the physical impact of the crossing and its associated infrastructure on the local countryside. We trust that every effort will be made to reduce any potential impacts both during the construction phase and once the scheme is brought into use.
The requirement to pay to use the existing crossings is still something that irritates many users of them. The free flow charging system has removed many of the frustrations caused by lengthy queuing on the approaches to the crossings though they have not been removed altogether.
Whatever charging system is introduced, and in an ideal world many Chamber members and businesses generally would prefer there wasn’t one, must be compatible with the existing crossings and be levied at the same rate in order to ensure traffic levels are sufficiently spread across all the crossings.
It is the belief of Essex Chambers of Commerce that the proposed Lower Thames Crossing will be of real benefit to our members and other road users and we are happy to support it.
It must, however, bring benefits to the local communities in Thurrock and further afield in south Essex who will have to contend with potential inconveniences caused during construction. It needs to be delivered in a way that brings those communities with it rather than them feeling that it is being imposed upon them.
Above all it needs to be more than a means to cross the Thames as smoothly and efficiently as possible but also enhances the local road network, provides opportunities to sustain and grow local economies, and create jobs for the future.
In the context of the ongoing debate about Britain’s future relationship with European Union and our ability to grow as a global trading nation this is especially important.