Lower Thames Crossing planning permission failures revealed

30/11/2020
Dominic Browne

The Planning Inspectorate has released a list of reasons why it was set to turn down Highways England's planning application for the Lower Thames Crossing.

A number of authorities have lined up to say they were not given enough information to make an informed decision, including the inspectorate itself, local councils and regulatory bodies such as the Environment Agency.

The extensive list of issues covers core areas including traffic modelling and environmental issues.

Highways England has said it will address concerns and resubmit the application; however it criticised the Planning Inspectorate for focusing on form rather than substance.

A response from Highways England's solicitors said the government-owned company was 'concerned that the emphasis of the Inspectorate’s deliberations appears to be directed towards the form of the information provided, rather than the substance of assessments, controls and other information contained in the application'.

'Our view is that the latter is the correct procedural approach, and that in this context the Inspectorate’s queries are substantively and adequately addressed within the application, as the signposting responses below demonstrate.'

The following is a list of key points the Planning Inspectorate made under each issue regarding the planning application.

Environmental effects arising from changes to levels of traffic and mitigation

'Highway diversions, realignments and closures are listed in the DCO [Development Consent Order] for several local roads during the construction period, but the effects arising from those during the various phases of the construction period are not quantified or considered in detail.

'Construction traffic management proposals and other mitigation measures...relevant to construction traffic are largely generic and lacking in detail.

'The extent to which advice from local authorities, residents and businesses on construction traffic and related matters has been obtained or incorporated is not clear. It is not apparent whether the mitigation measures would, or could, be consistent with the traffic modelling, with the transport assessment or with the assessments of likely environmental effects in the Environmental Statement (ES).

'The adequacy of the assessments of likely environmental effects arising from changes in traffic level during the construction period does not appear to have been demonstrated.

Navigation

'The application is not clear as to whether there would be an increase in barge / other river vessel movements as a result of the construction of the Proposed Development and the extent to which this might impact on the navigation of the River Thames.'

Site Waste Management Plan

'There are elements of a generic site waste hierarchy within the documentation but limited information as to the actual implications of the waste handling implications on a 23km long site with twin bore tunnels under the Thames.

'The ES considers a "road only" outlier position but this is not a substitute for an actual handling strategy which would need to consider multi-modal approach (see TfL considerations) and this all deferred for later consideration which means that mitigations have not been fully assessed.'

Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA)

'A number of the assessments provided lack supporting evidence, in particular the assessments of recreational pressure, disturbance from noise and light, groundwater changes, surface water changes, air quality effects from construction traffic emissions (this assessment is omitted entirely), effects of invasive non-native species (this assessment is omitted entirely), and air quality effects from vessel emissions.' 

Adequacy of Consultation Responses

'Concern is noted, given the scale and extent of the proposals, about the likely amount of work required to address the shortfalls identified in the application and undertake the necessary consultations.' 

The Planning Inspectorate highlighted the 'sufficiency of the information given and the desirability of providing feedback on the outcomes of consultations undertaken on the scheme as successively modified'.

Sufficiency of Information

'The adequacy of consultation representations (AoCR) received raised issues relating to the sufficiency of the information provided and the consequent ability of consultees to be able to develop an informed view of the project and to understand its impacts.'

Feedback on consultation

Gravesham Council, Havering LB and Thurrock Council stated that 'there was a lack of adequate information within Highways England’s Statutory Consultation and [they] were not able to form reasonable conclusions of the likely effects of the scheme'. 

Kent CC stated that 'in some areas, in particular within the Supplementary Consultation, there was a lack of information and detail which prevented respondents being able to make meaningful detailed comments, particularly with regard to the anticipated environmental impacts and traffic modelling'.

Natural England also stated there was not enough information on the nature, scale and significance 'of the impacts to designated sites, protected landscapes, protected species and wider biodiversity at present'.

'Similarly, we do not feel there is sufficient information for us to be able to provide in depth advice on the appropriateness or otherwise of the indicative mitigation and compensation measures.'

The Environment Agency stated: 'Based on the information provided the PEIR [The Preliminary Environmental Information Report] does not provide all the information that we expected. If an application for development was made using it, we would object to the application due to insufficient information.'

Landscape and Ecology Management Plan

'Given the scale of the project and associated landscape and ecological works (including new tree/woodland planting, translocation of ancient woodland soils, green bridges, hedgerows and new and enhanced areas of grassland) and the importance for these to function effectively over the long term, the absence of an outline LEMP [Landscape and Ecology Management Plan] as part of the application to demonstrate how this would be achieved is a concern.'

Consultees identified on a precautionary basis

'Further explanation would be helpful to justify if the following were consulted and in what capacity: Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis; Southfleet Parish Council; Onsett Hospital Minor Injuries Unit; Port of Gravesend; Harlaxton Gas Networks Limited; Murphy Gas Networks Limited; Eclipse Power Network Limited; Energy Assets Networks Limited; Fulcrum Electricity Assets Limited; Murphy Power Distribution Limited; Vattenfall Networks Limited.'

There was also a list of minor errors and omissions.

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