The January 2024 LTC Task Force meeting took place on Mon 22nd January, the agenda for this meeting can be found here.
The meeting was webcast live and is also available on the council’s YouTube channel so you can watch again, and our update covers some of the highlights.
Unfortunately TCAG Chair, Laura was unable to attend as she was unwell with a severe migraine, but has since watched the recording and provide an update.
The Times article
Whilst the main agenda item of the meeting was to receive and discuss an update on the LTC DCO Examination, there was brief mention of the article about the LTC DCO application in The Times and other publications. For those that may not have already seen our commentary on this, please read our Media Coverage in January 2024 update.
There have been a number of similar articles, all appearing to be based on the Britain Remade press release. Some of the facts and figures mentioned are questionable and misleading, and we are reviewing as much content as we can, and will be attempting to reach out to Britain Remade too!
LTC DCO Examination update
A report to LTC Task Force was made available in the meeting agenda pack. During the meeting particular reference was made to the infographics that Thurrock Council included one of their final DCO Examination submissions. We also featured this infographics in our Thoughts at the end of the LTC DCO Examination update.
Click on the images below to enlarge, if you need a reminder or have not seen the infographics before.
These infographics are great at showing just how much the proposed LTC fails, and TCAG agree with the council that such infographics highlight this point very well, particularly amongst all the text documents of the examination. Our own LTC Project Objectives update also highlights how evidence shows the proposed LTC would fail.
Dartford Crossing would be back to current levels within 5 years of LTC opening
The council also highlighted that their traffic modelling experts who assessed the official National Highways data, came to the conclusion that the Dartford Crossing would be back at current traffic levels (ie way over design capacity) within 5 years of the LTC opening, if it goes ahead.
Our own assessment and belief is that the proposed LTC would not solve the problems suffered due to the Dartford Crossing, which would remain over capacity, and the lack of adequate connections would cause further congestion, pollution and chaos (if LTC goes ahead), with even worse consequences when there are incidents at either crossing.
All of this is the kind of information that Britain Remade and others voicing support of the proposed LTC should be looking into, rather than counting the number of pages in the DCO application/examination!
Section 106 Agreements
Thurrock Council signed a S106 agreement at the end of the LTC DCO Examination. To be clear, as there has been mention of this agreement being some kind of secret deal. As linked at the start of this paragraph, a copy of the agreement is available within the LTC DCO Examination Library. Any redaction (blocking of info like names/signatures etc) is standard procedure by the Planning Inspectorate on examination documents, it is not the council.
Would it have been ideal for those at the council making the decision on signing this agreement to have invited Cllr Massey as Chair of the LTC Task Force to join the discussion? Yes we believe that may have been an idea. However, we are also very aware of how full on the examination deadlines were and how much pressure the council’s LTC team and all of us were under, with extremely limited time to work on everything, make decisions, follow processes, and make submissions on time.
It was questioned in the meeting, more in passing, whether the action group (and some others) would have supported the decision to sign the 106 agreement, had we been asked. Based on the fact that we sat through the LTC DCO Examinations where matters such as 106 agreements were discussed, reading some of the many many DCO examination documents, and having over the years learnt about the DCO process and how it is very different from Local Planning process, we support the council’s decision to sign the 106 agreement, even if it wasn’t anywhere near ideal. The alternative of not signing would be a huge gamble that would likely result in Thurrock not even getting as much as the agreement that was signed.
We have heard at previous LTC Task Force meetings that historically authorities who support projects usually get much better deals than those who voice opposition. LTC Task Force committee members at that time were asked, with this in mind, to vote on whether they still felt the council’s position of opposition should remain, and it was agreed that opposition to LTC was the way forward.
