The Independent Technical Advisor on Environmental Issues and the Assistant Director of Highways & Transportation outlined the coverage of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Scoping Report and its role within the national infrastructure planning process.
The Director of Public Health felt the Council should stress the importance of a full health impact assessment, rather than having it fall within the Air Quality and Noise Pollution assessments. The Thurrock Business Representative did not believe Highways England would be able to avoid a full assessment given the enormity of the project. The Independent Technical Advisor on Environmental Issues advised that this should form part of the Council’s response to the EIA Scoping Report.
Councillor Jones agreed with the points highlighted as of importance to Thurrock and felt the scheme description would also be paramount, to understand the proposed location of slip-roads and junctions to fully assess the impact. He then asked who would be responsible for the placement of diffusion tubes. Highways England would select the locations but Thurrock Council could review the choices and request additional data if necessary. Councillor Jones felt it should be the Local Authority who decided the location of diffusion tubes. Councillor B. Little requested clarification upon the length of time data should be collected via diffusion tubes. He had been led to believe data should be trended for 2 years. The Independent Technical Advisor for Environmental Issues confirmed that the tubes collected data one month at a time, and for the data to be statistically relevant it should be collected for at least a year. Sometimes data was only collected over three months however discussions with Highways England suggested data would be collected for a year. Councillor B. Little stressed that, given seasonal variation and the effects of different weather conditions, the assessment could not be fully carried out in three months.
Councillor B. Little also queried whether major issues such as high winds, significant congestion and the effects of Christmas shopping at lakeside, or security closures at the dock could be included within the scoping report. Though not every day occurrences they were frequent enough to be of note.
The Vice-Chair agreed that the scheme description would be of great importance to the Local Authority. He wanted to see tunnels in highly populated areas, Thurrock saw the worst air quality figures outside of London and there should be careful consideration. While it was accepted that the Council was fully against the proposal for an additional crossing it would be necessary to ensure that, were the project to go ahead, it was in the most beneficial way to Thurrock possible and for that Members required full details. He was keen to understand how many intersections would form part of the route. The Independent Technical Advisor on Environmental Issues advised that those details should be covered within the scheme description.
The Chair asked how the project would fit with Government regulations regarding Climate Change. The Task Force was advised that the impact on climate change and the carbon emissions should be assessed as part of the process, in line with Government plans.
Councillor Allen expressed his view that the proposed route had been chosen by the Government and Highways England as it was cheapest, since there were no tunnels involved. He also felt that, alongside the Government’s requirement for Thurrock to provide 32,000 new homes, this route was designed to unlock Green Belt land. He continued that there had been an alternative option which had proposed an 8km tunnel under the borough which would have caused no impact on Thurrock, with the emissions filtered. He felt that the proposed route showed no regard for the people of Thurrock. The Independent Technical Advisor on Environmental Issues assured the Task Force that air quality would need to be considered and all findings would be presented to the Secretary of State.
The Thames Crossing Action Group Representative noted that Thurrock Council had undertaken air quality surveys in the borough for the past 20 years and there had been an increase each year in the number of problem areas. A Freedom of Information request had shown that the Council spent £33,000 a year on one person to resolve issues regarding air quality. The existing 17 poor quality areas needed to be addressed, the baseline data needed to be reduced to address existing issues. The Assistant Director of Highways and Transportation advised that there had been progress regarding issues with initiatives for improving air quality. The aim was to distance traffic, particularly HGVs, from residential properties where possible. It was necessary to find a way to allow for industry growth in the borough, without it being at the detriment of residents. The Thames Crossing Action Group Representative requested data from Highways England as to the expected difference in air quality impact between route 3 and the A14 route.
Councillor Okunade agreed that everyone was concerned about the health implications of the impact on air quality in the borough. She was unsure how ‘distancing’ HGVs from residential areas would have much effect, since particulates were in the air and would spread. Councillor Okunade queried whether the scoping report would target the worst affected areas and if topics were weighted in any way. She echoed the Vice-Chair’s sentiments that, while she did not want the crossing to go ahead, it would be crucial to make a serious case for Thurrock if the proposal were approved. The Task Force heard that air quality had been focused on so far and other disciplines would be looked at. Any areas with significant impact would make it difficult for the Secretary of State to approve the scheme.
Councillor Allen asked if it would be possible for the 20 years of data on air quality, collected by the Council, to be presented to the Task Force as he did not believe, with more cars on the roads, how air quality could improve in the borough.
Councillor Piccolo enquired as to whether there was any way to confirm the accuracy of the data collected over the past 20 years, as it would need to be verified to prevent Highways England discounting data if they saw fit. The Independent Technical Advisor on Environmental Issues had been reviewing the data and so far was pleased that it had been intelligently used, and verified on a yearly basis. Any issues within the monitoring, such as tubes near traffic lights or road works, would be visible through monitoring data trends.
Councillor Allen sought clarity around how Highways England’s findings would be verified. Both the Lower Thames Crossing team and Thurrock Council would collect data from three diffusion tubes next to a continuous monitor for comparison. Councillor B. Little asked for an explanation of the different monitoring systems, as he felt some Members of the Task Force might be unaware of the differences. It was confirmed that there were several types of monitors. Diffusion tubes were most commonly found on lampposts throughout the borough and collected data a month at a time. There were also continuous monitors that collected data around chemiluminescence and nitrogen dioxide levels. There were currently four continuous monitors in the borough, against which the diffusion tubes were normalised.