The representatives from Highways England gave a presentation which outlined the process for surveys, including the varying types and explained why they were undertaken.
The Chair noted that residents had complained of noise in Gravesham and asked if the ground surveys were responsible. It was confirmed that ground surveys were currently underway and since the site was a fully active rifle range used by the Met Police it was only possible to carry out the works on weekends.
Councillor Jones stated that much of the land within the proposed route was farmland with good soil for crops. He queried what purpose the soil sampling served and what the outcome would be if the tests confirmed the land was ideal for farming; would the recommendation be to leave the land for its current purpose? Highways England would collect soil samples to form the baseline for their data which would be reported to the Secretary of State, who was responsible for assessing the scheme.
Councillor B. Little reiterated the point that the Council was against any further crossings within Thurrock. He added that the scheme should not simply rectify its own impact but improve the current situation in Thurrock.
The Vice-Chair understood the need for weekend works on the current site in Gravesham, but urged Highways England to reassure the people of Thurrock that works would be based on weekdays wherever possible, to limit the impact on residents’ free time. The timetable for works was still in development; however the point was noted by Highways England.
The Thames Crossing Action Group Representative highlighted the poor air quality in Thurrock was well-documented. He sought clarification from Highways England as to how it would be possible to mitigate against air pollution on open air roads. Air Quality monitoring and traffic modelling would be undertaken to identify any expected impact, the areas covered would be wider than those monitored by the Council but the data would be comparable.
The Independent Technical Advisor on Environmental Issues asked whether noise monitoring would be spot checks or long-term data collection, and whether the Council could have input into the process. The details were still being discussed and the process would not commence until Spring 2018, but Thurrock could express its views in the response to the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Scoping Report. The Independent Technical Advisor on Environmental also noted that ecology surveys were subject to time constraints and sought reassurance that it was all in hand. Ecology surveys required two years’ worth of data and therefore they had been progressed earlier. All others had been well timetabled.
The Director of Public Health questioned the procedure if landholders refused consent for access for surveys. He also asked where the data results would be published and what type of result might impact upon the route choice. It was always the preferred procedure that consent was obtained from landowners; however under S53 of the Planning Act 2008 Highways England had certain powers if that consent was withheld. The results would be published as the Environmental Impact Assessment however could be shared with Thurrock Council in the interim. Ground conditions or particular species could impact upon the route; however there were no specific examples to illustrate the point.
The Vice-Chair asked for clarification around the scheme design, such as the possibility of ‘cut and cover’ or tunnels. He felt the proposal to have sections of the route elevated to 5-8m would hardly be conducive to minimise the impact on residents. He also noted ambiguity as to whether there would be four or six lanes and requested that Highways England confirm these details. The representatives present were responsible for surveys and the EIA Scoping Report therefore did not have the requested information but it would be fed back outside of the meeting.
The Thurrock Business Representative queried when the EIA Scoping Report would be issued and it was confirmed that Highways England would send to the Planning Inspectorate at the end of October.
Councillor Jones stressed that the proposed route cut through Green Belt and agricultural land, as well as habitat for wildlife and asked why this was the favoured route, as he felt it would cause devastation for Thurrock. Highways England had provided a series of documents outlining the decision process during the options phase but these could be circulated to Members outside of the meeting.
Councillor Allen asked both the Director of Public Health and the representatives from Highways England what impact they felt the Lower Thames Crossing would have on air quality and the health and wellbeing of those in close proximity to the route and the surrounding areas.
The Director of Public Health outlined that the health effects of poor air quality were well documented. About 50% of the air pollution in the borough stemmed from London and was simply in the atmosphere, so Thurrock suffered from ‘background’ air pollution. The Dartford Crossing and proximity to the M25 only made matters worse. There were serious issues with respiratory disease and a negative impact on cardio vascular diseases. Noise and air pollution were also known to prevent people going outside and all in all the effects were largely negative.
The representatives from Highways England advised they were responsible for carrying out an assessment to understand the baseline data and demonstrate the expected impact which would be presented to the Planning Inspectorate and the Secretary of State. The Director of Public Health asked whether a full Health Impact Assessment would form part of the Environmental Assessment. Highways England stated that it would form there would be noise pollution, air quality and community assessments. The Director of Public Health felt this would be inadequate and urged the team to perform a full Health Impact Assessment.
Councillor Allen asked for clarity; as he understood matters, the traffic modelling and air quality assessments would be based upon predictions. Predictions would be made regarding traffic flow, taking into account local development plans for Local Authorities and Government Guidance for traffic modelling.
Councillor Piccolo questioned how robustly the traffic modelling was checked against real-time data, such as the effects of a 2-lane accident on the current crossing or the M25. The model was calibrated against real-time data though it could not be guaranteed that it would capture data such as Councillor Piccolo suggested.
Councillor B. Little requested that all questions which had not been answered be sent to Highways England in one document.