On Monday 20th November, members of the Lower Thames Crossing Task Force (made up of Thurrock councillors), the Thames Crossing Action Group and representatives of Highways England met to discuss developments regarding the route the crossing will take through Thurrock. See here for the full story on the Thurrock Gazette: Further details on Lower Thames Crossing route unveiled in meeting – http://www.thurrockgazette.co.uk/news/15673129.Further_details_on_Lower_Thames_Crossing_route_unveiled_in_meeting/
Just take a few moments to absorb this – the Thames Crossing Action Group, initially set up to oppose any route for the crossing, have been sitting in a meeting alongside representatives from Highways England discussing the finer details of the route. There’s no longer a debate about the need for the crossing in the context of moving towards a more sustainable future where we don’t have to rely on a mode of transport fuelled by a finite resource. There’s not even a discussion about whether improvements to the existing road infrastructure that would relieve congestion at the Dartford River Crossing could render the construction of a new crossing unnecessary. In short, there’s no meaningful opposition to the Lower Thames Crossing. Highways England have won because they are dictating the agenda.
That’s the way it’s always been when it comes to major transport infrastructure projects. The system is rigged so that any discussion about a proposal is around ‘alternative’ routes or when just one option is presented, making tweaks to it. The political and economic system we have and the planning system that underpins it will not allow any fundamental discussion about the future direction of society and the transport infrastructure that will support it. Those decisions have always been taken behind closed doors and until people wake up to the reality of whose interests the system really supports, they will continue to be taken behind closed doors.
As we’ve written before, most local amenity groups take the conventional route when it comes to opposing housing developments or major road / transport infrastructure projects. These groups have the best of intentions but sadly, they don’t understand that the system is rigged and at the very best, they may be permitted to suggest a few tweaks to a scheme but that will be it. The Green Action Group did their level best working within a rigged system to stop the a development of executive style homes (that will do jack shit to ease the housing waiting list in Basildon) on meadow land at Dry Street – the meadows have gone and the houses are going up. It’s the same with Thames Crossing Action Group – they’ve put in a phenomenal amount of work to state the case against the crossing but because they were working within a flawed, rigged system, they’ve been reduced to sitting in the same room as Highways England to discuss tweaks to the route.
Above are two examples of what happens when there’s no militant opposition and amenity groups opt to work within the system. In both cases, our environment and along with it, our health and peace of mind have been the losers. We would like to suggest that a change of strategy and tactics is needed as an urgent priority before any more damage is inflicted…
More details of the plans for the Lower Thames Crossing have been released by Highways England: Thames crossing plan details revealed – http://www.echo-news.co.uk/news/15635823.Thames_crossing_plan_details_revealed/ During the latter part of 2015 and into early 2016, in the initial phase of consultation, we saw a fair few maps showing different options for the Lower Thames Crossing and variants within those options. This is the first time we’ve seen a map showing a spur road going off towards Tilbury from what is an equally unexpected junction to the west of East Tilbury. Presumably, this little surprise is tied in with this development: Plans for a new £1bn terminal at Port of Tilbury lodged with Planning Inspectorate – http://www.yourthurrock.com/2017/11/01/plans-new-1bn-terminal-port-tilbury-lodged-planning-inspectorate/
This is quite a significant addition that has been sprung onto the people of Thurrock seemingly without any warning. Although with the proposals to expand the Port of Tilbury, to be honest, it’s not really that much of a surprise. However, what does rankle is that Highways England blithely present this as a fait accompli knowing that they’ll get away with it. We know that Thurrock Council are formally opposed to the Lower Thames Crossing but with the way the planning system works in relation to projects deemed to be of national strategic importance, that opposition is nothing more than a gesture.
Thurrock Council have set up the Lower Thames Crossing Task Force which basically is a channel of communication between Highways England, the council and ultimately, any residents directly affected by the proposals: Crossing changes to affect 200 landowners – http://www.thurrockindependent.com/2017/11/02/crossing-changes-to-affect-200-landowners/ So while Thurrock Council have expressed their formal opposition to the Lower Thames Crossing, they are obliged to liaise with Highways England and are pathetically grateful to them for any information they release.
