In response to our email to Highways England we have now received a reply confirming that Highways England have sent more letters with errors to residents with regard to the proposed Lower Thames Crossing. Yet another example of the inadequacies of Highways England.
The matter was first bought to our attention when residents started contacting us with serious concerns over the fact they were receiving letters from HE telling them that their property/land is now within, or partially within, the development boundary following the changes announced as part of the Supplementary Consultation, which is running for 8 weeks from Jan 29th to March 25th 2020.
In some cases it was blatently obvious the error had been made, such as some residents, aged in their 80s and 90s, receiving letters from HE telling them their property was now within the development boundary, when clearly according to the HE maps they are not. General area of the properties circled in bright green.
NB. We have to stress that this only affects some of the residents who have been sent letters, not all, and those affected can now expect a letter confirming the error, explaining the correct situation, and offering an apology.
We also need to stress that we at TCAG are not legal experts, we are simply sharing info that has been bought to our attention, we would always advise seeking professional legal advice if needs be.
We fully appreciate how distressing these circumstances can be, and the impact it can have on people’s mental health and well-being, and therefore also share The Samaritans phone number – 116 123(free anytime from any phone) for those who may feel the need. Please do reach out to someone if you need to.
Our response to Highways England
This is not the first time that this has happened, there have been letters previously sent by HE that contained errors like this. As an action group we do NOT find this at all acceptable. We have therefore just sent the following email to Highways England in response to their admission that these further errors have been made.
“Thank you for your letter and confirmation of the serious error that has been made in sending these letters.
Firstly, since you quote that they should have had a letter purely explaining that they may be eligible to claim for Part 1 compensation, would you please be so kind as to explain exactly what that means. It seems a common theme from HE that terminology is used when communicating with people that is not standard plain English, that most will be familiar with and understand.
I could hazard a guess that it will be that they may be eligible to make a claim a year after LTC opens, if it goes ahead, but I would prefer to be provided with an explanation rather than make an assumption please! Residents to whom you are writing will not likely know what this means either, so surely some kind of plain English explanation should be standard procedure?
I would also request that the letters you send consider that some of these residents are in their 80s and 90s, so if my understanding of Part 1 compensation is correct you will be apologising for your error but following on to say that they may be eligible to make a Part 1 claim in late 2028 at the earliest with the project’s current time frame, so please ensure your letters are sensitive to the fact that you are bringing to their attention the fact they could be subjected to the intrusive impacts of the LTC project in their later years, with the possibility they may never get to make the claim for compensation.
I would also appreciate some kind of explanation of how and why this kind of error has been allowed to happen yet again please? We all know this is not the first time that this kind of thing has happened, far from it. Why have procedures and safeguards not been put in place after previous mistakes, to avoid this happening again please?
All we keep hearing when things like this happens is that HE recognise the distress this must cause, and apologies. To be perfectly frank this is simply lip service unless you are going to take proper responsibililty, and also ensure that you do everything you can to avoid this kind of thing to keep happen.
At this end we are all more than aware of exactly how distressing this whole thing is for residents and everyone else who is impacted. We are dealing with people who are suffering severely with the impact this is having on their health and well-being. When you are in a position that when you answer your phone it could be someone who is literally suicidal about what is going on, you take this kind of thing very seriously and personally. I will not apologise in any shape or form for pushing this matter further, it is simply NOT acceptable. Not only does this have an impact on the resident, but their families and friends, and those of us who are trying to offer them the support they deserve in very difficult circumstances, and quite frankly we all deserve better.
HE should be ensuring that every single letter is double checked for correct content before it is sent to residents, knowing the impact these letters are going to have on people.
I would also highlight that all too often these letters are confusing to those receiving them. Whilst you have legal requirements to explain these things to residents, you should also be aware of the fact most people will not be familiar with or understand much of the way you word things using industry/legal terminology. It needs to be explained in a way that people can relate to and understand. Before any comment is made that they can always contact HE with any questions, I would again refer you to the level of distress these letters create, and remind you that if they do call or email it can be up to 14 days for them to be able to start discussions to get the answers they need. 14 days can feel like an eternity when you are in this position and the letter is so confusing about such an important matter.
There seem to be so many possibilities within the explanations of these letters. It seems that HE just want to conveniently have standard copy and paste template letters to send, rather than treating people with the respect they deserve of a letter that has been written personally to them, which includes all the relevant info to their individual situation. A one size fits all is not acceptable with such important letters. It is stressful enough even if it is personalised to the individual’s situation, let alone to be on the receiving end of a standard template that just leaves you with questions and confusion.
Yes I know this would take more man power and time, but frankly this is not our problem, this is important, this is people’s lives you are playing with, because that is what is happening, HE are playing with people’s lives, and not giving this the time, attention, and effort that something so important deserves.”
