Government decision on Lower Thames Crossing pushed back

A decision on whether to move forward with the Lower Thames Crossing (LTC) road scheme has been pushed back until after the general election.

The planning decision is now scheduled for 4 October “to allow appropriate time” for a new transport secretary to consider the plan post-election, said Mark Harper, the current holder of the post.

Prime minister Rishi Sunak last week announced that the election would take place on 4 July. The previous planning-decision deadline of 20 June falls squarely in the pre-election campaigning period.

The scheme to link Kent and Essex by a tunnel beneath the River Thames has been beset by delays, with Harper halting the start of the £8bn project by two years in March 2023, in a bid to spread government infrastructure spending over a longer period amid inflationary pressures.

The official £8bn valuation of the LTC project is below its expected cost, with the Planning Inspectorate in 2020 estimating a £9bn price tag. It could now be even higher due to inflation, which reached more than 11 per cent in October 2022. Inflation has since fallen to 2.3 per cent, but the £8bn LTC valuation has yet to change.

The scheme is National Highways’ largest proposed project.

A joint venture of Bouygues Travaux Publics and Murphy snapped up the £1.34bn tunnelling contract for the LTC in December.

Balfour Beatty scooped a £1.2bn package to build roads north of the Thames in January 2023, while Skanska was named the preferred bidder on the £450m Kent roads section last July.

The LTC will be one of three major infrastructure schemes on the desk of the transport secretary for consideration after the election, alongside plans for a new terminal at London Luton Airport and a new ferry terminal at Immingham in Lincolnshire.

A campaign group that has long argued for the LTC to be scrapped welcomed the delay but reiterated that it wants the project to be dropped entirely.

Transport Action Network (TAN) director Chris Todd said a review of all road schemes was “long overdue” as finances were “tight”.

He added: “This extension will allow a new government time to consider its options.

“However, our firm belief is that it should seize the opportunity to scrap the Lower Thames Crossing once and for all.”

In 2021, TAN took the government to court over its five-year road-investment strategy, including the LTC, but a High Court judge threw out the case later that year.

National Highways declined to comment.

Construction News approached Bouygues and Murphy for further information.

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