Highways England says a flood of almost 29,000 public consultation responses has forced them to delay a formal application on plans for the Lower Thames Crossing.
A second round of consultation was held last year, drawing 28,493 responses on the revised plans to build the UK’s longest road tunnel linking Kent to Essex.
If built the £6.8 billion Lower Thames Crossing could help remove 14 million vehicles from the Dartford Crossing, by taking traffic through a 14.5-mile tunnel from Essex to the east of Gravesend.
Exploration work to build £6.8bn tunnel underway.
Following consultation a planning application had been expected in the third quarter of this year – but the latest update from Chris Taylor, director of complex infrastructure from Highways England, says the developers will now need more time to collate information gathered.
“We’re now considering the consultation responses in detail as we continue to improve the design of the project,” he wrote.
“We’ll also be using the information gathered from our ground investigations programme (which began this month) to ensure that our project is delivered in way that has the smallest possible impact on the nearby communities and environment.
“To do this effectively, we will need more time to develop our planning application (Development Consent Order application) which we now plan to submit in summer 2020.
“This, however, does not impact the target road opening in 2027 as we’ve done more work to our schedule to speed up the construction programme.”
Highways England says nearly 15,000 people attended a programme of 60 consultation events held over a 10-week period, with hundreds of thousands more engaging with the project online.
Mr Taylor added: “The Lower Thames Crossing is an essential new road for the region and the whole country. When it opens in 2027 it will nearly double capacity for crossing the Thames east of London, while halving journeys times at the existing Dartford Crossing and reducing the number of vehicles using it by a quarter. It will transform transport links for people living, working and traveling in and around Kent, Thurrock and Essex.
“More than 29,000 people took part in our consultation last year, with more 86 per cent of respondents agreeing with the need for a new crossing and clear majority in support of our proposals.
“Our new timetable for planning consent does not delay our planned opening date of the end of 2027. It will give us time to properly consider all the detailed feedback from the consultation, enhancing and improving the proposals, and to carry out any additional consultation, if we need to. It will also help us to fully understand the information gathered from the ground investigation work we are doing, so that the technical side of our plans is robust as possible, reducing the risk of finding unexpected conditions when work starts.”
The South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) welcomed the high levels of public response from across Kent and Essex on the crossing.
Christian Brodie, Chairman of SELEP, said: “The level of response, and high levels of support for the project, should send a strong message to government that this is a priority for the area. We recognise there are those communities that will be impacted upon by the route, but we are confident that Highways England is doing everything it can to design in mitigation measures.
“Highways England has delivered on its promise to consult across the region. The Lower Thames Crossing is a gamechanger project for our area and offers wider economic benefits to the UK by improving the resilience of the road network and connectivity to our international ports.”