If a project is deemed by the government to be of national strategic importance, then any local authorities affected by it, let alone us mere mortals who will be adversely impacted by it have no real say in the matter apart from participating in ‘consultation’ exercises put on by Highways England. ‘Consultations’ that are an exercise in looking at a range of options and essentially picking the least worst one. Forget about any serious questioning of the need for the crossing, discussions about sustainable, future proof transport options and the like – discussions like this are not on the agenda. Which is pretty much what we expect from an economic and political system that’s incapable of taking a long term view, aided and abetted by a planning system designed to meet the needs of big business regardless of the environmental consequences.
There was an outpouring of opposition to the Lower Thames Crossing proposals towards the end of 2015 and into the early part of 2016 when the initial consultations took place. The problem was that many of the opponents took the view that they could win by working within the system and arguing their case. Well, that didn’t work with the development by Redrow Homes of an estate of executive homes up at Dry Street whose construction is now well under way. It sure as hell won’t work against an unaccountable agency such as Highways England. Purely as a point of information, we’ll leave you with this: Earth First! – https://earthfirst.org.uk/actionreports/
At this week’s meeting of Thurrock Council, the proposals for the Lower Thames Crossing were up for discussion for the first time since Highways England announced they would opt for Route C, running just west of Orsett, skirting round Chadwell St Mary to cross the river between Tilbury and East Tilbury. Feelings were running high at the meeting as campaigners against the crossing in the public gallery were prevented from asking questions and speaking: Thurrock Council meeting suspended after Lower Thames Crossing campaigners express their outrage – http://www.thurrockgazette.co.uk/news/15436135.VIDEO__Council_meeting_suspended_after_Thames_Crossing_campaigners_express_their_outrage_before_being_escorted_out/
The Tory leader of the council, Cllr. Rob Gledhill, presented a report setting out the authority’s next moves and creating a Lower Thames Crossing task force to lead their response. The council claim they want to listen to the views of residents on the crossing, however when George Abbott, the leader of the Thames Crossing Action Group requested to speak to the meeting, he was denied permission. The action group has over 9000 members on its Facebook page so it should have been considered influential enough to be allowed a voice at the meeting. The council didn’t see it that way and for reasons beyond us mere mortals, saw fit to deny George Abbott and other members of the action group a voice.
As you can see from the video clip in the Gazette piece, George Abbott was understandably not best pleased at being denied the right to speak to the meeting. Let’s just take a step back here and look at what Thurrock Council did… Despite claiming they want to listen to the views of residents about the crossing, they denied the leader of the action group the right to address the council. When George Abbott questioned that, the council meeting was suspended and security were called in to escort supporters of the action group out of the meeting.
To our eyes, this is the council wanting to control the narrative right down to the last full stop and comma and silence anyone asking difficult questions. This episode is not the first instance of Thurrock Council’s tendency to be control freaks. This is what we had to say a few weeks back about a proposal by the council to decide which news outlets could or couldn’t report on their proceedings: Thurrock Council in control freak mode – https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/07/03/thurrock-council-in-control-freak-mode/
We can’t help coming to the conclusion that Thurrock Council’s objections to the river crossing are mere window dressing and that they’re coming under pressure from central government and the Tory MP for Thurrock, Jackie Doyle-Price, to not rock the boat. After the fiasco at these week’s council meeting our advice to the anti-crossing campaigners would be to not trust Thurrock Council as far as they could throw them…
Back in February 2016, we attended a packed and very lively meeting at the Tilbury Cruise Terminal to discuss the options on the table for the Lower Thames Crossing. Campaigners against the crossing such as George Abbott were there in force. Highways England were there to attempt to sway what was a largely hostile audience – they failed miserably! Also present were councillors and MPs from across the political spectrum. In the fractious world of Thurrock politics, it seemed that for one brief moment, divisions had been forgotten and we were all united against the crossing. The one thing we took from that meeting was the desire of the campaigners against the crossing to keep party politics out of it.
