The South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) has stressed the importance of upgrading key routes to avoid congestion throughout Kent in its response to Highways England’s consultation on plans for the Lower Thames Crossing, which closes today (Thursday).
Responding in its role in supporting the long-term growth of Kent and Medway alongside that of Essex, Southend, Thurrock and East Sussex, SELEP says improving cross-Thames connectivity is a critical underpinning of the area’s future economic vitality.
Expressed support for the Lower Thames Crossing
It states: “At a time when uncertainties around the economy abound, and the strain on our existing infrastructure is unrelenting, a project which promotes new economic linkages – and therefore resilience – between Kent and Essex is to be warmly welcomed.
“On that basis, the South East LEP supports the Lower Thames Crossing.”
However, the LEP adds that it recognises both Thurrock Council’s objections, including the lack of connections to the crossing within the Thurrock area, and concerns that resilience must be built into Kent and Medway’s wider transport network to ensure congestion is eliminated rather than driven further down the road.
There are particular concerns over the removal of a link to Tilbury Port, which the LEP calls a retrograde step that eliminates the potential for local business growth and ignores the national economic significance of substantial growth at the Port.
The LEP’s response states: “We are keen to ensure that Government policy is fully taken into consideration and would suggest that the Department for Transport’s own Port Connectivity Study is a material consideration as the scheme design matures.”
It calls for the design of the Tilbury junction to pay due regard to the future growth in the area so that it can accommodate future exits and links as needed.
The LEP also stresses that resilience must be built into the wider Essex transport network to ensure congestion is eliminated rather than driven further down the road.
As part of that work, it calls for a serious commitment from Highways England on mitigations around the Fairglen Interchange of the A127, A13, A130; the Howe Green junction of the A130 and A12; and wider investment in the A127.
It also registers its surprise that no link is proposed from the A128 junction at Orsett Cock to the crossing southbound or northbound, given the opportunity for growth that would provide.
Kent and Medway
Looking south of the Thames, SELEP has called for resilience to be built into Kent and Medway’s strategic road network, including the M2 and M20, to mitigate against knock-on congestion.
As part of that work, it calls for:
- The upgrading of junction 7 of the M2 at Brenley Corner to improve flows between the M2 and A2.
- Dualling the A2 from Lydden to the Port of Dover.
- Widening the M2 to three lanes to handle increased flows. It says this is essential along the whole route and imperative between junctions 4 and 5.
- Improvements to key links between the M2 and M20, specifically upgrades to the A229 Blue Bell Hill and the A249 Detling Hill, warning that traffic modelling has underestimated the impact of the Lower Thames Crossing on these routes.
- The delivery of a network of lorry parks across the M2 and M20 corridors.
Christian Brodie, Chair of SELEP, said: “It is perhaps reflective of the foresight and ambition of the senior politicians and senior business leaders on the South East LEP board, that we have also looked beyond the Lower Thames Crossing – specifically to the requirement for crossings further east to accommodate the sustained growth of our area. We would wish to engage in those conversations with the Department for Transport and Highways England.
“For now, our focus should be on supporting the Lower Thames Crossing and ensuring that we all work together to realise the maximum possible benefit across our whole area. Local communities need to be convinced of the opportunity rather than the imposition.
“Our ability to trade and to grow has never been under more scrutiny. We should therefore push ahead at pace, whilst respecting and responding to local requirements at every possible step.”