There are number of items on the Mitigation Schedule which Members will be aware of and was to be discussed with Highways England. In July a meeting with Highways England was held where they discussed a number of items on the Mitigation Schedule, which was positively received and welcomed by Highways England as a starting point of discussion and negotiation. Work would need to continue and keep the pressure on them to feedback something more formal.
Councillor Kelly said in terms of progress the Task Force had made, at previous meetings there were 50 questions asked by Members and there had been no response for around 6 - 7 months. Every month there were questions added and it was concerning that the questions were removed off the agenda. During a normal Committee meeting questions would be asked by Members and they would be answered there and then with no delay.
The Corporate Director Place understood why Councillor Kelly was concerned, however it was difficult for Officers as the Scheme was run by Highways England and they have no ability to answer the questions without information from Highways England. Although the questions were asked to be put on the Work Programme for previous meetings there would have been very limited update unless Highways England were prepared to attend the meetings to feedback.
It was suggested and agreed by all Members and the Chair for the questions to be placed on the Work Programme for upcoming meetings and be included in the agenda. The Corporate Director Place explained the difficulties there had been as the questions had been transposed into the Mitigation Schedule.
Councillor Kelly agreed for this to be included on the work programme and the agenda for subsequent meetings, he requested that the questions also be added to any future agenda.
The Chair highlighted on page 66 of the previous minutes that no further information would be provided until the Statutory Consultation, since April 2017 the Task Force and Officers had extreme difficulties with answering questions for residents and move forward.
Councillor Kelly questioned the traffic modelling data available for the junction between the A13 and the A1089. He also asked that if Highways England were failing to respond would the Highways department at Thurrock Council be able to do their own research, as the Council should not have to rely on Highways England to answer the questions about our Borough.
The Corporate Director Place advised that Officers had met with the Department of Transport on a number of occasions. Officers were ready to respond to the questions and it was important that Officers were prepared to analyse the model when accepted. The Members shared their concerns and were right to ask what this would mean for the Borough as they had not received any response to clarify.
The Chair asked if the Department of Transport had a separate entity that were looking at this directly, or would the financing of any investigation need to come out of the transporting budget or would any more funding be provided at a later date. Corporate Director Place advised a whole team across the Council were aware, along with a team of consultants who were briefed.
Ms Mulley, Resident Representative pointed out that over the summer the “red line” had drastically changed, which needs to be addressed as residents were being affected. The Assistant Director of Lower Thames Crossing explained the Local Authority were only made aware of this recently and had increased by approximately 70% in the borough and again in recent weeks to include additional residents in the Heath Road area.
Ms Mulley, Resident Representative expressed how appalling it was that Highways England failed to inform residents and Officers, as there were a number of residents that were unhappy including the residents in the public gallery at the meeting. There would need to be an item on the agenda on how this is affecting the residents.
The Chair agreed that many residents in Thurrock do not want the Crossing to be built and it was also concerning that Highways England had made changes to the “red line” without consulting residents.
The Assistant Director of Lower Thames Crossing understood and said she shares the frustration, unfortunately they cannot reassure residents that the “red line” would not be changed again in the future, although they have asked for reassurance from Highways England but there had been no response.
Ms Mulley, Resident Representative asked if there was any legal advice that could be given to residents that were being affected as there were a number of residents who were struggling with this and one individual had admitted to thoughts of suicide. The Assistant Director of Lower Thames Crossing responded that the Council as a Local Authority were unable to give any legal advice but they were able to provide information for affected resident to explore and organisations they can speak to about what help and advice they can get.
Councillor Cherry asked if the residents who were made offers under the discretionary purchase scheme had been told to keep it private. The Assistant Director of Lower Thames Crossing advised she was unclear on the terms of any agreements Highways England make to acquire properties but it is likely that there would be some form of confidentiality agreement.