Fast forward to the present and we have this: Thurrock UKIP claim to be only party to “reject Thames Crossing proposals” – http://www.yourthurrock.com/2017/05/20/thurrock-ukip-claim-party-reject-thames-crossing-proposals/ Yup, Tim Aker has attempted to hi-jack a non-party political campaign in a cynical bid to boost his election campaign in the Thurrock constituency. Aker is up against John Kent, the former Labour leader of Thurrock Council who’s also on record as being opposed to the crossing and the sitting Tory MP, Jackie Doyle-Price who was in favour of Option C, Route 4 that mainly went through the neighbouring South Basildon and East Thurrock constituency.
Supporters of Labour have waded into the debate refuting Aker’s claims to be the only party against the Lower Thames Crossing: Letter to Editor: UKIP wrong over Lower Thames Crossing – http://www.yourthurrock.com/2017/05/21/letter-editor-ukip-wrong-lower-thames-crossing/ Fair enough, Labour have a right to counter the crap that Aker is coming out with but there are issues with this… Namely that responding in this way has turned the campaign against the Lower Thames Crossing into a party political football in what is a bitter election battle in the Thurrock constituency.
As much as we have occasionally questioned George Abbott’s strategy and tactics in the past, our sympathies go out to him and the other campaigners on the ground who want the crossing stopped and don’t want the fight against it sullied by petty political point scoring in an election clash. Dragging this campaign into the squalid realm of party politics and the squabbling and bickering that goes with it is going to damage it. That seems to matter little to the politicians who seek to exploit the issue to gain an advantage for their respective parties, regardless of the consequences. This is why we as anarchists want nothing to do with party politics and the system as it stands and why we prefer to work with grassroots campaigners whose concern is the issue they’re dealing with and not seeking political advantage…
The Tory MP for Thurrock, Jackie Doyle-Price, has held urgent talks with PM Theresa May regarding the decision by Highways England to go for Option C (Route 3) for the Lower Thames Crossing: Thurrock MP Jackie Doyle-Price in urgent talks with Prime Minister over Lower Thames Crossing proposals – http://www.thurrockgazette.co.uk/news/15257677.Thurrock_MP_in_urgent_talks_with_Prime_Minister_over_Lower_Thames_Crossing_proposals/ Those of you who have been following the saga of the Lower Thames Crossing will be aware that Doyle-Price has long been an advocate for Route 4 which was to run between Orsett and Stanford-le-Hope and eventually join up with the A127. She saw this route as having the least impact on her constituents because it predominately went through the neighbouring South Basildon & East Thurrock constituency. Don’t you just love politicians when they play their little games of divide and rule?
Doyle-Price has long criticised opponents of Option C, basically saying we had no option but to accept it. However, as soon as Highways England announced their preference for Option C (Route 3), she expressed her objections to it, fearing for her slim majority. Well, not long after the decision, May goes and calls a general election sending Doyle-Price into a panic. At the 2015 election, it was pretty much a three horse race. Our gut instinct is that a fair view of the votes that may be leaving Labour will go to UKIP and as much as we detest Tim Aker and think he’s a total plonker, there’s a fair chance that as he opposes Option C outright, he could oust Doyle-Price from her seat.