It is also super important that the council has an agreement in place to fund officers, should the worst happen and LTC goes ahead. Imagine if the council hadn’t got funding for their LTC team to prepare and get through the LTC DCO, it doesn’t bear thinking about. This is no reflection on the existing council staff, it’s just that the proposed LTC is a huge and complex project that needs specialist and experienced staff working on it that are familiar with the DCO process, and staff currently working at the council will also already be busy with their existing workload. It was also apparent in the examination that other authorities were saying that they felt they deserved better deals on funding for staff to participate in the Examination, in light of the deal that Thurrock Council had negotiated, so Thurrock did well on that agreement.
If the proposed LTC does go ahead, which there are no guarantees of, the DCO would be granted. The DCO, Development Consent Order, is an official document that details all legalities of what has to happen in regard to the LTC going ahead. The final draft version that NH submitted at the end of the examination may still be amended if the Secretary of State deems it necessary. This is one of the reasons there may be further post examination consultations, once the Planning Inspectorate make their recommendation to the Secretary of State. Whilst it used to be highly unusual to have post examination consultations, it is fast becoming more and more frequent with DCO projects. The A66 project, which is a Project Speed scheme (so being progressed by Government as quickly as they possibly can) has currently just had their 8th post examination consultation.
If there are any changes to the LTC DCO if it is granted then the council will need staff to review, and act accordingly, so it is vital that funding is available to cover at least some of this aspect.
There are also requirements within the DCO that are placed on Local Authorities, including Thurrock. This means they need to monitor and deal with various aspects in regard to the LTC, if it goes ahead. It is not as simple as saying that LTC is a NH/Government project so they should do all the monitoring etc, certain things need to be dealt with by the local authorities, and in our opinion that is a good thing. After all would we really want NH and Government doing what they’re proposing to do without any monitoring and scrutiny by our councils?
Just one example to try and explain part of this, a number of existing local roads (ie not NH roads) would be impacted/changed due to the LTC, if it goes ahead. In Thurrock one example of this might be North Road in South Ockendon, with a proposed ‘green’ bridge over the proposed LTC route. This is a Thurrock Council Highways road, so it is only right that they monitor and assess such works. Shouldn’t NH cover the cost of the staff to carry out such work? We think so.
During the examination National Highways general attitude in regard to 106 agreements (with all Authorities) appeared to be that they were simply refusing to provide what the authorities were asking for. Some of those authorities have chosen to sign less than ideal agreements, others for whatever reason have chosen to take the gamble of not signing. The examiners didn’t seem to be overly impressed with how far of agreeing on 106 the various parties were, but it is something that had to be negotiated between the authorities and NH, the examiners can only assess and ultimately make their recommendation based on what is submitted during the examination.
There are numerous recordings of the LTC DCO examination, and of course all the documents are available online for everyone to review should they wish to check anything out for themselves. However, the above is just a brief insight into why we support the council signing a less than ideal 106 agreement, rather than gambling and potentially getting an even worse deal. At the end of the day we are still doing all we can to stop the proposed LTC, and a decision has yet to be made and announced. Hopefully the LTC will not go ahead and the 106 agreement won’t even be needed.
We’d just like to finish by publicly voicing our sincere thanks to Thurrock Council’s LTC team for all their time, effort and hard work preparing and participating in the LTC DCO examination to date. Having gone through the process alongside them, and knowing what is involved we have to say what a great job they have done under so much pressure and with such limited time.
What happens next?
We have mentioned this a number of times previously, but just to again clarify. Now the examination has ended the Planning Inspectorate/Examiners are working hard to consider and prepare their recommendation, which they have to provide to the Secretary of State for Transport by 20th March 2024. For clarity the recommendation report will not be made public until such time as a decision by the Secretary of State is announced.
The Secretary of State then has a further 3 months to consider and make an announcement as to whether permission will be granted or not. As mentioned above it may be necessary for the Secretary of State to hold further post examination consultations. This can result in the timeframe of the decision being announced being pushed back. Regardless of whether it is a decision on whether permission is being granted or not, or to advise of a delay in that announcement we should hear from the Secretary of State before 20th June 2024 as it currently stands.
LTC Task Force meetings – click here
LTC DCO Updates Index – click here