With the Lower Thames Crossing (LTC) Development Consent Order (DCO) Examination officially started on Tues 20th June 2023, we take at look at the first week of LTC DCO, what happened and what’s coming next!
Open Floor Hearing 1 – [OFH1]
Open Floor Hearing 1 on Tues evening was a short one, only two parties requested to speak, The Examining Authority (ExA) commented on how few people have requested to speak at Open Floor Hearings (OFHs) so far.
We’re wondering if that’s because some of you are not sure how to request to speak, or may be a bit hesitant not knowing what to expect. Or that the timing of daytime events doesn’t suit due to work etc. If that is the case please consider the following:
You might want to watch the recording of OFH1 to see how things work. The ExA are very friendly and welcoming, and want to hear from us all, the hearings really aren’t anything to be worried about.
The next OFH is Open Floor Hearing 2 on Weds 28th in Orsett and online, and the deadline to request to speak has now past.
Those wanting to speak at an OFH that can’t make those can request further OFH be held later on, and specify they’d like an evening event etc, by Deadline 1 (18th July) and if demand is enough then further OFH will be arranged likely Sept time.
We watched the livestream of OFH1 and did chuckle when the ExA asked the resident if they had any evidence to back their statement that the LTC would still leave Dartford Crossing over capacity, and he said to talk to TCAG! Thanks for the shout out!!
Issue Specific Hearing 1 (Project Definition) – [ISH1]
Issue Specific Hearing 1 (ISH1) on the topic of Project Definition and took place on Weds 21st June with the need for the continuation reserve date (Fri 23rd) to be used also. TCAG attended and spoke at both.
This hearing was largely for the Applicant, National Highways to present the project definition to the ExA at a top level, to go through things and answer some of the initial questions the ExA have.
The process was NH presented their info, then the ExA asking questions, all other attendees making comments and asking questions through the ExA, and finishing up with NH replying and giving a closing statement on anything that had been said. This happened for each agenda item in this format.
There were a lot of questions and concerns voiced by various parties about the traffic impacts of the LTC, and indeed whether it would solve the problems at the Dartford Crossing. Questions about the 2 year delay to the project, announced by government, and how that might affect the info provided in the DCO application. Possible alternatives and why and if they should have been ruled out. Despite the fact NH keep insisting that whether they use 1 or 2 Tunnel Boring Machines is not really relevant, there were lots of questions and comments about it.
NH insisted that the proposed LTC would not be a ‘smart’ motorway yet again. This of course was an aspect that TCAG spoke on, and NH even attempted to avoid responding about us quoting the reference from the DCO application document that states the LTC is being coded as a 3 lane motorway (with the exception of the southbound stretch between the M25 until just past the A13). When pushed on that point they said they would respond in writing. We wait to see what comes out of the Deadline 1 submissions.
NH had the nerve to say the alignment of the LTC to the north of the proposed route was chosen to avoid The Wilderness in South Ockendon. TCAG were quick, when our time came to speak, to point out that the proposed route would actually destroy the oldest part of The Wilderness, and explained how NH had failed to find evidence of the ancient/long established woodland as far back as TCAG had, and that we have concerns over the impacts both environmentally and historically, since it was once part of the estate of Sir Richard Saltonstall in the 1500s.
There were concerns voiced by the Ports about the impacts of LTC. Active and public transport aspects were discussed and questioned, with TCAG raising the fact many’new’ routes were actually just realignments of existing routes that would need to be moved as a direct result of the LTC, if it goes ahead. Also how the routes in places like Tilbury Fields zigzagged, spiraled and ran parallel, without any real purpose and failed to offer proper connectivity.
The Nitrogen Deposition Compensation sites, and Hole Farm Community Woodland were discussed and questions asked about whether there was double counting going on. There were also discussions about utilities and whether utilities works needs as part of the LTC project would fall within the LTC DCO or need their own DCOs.
The meeting was than adjourned, to be reconvened on Friday 23rd. (see below)
The recording of this hearing has not yet been published online, we will try to add it here once it becomes available.
Issue Specific Hearing 2 (draft DCO) – [ISH2]
Issue Specific Hearing 2 (ISH2) on the topic of draft DCO and took place on Thurs 22nd June. TCAG were not in attendance, but have watched the livestream and will catch up on the bits we missed when the recordings are published.
