Highways England presented their visual impact fly through.
Councillor Jones felt the presentation was a poor show from Highways England. The visuals had been delayed and the Task Force had waited a long time but they didn’t show much. He asked whether any other visual impact presentation had been shown elsewhere. He also noted that diagrams placed before Members were dated November 2017, so asked why they had not been presented to the Task Force earlier. It was confirmed that the visual presentation was stated that this project was still in the very early stages of design and the design was still being developed. He felt it was showing more than most road schemes would show at this early stage.
Councillor Allen urged Highways England to get the design right to ensure the health and wellbeing of residents are key design elements regardless of cost. He felt it would be better to double the amount of investment if necessary, as the road was due to be tolled and would therefore return the overall cost tenfold. Health and wellbeing and the environment were paramount and in the words of Highways England would provide a “much better product”.
The Thames Crossing Action Group Representative echoed Councillor Jones’ concerns around drawings dated November 2017 and noted that businesses had been shown information upfront while drawings continued to be withheld from the Task Force and residents of Thurrock. He continued to highlight that the visuals had shown Heath Road as closed. Highways England had repeatedly advised residents at community meetings that communities would not be split by the project; however the closure would separate Chadwell-St-Mary and Orsett Heath from the local health hub at Orsett Hospital. The Task Force were reminded that the presentation and route were very much work in progress.
The Resident Representative expressed her deep disappointment. She had thought the presentation would have been realistic within the context of the borough but no local points of reference such as houses were shown. She felt the whole thing was unacceptable. Highways England had used the word ‘mitigation’ since the beginning of the process, but between the ‘non-negotiable’ Project Led Decisions and the visuals shown there were no signs of any mitigation. She felt that the Task Force were simply being used to facilitate consultation that is expected of Applicants within the Development Consent Order process but at no point are Highways England actually evidencing how they have listened and responded to any of the issues raised.
Councillor Okunade stated that the presentation is simply too fast to understand and appreciate. She suggested it would be helpful to have a more robust visual with narration as it was hard to follow and recognise.
Councillor Jones asked whether a better visual, including a side on view and the location of houses, would be brought to the Committee; it would also be helpful to see visuals for the Kent side of the scheme, as a comparison. Members were simply hoping to get the best deal for Thurrock, and be given the same considerations as Kent.
Highways England accepted the criticisms and observations of the Task Force, which was part of the reason they attended meetings. The comments around narration were taken on board as a useful suggestion. There were already plans to provide a perspective from different roads however the accuracy of detail was more important than
The Chair requested an update in 3 months, if possible. There would be new information in 3 months’ time, and Highways England hoped to share information with the Task Force in line with their agendas. It was difficult for Highways England to get data validated, so until that point it was more about how things were done than the specific figures. For this reason there would be no air quality report until the time of the statutory consultation.
Councillor Little highlighted that the room was filled with residents who had attended hoping to see the model, and he believed they would likely feel let down. He expressed the view that the lack any recognisable features (i.e. houses) was a real issue, as they would provide the ability to recognise both the location and impact of the scheme. He continued to highlight the fact that he had been informed repeatedly by Highways England that there would be no road closures, and so he had advised residents the same. The presentation showed a closure in Heath Road and as Portfolio Holder for Transportation and Highways, an Orsett Ward Councillor and a resident of Orsett Heath he should have been made aware prior to the meeting of the Task Force. Councillor Little also echoed Councillor Okunade’s comments regarding the speed of the visualisation and the suggestion of narration, adding that it would benefit from different views in future.
Highways England confirmed that Heath Road was the only road considered for closure. Plans had previously included Baker Street but had been amended to keep it open and work was underway to investigate ways to keep Heath Road from closing too. All public rights of way were also unaffected by the route.
Councillor Jones reiterated that the visual model had been suggested by Highways England and the Task Force had only put pressure once it had been postponed. Business meetings had been shown visual models and this was a problem.
The Thames Crossing Action Group Representative informed the Task Force that the visual model had been broken down with additional information on their website. He asked whether any additional information would be shared at the Southend Business Group meeting on Friday. It was confirmed the information shared would be the same as shared at the Task Force.
Highways England presented the visual model again and the Task Force discussed certain sections of the route in more detail to clarify locations etc. There remained considerable ambiguity as to which road was which as presented by the Technical Director and the TCAG representative talked the Task Force through the various links from the fly through. The Chair made it clear that if a resident of Thurrock was needed to describe HE’s fly through it proved that the visual model was not detailed enough and would need to be enhanced and brought back before the Task Force.
Tim Jones stated that in terms of air quality impacts on the local community Highways England would not realise any Air Quality data until the summer i.e. just before the start of the Consultation process as it would be wrong to release this until there was full validation.
The Interim Assistant Director reminded that Highways England had made assurances that Thurrock Council would receive monthly air quality data and it was for that reason that each month Thurrock Council had been asking this. As HE were now stating it would not be released until the summer Thurrock would need to understand – perhaps from HE’s Chief Scientist – why such normal data sharing of monthly validated outputs could not be shared as was common place between Local Highway Authorities and HE elsewhere across the country.
Ian Kennard then stated that Highways England was already about to release the monthly validated data.
Thurrock reasserted the need for the data and Highways England to confirm whether or not data would be shared, given confusion within Highways England.