Unitary Authority Leader Urges Chancellor not to waste money

Thurrock Council has written to the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne urging him not to waste government money on an ill thought-through £6 billion Thames crossing proposal.

The letter was agreed at Wednesday (9 March) evening’s meeting of the council’s cabinet which also agreed seeking “further expert opinion” to look into the implications of Highways England’s proposals on “pollution from vehicles and the effects on the health of residents”, and that any economic, social or transport benefits are not out-weighed by the environmental harm.

Members also supported plans for a cross-agency forum to look at ways of tackling congestion in the borough in the short- to medium-term as increasing evidence suggested that, although issues at the crossing sparked congestion, it was the local infrastructure and road works that were unable to cope and delayed free flowing traffic returning for hours.

In his letter, Cllr Kent calls on Mr Osborne to “personally intervene” and “provide transparent information on whether Her Majesty’s Treasury really do believe that the estimated £6 billion expenditure on the motorway and tunnel is value for money”.

It goes on: “We have appointed experts to look at the published figures on costs and benefits with the knowledge that the full business case to justify this has yet to be published by Highways England.”

Mr Osborne is asked to “take advice from your transport economists to investigate […] that the criteria for expenditure is rigorously consistent with the ‘Green Book’ and the DfT’s WebTag criteria”.

The Green Book is official guidance for public sector bodies on how to appraise proposals before committing funds, and WebTag provides information on the role of transport modelling and appraisal.

Cllr Kent said: “We have twice written to the Secretary of State for Transport, asking him first to extend the consultation period and then to stop it all together. We have yet to receive a response.

“Now we’re asking the Chancellor – who no doubt is telling us this week we need to make more savings – not to waste £6 billion of taxpayers’ money.”

The letter also asks whether “future resilience” has been taken into account by the proposals because “access to business in the area is critical” and whether the effect of gridlock on the new proposed road as well as the current crossing – and the resulting increases in air pollution – have been taken into account in the cost-benefit analysis.

It also points out that reducing crossing traffic by 14 per cent in the medium-term and seven per cent in the longer-term as claimed by Highways England seems little reward for a £6 billion investment – some of the money could be better spent on the local network.

Cllr Kent said: “This supposed consultation is so full of holes, posing more questions than it asks, I find it hard to believe the Chancellor and the Treasury will actually support it.

“If another Thames crossing is needed outside London, it is fairly obvious that it should be to the east of Thurrock, adding resilience to the current crossing and network, not in Thurrock simply ensuring gridlock will expand over an even larger area.”