Councillor Little had previously requested that Highways England include a form with their letters to residents which would allow them to indicate that they were happy for their Ward Councillors to be told they had been contacted. This would allow Ward Councillors to be more informed about the needs of specific residents within their Wards, regarding the proposed Lower Thames Crossing. He asked whether this had been done. Highways England stated that this would have to be subject to legal review within the organisation. Councillor Little emphasised that a simple ‘opt in’ arrangement would satisfy all Data Protection requirements such that Thurrock might readily understand comments being received and support the process of inclusive consultation that Highways England had claimed.
The Chair noted that the Lower Thames Crossing Action Group Representative had requested data around the difference in Air Quality impact between the proposed route 3 and the A14 option. It was confirmed that, to date, this information had not been received from Highways England.
Councillor Jones highlighted that Highways England were not engaging regarding information and the general feeling within Thurrock was that the scheme would go ahead without engagement with local communities.
The Vice-Chair referred to previous enquiries regarding the elevated sections of the proposed design, and he hoped that this would be touched upon in the update from Highways England later in the meeting, as it was of great importance for local residents. The Highways England Representative expressed that he would be happy to touch on the issue but a higher level of detail would require more time than their allotted time for the presentation. He indicated that it would be beneficial to hold a longer meeting in future to allow for greater depth. Councillor Jones interjected that there had been no response regarding the elevated sections within Thurrock, yet the report showed there would be more scenic options such as cut-ins in Kent. He felt Thurrock was already being neglected and would be happy for the meeting to run longer if it meant that concerns and queries could be answered.
The Chair echoed that there was an overall feeling of frustration amongst Councillors, officers, the Thames Crossing Action Group and residents as it appeared that Highways England were failing in terms of communication. He hoped there would be improved responses moving forward, and proposed that Actions 1-10 be covered at the current meeting.
The Highways England Representative asked if there were any specific responses which required further expansion.
Councillor Little echoed his earlier comments around contact with residents. It was confirmed that Highways England held a database of everyone who contacted them regarding the scheme though it was not certain that this could be sifted. With regards to sharing details of land owners and residents whom Highways England had contacted it was a matter of data protection laws. The professional opinion of a legal expert would be sought and a response brought back to the Task Force. The suggestion of residents allowing their details to be shared would be considered as part of this. Councillor Little again emphasised the option of a simple ‘opt in’ approach that would help Thurrock and demonstrate that Highways England were undertaking meaningful consultation and consideration.
The response to Councillor Piccolo’s previous query around traffic originating in or destined for Thurrock indicated that the information would be available soon. Councillor Jones asked, on behalf of Councillor Piccolo, whether there was any estimate of when the information would be available. The final traffic model would be shared with Officers from Thurrock Council in December, and once they were satisfied it could be shared on a wider scale. Councillor Jones expressed his amazement that Highways England did not possess this data already, given the scale of the proposal. The Highways England Representative clarified that the majority of the data was complete, but projected freight movements were still awaited from the Department of Transport and it would be pointless to share incomplete data. It was also confirmed that the data from 2001 had formed the baseline but was now complete up to 2016.
The Vice-Chair noted that whether the route would be four or six lanes was still being reviewed. Given that the application was due to be with the Planning Inspectorate in the near future he felt that the design should be at a stage where they knew one way or the other. He asked for details around the cost increase between 2-lane traffic and 3-lane traffic. The Task Force heard that the scheme had been developed from the preferred route announcement in April and would continue to undergo investigation and scrutiny, particularly during the public consultation. The Vice-Chair again queried how Highways England could make informed choices regarding the route and two or three lanes without a traffic model that worked.