This hearing was for NH to go through the draft DCO with the ExA, and again answer some questions, in the same format as ISH1. This topic is quite technical and covers many legal aspects, some of which even those in the know seemed to have different opinions on. At one point the lead examiner actually commented that one aspect was something that in legal terms was an area where angels fear to tread.
Host Local Authorities (Thurrock and Gravesham) both voiced that they would like to be the discharging authorities. This is about who takes responsibility for overseeing and making sure things happen. If it is not the host local authorities, then it would be the Secretary of State/Government. Although local councils may have their issues they are more accessible and knowledgeable about the local area than the alternative on many levels.
We haven’t yet had the opportunity to view everything in this meeting, but a major factor we did pick up on was issues that were considered major in regard to the port, river connectivity and dredging aspects. The ExA considered this to be a major issue that could have a big affect on things, and went as far as to explain the ExA will go to the Secretary of State for guidance and decisions if needed.
The recording of this hearing has not yet been published online, we will try to add it here once it becomes available, as well as adding any additional comments that we have once viewed.
Continuation Hearing for ISH1
Issue Specific Hearing 1 (ISH1) need to make use of the reserved continuation date, as there was not time to get through all the items on the agenda on Weds.
The remainder of the agenda items (starting back at Item 4H) were about Economic Benefits. This was obviously a topic that people had a lot to say about, and lots of questions from everyone, including the ExA.
One of the Examiners questioned NH as to why they were assessing the economic benefits for 100 years rather than the standard 60 years, particularly asking whether it was skewed to improve the Benefit Cost Ratio (BCR). In general when it came to the economic benefits and BCR it appeared that most (other than NH) seemed sceptical about the figures, particularly with the adjusted BCR being so low, and whether the 2 year delay and other things could actually make the BCR worse.
Traffic journey assessments are used within the economic benefits assessment, yet it seems NH have used a now outdated DfT model for these things.
One of the Examiners was curious about what figure had been captured in regard to inflation value for assessments. She asked NH to provide the figure that was used. NH attempted to respond without providing a figure. The Examiner again requested the figure. NH quoted where in the DCO application documents the figure could be found. The Examiner asked for it to be shown on screen. NH struggled with this, so the Examiner took the time to locate it and put it up via her own screen and asked NH to talk everyone through it. NH stated as an example that the inflation rate used for the year 2022 in the assessment was 4.10%. The Examiner commented that this seemed to be very much underestimated and wildly out of touch!
The Port of London Authority bought up that impacts to river connectivity also needed to be considered. Ports and Local Authorities also through the meeting stated that they had requested info and modelling in regard to certain aspects/junctions and that NH had failed or refused to provide them. NH even came back claiming that this was not true! As the parties involved had evidence, the ExA asked for all evidence to be provided by Deadline 1. When it became even more apparent how much of an issue this was the ExA asked NH to explain when it was and was not deemed necessary and appropriate to share the kind of info that parties had been requesting. NH responded to say that it was only when they considered it to be that they would share it. One of the Examiners asked them to clarify that point. They confirmed also saying that they had to take whether they felt it to be of public value to do so. The ExA said the potential impacts were a major issue, and that they wanted the modelling, as that was the normal way these things work! One Examiner said the issue was not going to go away, and that NH should get on and do the work! Another said that the point needed to be taken seriously by NH. The lead Examiner stated that as had been covered in this and previous meetings, this was a large issue that needed to be dealt with urgently, and urged NH to work productively, and to try and work behind the scenes with relevant parties to get somewhere asap and preferably before Deadline 1. An action was set on NH in this point.
The last item on the agenda was how things will proceed, and NH requesting to submit some minor changes (not related to the Minor Refinements Consultation) to a number of DCO application documents.
As an additional appendix to the Environment Statement (ES) was mentioned TCAG asked when we might expect an update of assessments relating to the newly set targets for the Environment Act, things like PM2.5 air pollution. NH said it would come in due course when air quality was covered. We feel it would be more appropriate for this to be shared asap, and will be commenting as such in writing.
The recording of this hearing has not yet been published online, we will try to add it hear once it becomes available.
LTC DCO Updates Index – click here
Planning Inspectorate LTC DCO webpages – click here
Taking part in the LTC DCO – click here
Attending an online LTC DCO examination hearing – click here