Sharing our serious concerns with our MPs
We have also sent the following email to Stephen Metcalfe MP (South Basildon & East Thurrock), Jackie Doyle-Price MP (Thurrock), Adam Holloway MP (Gravesham), and Julia Lopez MP (Hornchurch & Upminster) as the MPs whose constituencies are most directly affected by the proposed LTC, and whose residents may have received these erroneous letters.
“I wanted to contact you on behalf of the members of the Thames Crossing Action Group, we represent thousands of residents along the entire route of the proposed Lower Thames Crossing. We feel the need to alert you all to a recent batch of letters that Highways England have sent out in error to some residents. So far we know of residents in both Mr Metcalfe and Ms Doyle-Price’s constituencies that are affected, but that’s not to say that there are could not also be affected residents in Mr Holloway or Ms Lopez’s constituencies also.
The letters are telling residents that their property/land is now in the development boundary, when clearly according to HE’s own maps that they sent with the letters, they are not within the boundary. We have contacted HE about this, and had a reply yesterday confirming that an error had been made in the wording of some of the letters that they had sent out. They stated that they recognise the distress this may have caused, and will be writing to those affected, explaining and apologising.
We are aware that this is not the first time HE have sent erroneous letters like this, it has happened previously, and their response was the same on those occasion. We are also emailing HE to question why this has been allowed to happen again, and why they have not put procedures in place to safeguard this happening again after previous errors.
We wanted to alert you to this matter, and also to ask you to do whatever you can to follow up on this to ensure that adequate procedures and safe guards are put in place to avoid this happening again please. We would also politely request that you bring this matter to the attention of the Secretary of State for Transport, Mr Grant Shapps MP, Mr Jim O’Sullivan CEO Highways England, as this is a serious matter of which we feel he should also be made aware.
We would note that since Mr Tim Jones resigned in July last year, there has not yet been a permanent replacement announced. We would also question that the interim LTC Project Director Alan Seywright, and interim Deputy Project Director Keith Rumsey have been noticeable by their absence, with Chris Taylor (Director of Complex Infrastructure Programme, Highways England) being the one who seems to be making all announcements with regard to the Supplementary Consultation. We all know that those in interim positions are not likely to immerse themselves in the detail, but we would question what exactly they are doing for their salaries in these positions? We are also curious to know, if there is now an interim Deputy Project Director, who the Deputy Project Director was previously, if there was one, and if so when and why they left as surely they should have stepped up when Tim Jones resigned?! We used to have meetings with Tim Jones, but since his leaving it seems that nobody is at the helm trying to lead this project or take our questions and comments seriously, or taking any overall responsibility to ensure that adequate duty of care is being provided to members of the public in relation to this project.
I would also bring to your attention the fact that HE has stated that the affected residents are not actually within the development boundary, but it appears they should have been sent a letter explaining that they may be eligible to claim Part 1 compensation. They did not provide me with details of exactly what Part 1 compensation is, I have requested clarification. However, my understanding is that Part 1 compensation can only be claimed a year after LTC opens, if it goes ahead.
We know that a number of the residents affected by these letters, that HE have sent in error, are in their 80s and 90s. I am concerned that they will now be getting letters explaining and apologising for the letter that was sent in error, but now telling them that they are close enough to the LTC, that a year after it opening they may be eligible to make a claim for compensation. With the current time frame this would be late 2028 at the earliest that they could potentially submit a claim, as the opening date is currently predicted to be late 2027. I hope and pray that these residents will all live long lives, but when you consider in reality this means that they are receiving these distressing letters, and will be living the last years of their lives near to the loud, intrusive impacts of the construction of LTC, and some may not even live to be able to claim any form of compensation this is heartbreaking and wrong.
Since HE have started progressing things with the LTC project, and sending out letters to those whose properties and land are affected, we have been trying to help and support those who have come to us who are extremely distressed about what is going on. When you pick up your phone and don’t know if it will be someone who is literally suicidal over what is going on, you take it very seriously. It is bad enough that directly affected residents, and those of us who are trying to help and support them (including their family and friends) have to go through this, but it is even worse when such distressing letters are sent out in error, and I would appreciate all your help to ensure that HE are held accountable and to ensure that to the best of everyone’s ability this does not keep happening, as clearly HE do not truly value how distressing these incidents are, as they haven’t put any procedures in place since previous incidents.
Thank you for your time, we would really appreciate your comments, and any offered by Mr Shapps, and Mr O’Sullivan on this matter and to know what can be done to ensure that Highways England are held accountable for their actions, and this doesn’t continue happening.”
Please note that in the email directly above we are also questioning the lack of a permenant new LTC Project Director to replace Tim Jones who resigned in July last year. Alongside questioning what exactly the interim LTC Project Director and his interim Deputy are actually being paid to do considering it is Chris Taylor (Director of Complex Infrastructure Programme, Highways England) who has made all the announcements and foreword to the LTC Supplementary Consultation.