The Corporate Director of Place introduced the report. At the previous meeting of the Task Force Members had covered the areas that mattered most to Thurrock. The Environmental Impact Assessment Scoping Report had been received by the Council on 2 November 2017 and a response from Thurrock Council was to be submitted to the Planning Inspectorate within 28 days.
The Independent Technical Advisor on Environmental Issues gave a brief presentation which outlined the purpose of the scoping report, how it had been reviewed and key areas of note.
The Thames Crossing Action Group Representative noted there were three Grade 2 listed buildings by the proposed Orsett junction and asked what protections were afforded to them. The EIA Scoping Report had shown that these were being assessed correctly but full details would not be known until the full Environmental Impact Assessment was completed. The Independent Technical Advisor on Environmental Issues expressed that it was more worrying that a scheduled monument would be dug up at Orsett, yet no reference was made to this within the scoping report.
The Thames Crossing Action Group Representative queried whether the 2km assessment for visual impact would be 1km from the centreline in either direction, or whether the 2km would be in both directions from the centreline. It was confirmed that the assessment area would cover 2km in either direction from the centreline of the proposed carriageway.
The Vice-Chair queried whether Highways England would be advised of the number of populous in areas of high population. This would be taken into account as part of the air quality assessment and significant weighting would be applied accordingly.
Councillor Little stated that he was impressed by the number of evidence-based objections that had been put forward. Section 3.61 of the report advised that Tilbury Energy Centre should be included within the assessment of cumulative effects and suggested that the response also note that DP World was not currently working at full capacity and therefore its traffic figures were still due to increase.
Councillor Allen questioned whether there was a clear trend within the air quality data within Thurrock over the past 20 years. The Task Force was advised that levels decreased quite quickly in the early years and then plateaued somewhat. The Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) still needed to be in place but levels were coming down overall. Councillor Little added that there were 17 AQMAs in Thurrock and it had been proposed to remove 7, however they would remain in place given the potential crossing.
The Chair noted that section 3.14 of the report advised that the DEFRA’s Emission Factor Toolkit was likely to underestimate emissions and sought further explanation. The Task Force was advised that it was widely known that the toolkit underestimated PM2.5 and PM10, however methods were available to uplift figures to worse-case scenarios and this had been requested. The issue was beyond the realms of the software in use.
Councillor Okunade queried who would be the judge of whether mitigation was sufficient, as per 3.8 of the report. The Independent Technical Advisor for Environmental Issues clarified that if modelling suggested any worsening in noise levels and air quality the plan would need to be amended to mitigate those issues however it was the responsibility of the applicant not the statutory consultees to consider these issues.
The Resident Representative asked whether there was any significance to the fact that the DEFRA figures excluded roads managed by Highways England. The Independent Technical Advisor for Environmental Issues could not comment from the Council’s perspective but would look into the matter further.
Councillor Little queried the mention of ‘materials’ but no section on ‘construction’. The noise, vibration and air quality impact from lorries over a construction period of six years would be huge. The Task Force heard that data regarding vehicle movements would be captured within the remit of air quality and noise pollution. Details of the impact of the construction specifically had been requested but Highways England were looking into using the river and railways to deliver materials in an attempt to reduce vehicle movements.
Councillor Jones questioned why the scoping report did not fully justify the reason for the route chosen. Members were advised that the decision process would have been well documented however it had not been clearly brought out within the scoping report.
The Thames Crossing Action Group Representative stressed the need for joined up thinking at this stage to ensure issues within Thurrock, such as power networks and AQMAs by the dock, were properly addressed. He could think of no way to mitigate against 60,000 extra vehicles in the borough, bar continuous tunnelling. The Chair expressed quiet confidence that officers were experienced and would be on top of the situation. The Corporate Director of Place agreed that the cumulative impact of everything happening needed to be assessed. The traffic modelling data would take into account all extra development within the area up to 2026/2027.
The Chair noted that within the responses from technical advisors the question of the A14 route versus Route 3 was raised which showed a weakness in the scope.
Councillor Jones sought further information around the potential hazardous historic landfill at Goshem’s Farm. The site predated restrictive legislation therefore could contain anything and there was a need to consider whether the impact of the development could cause hazardous chemicals to permeate.
The Chair summarised that Officers should revisit the scoping report to see if there was anything else to uncover to strengthen the Council’s response. The proposal had been updated to include additional tunnelling outside of the borough so reasonably the same could be done within Thurrock and there were real concerns around the height of elevated sections.
Councillor Allen felt that Highways England were only focusing on the cost of the scheme without considering the health and wellbeing of Thurrock residents. He noted that the red line boundary covered a Victorian tip in Tilbury and questioned whether the proposed route would cut straight through. Details around portals were still very vague; both on the North and South side of the river, and this could be part of the reason for that.
The Chair noted that the A13 widening works had uncovered sites of archaeological significance, and given the scheduled monument already raised asked whether Mucking Excavation Group, the British Museum or other agencies had been contacted to see what could be done. It was confirmed that the feedback from the archaeological specialist advised there were sites of national significance and the area had been on their radar for some time.