The Right Honourable Philip Hammond MP
Chancellor of the Exchequer
1 Horse Guards Road
19th November 2016
Dear Chancellor of the Exchequer,
Re: Lower Thames Crossing Options
Before you make a decision to spend £5bn of public money on a new Lower Thames Crossing, we would ask that you spend a few minutes of your time to read this letter and consider the points raised.
We know that you have received considerable lobbying from business interests, Kent County Council, and Dartford Councillors, urging the Government to support Highways England’s preferred option to build a completely new crossing east of Gravesend, but we urge you to take a long hard look at all the options, rather than accept the only proposal that has been put forward by Highways England.
Most people agree that something needs to be done to relieve the M25 congestion and misery at the Dartford Crossing. However a new crossing east of Gravesend will not address these problems. The underlying problems at Dartford are caused by the 50 year old tunnels which do not meet modern height and safety standards, and which severely restrict its capacity.
Since the removal of the toll booths in 2014, southbound traffic flows across the QE2 Bridge have significantly improved. However, northbound traffic delays through the tunnels have actually got worse. Traffic is frequently interrupted to intercept over-height vehicles, and traffic is brought to a standstill 800 to 900 times a week to allow hazardous loads to be escorted through the tunnels. As a result, traffic regularly queues for several miles back along the M25 and connecting roads.
A crossing 10 miles downstream will do nothing to overcome these restrictions. Whilst there is no doubt that a new crossing east of Gravesend would provide an alternate route for traffic using the M2 to travel between Dover and the north of the Thames, it will do little for the vast majority of traffic using the M25. In fact Highways England forecasts that, even with a new crossing east of Gravesend, traffic volumes at the Dartford Crossing would still be 138,000 vehicles every day, considerably in excess of its designed capacity, and only marginally less than the 140,000 it currently carries.
With the same tunnel restrictions and much the same levels of traffic, we can expect to see the same congestion problems at Dartford, even after any new crossing is built east of Gravesend. This would be a disaster for the UK economy, and condemn users of the M25 to a generation of continuing congestion and lost productivity.
This will inevitably lead to fresh demands for another bridge at Dartford. Since this is the cheapest option, and it would overcome the tunnel restrictions at Dartford at a stroke, there is a good case for choosing this option now, in preference to an entirely new crossing 10 miles downstream.
Strangely, although a new bridge at Dartford was by far the cheapest option in 2013, and offered the best value for money in terms of Benefit Cost Ratios (BCR), it is noticeable that the cost of this relatively simple option increased by 170% between 2013 and 2016, making it much less attractive. Conversely, the BCRs for a new crossing east of Gravesend doubled between 2013 and 2016. The Treasury is now being presented with an entirely different business case on which to base its decision. At the very least, we would have thought this needs investigation before deciding to spend £5bn of public money.
There is a better option, which is to build dual tunnels to link the M25 from south of junction 2 to north of junction 30. This would have a number of advantages: it would completely bypass the A282 and the existing crossing, and it would finally complete the M25. All M25 through traffic would be deep underground, thus avoiding the populated areas of Dartford and Thurrock, and it would be possible to capture and filter the exhaust emissions, bringing a significant reduction in congestion and pollution to the long-suffering residents of Dartford and Thurrock.
We consider that this option, which Highways England refers to as Option A14, would bring immense benefits to the UK economy, freeing up this horrendous bottleneck on the UK’s strategic national motorway network but without adding to traffic and pollution through the populated areas of Dartford and Thurrock. Highways England do not recognise the level of benefits this would bring to the local, regional, and national economy, and dismiss this option on the grounds of cost. It is interesting to note that £3.4bn of their £6.6bn estimated cost is made up from risk, contingencies, and inflation, and that they estimate this option would cost 10% more than the Trans Pennine Tunnel, even though the latter would be 3 times the length.
Whichever option the Government finally decides on, we would urge you to keep an open mind and to challenge the assumptions and recommendations of Highways England, rather than accept them at face value. Please do not consign the people of Great Britain to a generation of continuing congestion at Dartford. To build a new crossing east of Gravesend and to leave the problems on the M25 at Dartford unresolved would be a national disaster.
Lower Thames Crossing Association