A proposed new road – the Lower Thames Crossing – linking Kent and Essex would nearly double capacity across the Thames, according to Highways England. The new crossing, if approved, could have a sizeable impact on the UK haulage industry, with a new road tunnel beneath the Thames almost halving the current transit times at the Dartford Crossing. The project would represent Britain’s single largest road upgrade since the M25 was completed in 1986. It is forecast that in its first year, more than 27 million vehicles would use the crossing, including 4.5 million heavy goods vehicles
The new road, planned to open in 2027, would consist of a 14.5-mile three-lane dual carriageway connecting the M2 near Rochester in Kent and the M25 in Essex. The actual Thames crossing would take the form of a 2.4-mile tunnel under the river between Tilbury and Gravesend, making it the longest road tunnel in the UK. There would be a fee for using the crossing, which has been described as a “user charge”, similar to the Dart Charge in operation at the Dartford Crossing, rather than a toll.
“For too long the Dartford Crossing has been the only way to get across the Thames east of London,” said project director Tim Jones. “It is a vital gateway but carries more traffic than it was ever designed for, and drivers there suffer from regular delays. The Lower Thames Crossing is the most ambitious project of its kind ever in the UK and the biggest single road upgrade since the M25 was completed more than 30 years ago. It would almost double road capacity across the Thames.”
Many MPs and councillors in areas that stand to benefit from the new crossing have been supportive, while the Freight Transport Association (FTA) has also come out strongly in support of the proposals. The FTA’s Head of Road Network Policy, Malcolm Bingham, said: “The FTA, which represents more than 17,000 logistics businesses, urges government to press ahead with construction of the Lower Thames Crossing as soon as possible to ease congestion and improve road capacity in this area … The M2/M25 route is a vital cog in the country’s freight machine and it must continue to work as smoothly as possible to ensure that British companies can trade without delays both domestically and internationally.”
There have, however, been objections from environmental groups and other bodies, with Friends of the Earth arguing that the building of the new road would “only encourage more cars, vans, lorries and traffic, pumping more air pollution and climate-damaging emissions into our environment.” The Green South East MEP Keith Taylor also objected on environmental grounds, saying that: “The estimated £6 billion earmarked for the new crossing should be redirected towards innovative and truly sustainable 21st-century alternatives, including projects to move freight from our roads on to the rails, seas, and waterways.”
Thurrock Council is also considering legal action against Highways England over the “abysmal” Lower Thames Crossing proposals. Council leader Rob Gledhill said: “Thurrock’s residents and businesses will endure years of road works and disruption, severely affecting the health, wellbeing and quality of life for our residents … Thurrock Council will continue to fight these proposals using every legal means at our disposal.”
Public consultation on the proposed Lower Thames Crossing is now open here, until Thursday 20 December. Haulage companies and other stakeholders are encouraged to respond.