Doyle-Price holding urgent talks with May is a deeply cynical move – no surprise really, she’s an MP desperate to hang onto her seat and the influence and perks that go with it. While the furore over the Lower Thames Crossing will make the election battle in Thurrock even more of a spectacle for those who like their politics dirty, we would like to add a few words of caution… Basically, don’t rely on the outcome of the election in Thurrock to make any difference to the intentions of Highways England. While a fair number of voters will see it as a chance to give Doyle-Price a well deserved kicking, that’s all it will be. As anarchists, we don’t believe that elections will make a significant difference in a system that’s rigged…
We want to conclude with this excerpt from a post we wrote back in April when the decision was made: Lower Thames Crossing decision – let battle commence! – https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/04/13/lower-thames-crossing-decision-let-battle-commence/ However, this question has to be asked – has it come to the point where direct action aimed at physically stopping the road and crossing from being built has to be considered? That could well be something along the lines of the infamous protest against the Newbury bypass in the 1990s: Twenty years after the protests, what is the legacy of the Newbury bypass? – http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jan/24/newbury-protest-camp-bypass-legacy with the obvious caveats that lessons from their experience need to be taken on board. For obvious security reasons, we don’t want to publicly comment on what could happen in terms of direct action as we don’t fancy being branded as ‘domestic terrorists’! Suffice to say, there ‘s a lot to discuss in terms of strategy and tactics…
Highways England aren’t wasting any time in pushing through their Option C (Route 3) plans for the Lower Thames Crossing. Less than 24 hours after the announcement was made about the route on April 13th, residents in areas to be impacted by the approach roads to the crossing have received letters from Highways England leaving them in little doubt that their homes are under threat: New Thames Crossing: Thurrock residents receive “Compulsory Purchase Order” letters – http://www.yourthurrock.com/2017/04/15/new-thames-crossing-thurrock-residents-receive-compulsory-purchase-order-letters/
It seems that Highways England want to overwhelm residents with the bad news from the outset, leaving them in no doubt that they’ll have no option but to move, undermining their morale and any chance of them putting up serious opposition to their plans. This is why we’ve used the phrase ‘shock doctrine’ tactics in the title of this post because that’s exactly what it is – a deliberate strategy to demoralise residents affected by their proposals and snuff out any embers of resistance before they flare up into something Highways England will struggle to deal with.
As we mentioned in our initial response to the announcement from Highways England: Lower Thames Crossing decision – let battle commence! – https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/04/13/lower-thames-crossing-decision-let-battle-commence/ attempts by green groups in the area using lobbying tactics and legal action to halt unwanted developments have failed. The question that has to be raised is this – are residents directly threatened with the loss of their homes to make way for the Lower Thames Crossing going to politely continue with the tactic of lobbying and attempting to negotiate with Highways England or will some of them adopt more militant methods to stop it?
As we stated in our previous post, we respect the sincerity and passion of groups such as the Thames Crossing Action Group and GAG2011 in opposing unwanted and unsustainable developments. However, we have to question what seems to be their continuing faith in lobbying and legal action to stop an organisation as ruthless as Highways England from literally steamrolling their proposals through regardless of the human and environmental cost.
Has the time come for the kind of strategy and tactics that will lob a spanner into the works with physical obstruction of the preparation and construction process for the Lower Thames Crossing? It’s not for us to dictate to residents facing the loss of their homes what methods they should adopt to resist the threat from Highways England. All we want to do is suggest that other strategies and tactics could be brought into play…
On Tuesday 14th March, the leader of Thurrock Council, Cllr. Rob Gledhill, spoke of the need for the council to be a part of the discussions concerning the proposed Paramount Theme Park to be sited on the other side of the Thames on the Swanscombe Peninsula: Thurrock Council boss believes meeting with theme park bosses is paramount – http://www.yourthurrock.com/2017/03/16/thurrock-council-boss-believes-meeting-theme-park-bosses-paramount/
Gledhill talks about the potential ‘opportunities’ the theme park could bring to Thurrock and alludes to the need for this to be considered in the Grays Masterplan. This all sounds very positive and forward thinking…but it’s not… The Paramount Theme Park is being dropped into an area that already suffers from chronic traffic congestion and alarmingly high levels of air pollution. A situation that’s only going to be exacerbated by plonking a massive traffic generating development on one of the few areas of open marshland left in the area: Please support battle to save Swanscombe Marshes from ghastly ‘theme park’ – http://www.bexleywildlife.org/please-support-battle-to-save-swanscombe-marshes-from-ghastly-theme-park/
With a decision on the route of the Lower Thames Crossing still pending, the distinct possibility of the Paramount Theme Park being built will inevitably influence the outcome. It seems that every time a major road is built to alleviate traffic congestion, developments that generate considerable volumes of traffic are attracted to the area, nullifying any benefits the new roads might have brought and making the problems of congestion, air pollution and noise pollution even worse. We’ve seen it with both Lakeside and Bluewater and it looks like we’re going to see it with the Paramount Theme Park unless planners and politicians come to their senses.
