Highways England tell us what we already knew!

At Thurrock Council’s Lower Thames Crossing Task Force meeting on Monday 22nd January, Highways England made it clear that while they will ‘listen’ to the concerns of residents, the horizontal and vertical alignments of the road are ‘project led decisions’: Thurrock councillors and residents told they have “no influence” over Lower Thames Crossing route by Highways Englandhttp://www.thurrockgazette.co.uk/news/15904908.Thurrock_councillors_and_residents_told_they_have__no_influence__over_Lower_Thames_Crossing_route_by_Highways_England/ As you can read in the article, the ‘areas of influence’ are in the main cosmetic.

The Chair of the Lower Thames Crossing Task Force, Councillor Peter Smith, said: “I appreciate Highways England explaining to us quite candidly that we cannot influence these areas.” Let’s be blunt, any Thurrock councillors participating in this task force are merely going through the motions for the sake of appearances. In effect they’re doing the bidding of Highways England in conferring an illusion of legitimacy on the forthcoming ‘consultation’ process when the stark reality is that it is nothing more than an exercise in bullshit.

The Chair of the Thames Crossing Action Group, Matt Jackson, has a considerably more realistic take on the consultation: “The consultation Highways England plan to run during 2018 will be little short of a waste of money. What is the point consulting the general public when they; a) have no effect on the final design. b) their opinions are discredited due to local business wants and needs?”

Why are we not in the least bit surprised by all of this? Regardless of whether it’s the Lower Thames Crossing or the re-vamp of Basildon town centre, we’ve always made the point that these are exercises by the planners in attempting to fool the public while ramming through what they deem to be right. We have a top down planning system that is inherently skewed towards delivering what big business demands regardless of the detrimental impact on ordinary people.

Until people wake up to whose agenda is being served here, the power dynamics that enforce that agenda and join in making an effective challenge to a political, economic and social system in thrall to neo-liberalism, we’re going to have more of this bullshit. It really is time to wake up, smell the coffee and start to do something to mount a serious challenge to this…


Have Highways England won?

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 meetinghttp://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…

Are Thurrock Council really interested in your views?

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 outragehttp://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 modehttps://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…

Highways England adopting ‘shock doctrine’ 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” lettershttp://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…

Lower Thames Crossing decision – let battle commence!

The location and the routes to and from the Lower Thames Crossing have finally been revealed – this is how it was covered in the Thurrock Gazette: REVEALED: Lower Thames Crossing route from Thurrock to Kent is finally confirmed… and it has not gone down wellhttp://www.thurrockgazette.co.uk/news/15218274.REVEALED__New_Thames_Crossing_from_Essex_to_Kent_is_finally_confirmed____here_s_how_the_news_has_gone_down/

The local MPs and many councillors have already had their say about the decision. Rather than focus on the positioning and point scoring the politicians are engaging in, we’d prefer to outline our objections to the crossing and then start a discussion on the strategy and tactics needed to halt this development.

Reasons to object to the Lower Thames Crossing are numerous… One is the increased levels of air pollution more roads and traffic coming through Thurrock will bring. This story is a few years old but we suspect that the problem has only worsened since this was published: Data shows Thurrock is one of the UK’s pollution hotspotshttp://www.thurrockgazette.co.uk/news/10999854.Data_shows_Thurrock_is_one_of_the_UK_s_pollution_hotspots/ Presumably, the Tory government sees illness and deaths caused by air pollution as the necessary price to pay for economic ‘growth’ – in other words, so long as the bottom line is healthy, the rest of us are expendable.

Then there’s the noise… You can be right down on the marshes in Stanford-le-Hope and still be able to hear the noise of traffic from the A13. The crossing means more traffic and more noise – 24/7… If you live in East Tilbury and Linford, whatever route is chosen, you’ll be subjected to the noise. Anyone who’ll be moving into the new housing development that’s now going up alongside the railway station at East Tilbury, particularly if they’re at the western end of it, will find that the new approach road is too close for comfort.

More noise, pollution and people feeling they’re being boxed in by massive new roads with no escape is only going to add to stress levels. The simple things that people do to relax and get away from the pressures of modern life such as sitting in or pottering around in the garden, or taking a walk in the nearby countryside will be wrecked by constant traffic noise and poor air quality. There’s only so much people can take of feeling that they’re being hemmed in by new development and that their concerns and fears about the consequences of this are being dismissed before they start to get angry.

There’s research showing that increasing road capacity generates more traffic and the early benefits of new roads are lost as traffic volumes increase: New roads create new traffichttp://www.bettertransport.org.uk/roads-nowhere/induced-traffic Not only that, new roads attract development that generate considerable volumes of traffic. The two obvious examples of that are the Lakeside and Bluewater shopping malls which wouldn’t have been built if it hadn’t been for the M25. Bear in mind the the M25 was originally conceived as a way of diverting traffic around London but because of the large number of road junctions linking to the existing road network, it became a magnet for traffic generating development.

The Lower Thames Crossing proposals which are based on forecasts of increasing traffic levels assume that there will always be the oil available to fuel vehicles. As a considerable proportion of the oil consumed in the UK comes from increasingly volatile regions such as the Middle East, assuming an uninterrupted flow of oil is naïve. We’re old enough to remember the energy crisis of 1973 when the Yom Kippur and the subsequent OPEC embargo on oil exports led to chaos in the UK: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1973_oil_crisis It would appear that the lessons of that crisis have not been absorbed by a younger generation of politicians and planners.

We may or may not have reached ‘peak oil’: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak_oil – the debate is still ongoing on this one. The point is that oil is a finite resource and some day, it’s going to run out. The problem is that no government appears to have the foresight to plan for a world where oil production has peaked and where we have to do some radically new thinking on how to organise our towns, cities, agriculture, economy and society to deal with it. No, all we get is the same short term thinking that sees more and more traffic on the roads and simply builds more infrastructure to carry it rather than ask how traffic can be reduced and our society and economy put onto a more sustainable footing.

In the face of the decision, this is what the Thames Crossing Action Group had to say: Thames Crossing Action Group: “We will not give up”http://www.yourthurrock.com/2017/04/12/thames-crossing-action-group-will-not-give/ This group has put in a lot of graft in voicing their opposition. Another group that put in a considerable amount of time, effort and money to oppose the unwanted and unsustainable development of executive style homes at Dry Street to the south of Basildon is GAG2011 – https://www.facebook.com/gag2011/ Sadly their efforts were not successful and the development at Dry Street has commenced…

We’re not in any way casting aspersions on either the Thames Crossing Action Group or GAG2011. 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…