To put it bluntly, this development is not sustainable or future proof. There’s a naïve assumption that the model of continuing economic growth that our politicians follow will proceed without any shocks. The fact that this model of economic growth is based on the consumption of finite fossil fuels doesn’t seem to register with planners or politicians in any way, shape or form. We’re no experts but on a planet with finite resources, it’s a no-brainer to see that at some point we’ll hit peak oil which will cause major disruption to an economy based on the continuing consumption of the black stuff. Would it not be a good idea to start to subject any major development proposals to rigorous scrutiny to see if they are sustainable and future proofed for a world when fossil fuels might not be as easily available as they are now?
The problem is that would require joined up thinking and spelling out some unpopular home truths – something that our politicians and planners seem to be incapable of doing…
Highways England are writing to residents in the parts of Thurrock likely to be affected by the proposed Lower Thames Crossing in what appears to be the next stage of the ‘consultation’ that will fix the final route. Highways England have done this without informing Thurrock Council and residents are getting these letters completely out of the blue. We can only imagine how alarmed anyone getting one of these letters landing on their doormat is going to feel. See here for the full story: New Thames Crossing: Outrage as Highways England write to Thurrock residents over survey work – http://www.yourthurrock.com/2017/02/24/new-thames-crossing-outrage-highways-england-write-thurrock-residents-survey-work/
Given the level of anger about the Lower Thames Crossing that was expressed during the ‘consultation’ process that took place this time last year, you would have thought that Highways England would have learnt some lessons about open and honest communication involving everyone affected by their proposals. That includes letting Thurrock Council know you’re initiating what appears to be another level of consultation on a road and crossing scheme that will have a major impact on anyone living near the route. Now it’s very rarely that we’ll express any sympathy for Thurrock Council but in this instance, we can understand why they’re angered by Highways England effectively going behind their backs.
The issue of the Lower Thames Crossing and the way Highways England have handled the ‘consultation’ so far is about the only one we can think of that has united people in Thurrock right across the political spectrum from us as anarchist inclined community activists all the way round to UKIP. Given the fractious and sometimes bitter nature of local politics, that is some achievement for Highways England! Well, if this latest high handed, arrogant action from them is anything to go by, it looks as though we’re in for another bout of holding their feet over the fire…
On March 6th, the Port of Tilbury will start a pre-planning community consultation into its plans to expand the port using land adjacent to the defunct power station: Port of Tilbury seek views on expansion – http://www.yourthurrock.com/2017/02/23/port-tilbury-seek-views-expansion/ As you can see from our treatment of the heading to this post, from our experience of the ‘consultation’ into the Lower Thames Crossing that was taking place this time last year, to say we’re cynical about the process is an understatement…
However, the consultation will be going ahead regardless so we would advise everyone to temporarily set aside their cynicism and take part, even if it is just for the experience of having your views about the process confirmed! Looking at the image above, the first question that springs to mind is how the heck will all of the goods and materials coming through the port be transported? Presumably as a bulk materials handling facility appears to be part of the expansion plans, a railhead will be part of the plans. However, it’s inevitable that a considerable chunk of what comes through the port will be transported by road.
As this site is to the east of Tilbury, a new road seems to be pretty much inevitable. That means more noise and air pollution, not to mention the loss of some wildlife habitat. So, if you’re taking part in the consultation, we would strongly advise asking some searching questions about transport links and what plans will be in place to reduce the impact of the extra noise and pollution that the new road links will bring.
This proposal needs to be put into the context of the high levels of air pollution that are affecting large areas of Thurrock: Stanford-le-Hope named as one of ten worst in UK in latest WHO pollution stats – http://www.echo-news.co.uk/news/14489019.Stanford_le_Hope_named_as_one_of_ten_worst_in_UK_in_latest_WHO_pollution_stats/ Are the economic ‘benefits’ supposedly promised by the proposed port expansion worth the price of worsening health for the residents of Thurrock living near to any of the major roads in the area?
Getting away from what can be the mind numbing details of a planning proposal, a more fundamental debate about priorities is needed. Are people really willing to pay the price of more traffic noise, more air pollution and the stress of living with these as well as habitat destruction on the marshes for the supposed economic ‘benefits’ of what will be a largely automated port sucking in imports? Let the debate begin…