It has now been 122 days since Highways England pulled its Lower Thames Crossing plans, meaning Highways England has missed the target date for resubmission set by the project’s boss.

The planning application was withdrawn in November following feedback from The Planning Inspectorate that it was poised to reject the plans.

Lower Thames Crossing executive director Matt Palmer said that he expected the plans to be resubmitted within 90 to 120 days of the original application being withdrawn.

He added that he expected the development consent order (DCO) application to be resubmitted early in the New Year, adding that this is a “speed bump, not a complete stop”.

“It doesn’t feel like it will take a long time to turn around. If you look at other [DCO] applications that have been withdrawn they tend to be resubmitted in 90 to 120 days and I think we are looking at that sort of timeframe,” Palmer said.

“The application itself is 42,000 pages. We have taken all the lessons learnt from other, successful Highways England projects and applied those to the DCO.

“[The Planning Inspectorate] obviously wants more information so we have taken on board what they have said and we are confident we can provide that.

“The difficulty with a project of this scale and this significance is that there is no magic bar to jump over – it is about finding where that bar is and that’s what we’ve got to do now.”

The Lower Thames Crossing project will connect Essex with Kent to the east of London, helping to alleviate congestion on the Dartford Crossing.

The Planning Inspectorate’s concerns relate to construction plans and the predicted ecological and environmental impact of the scheme.

In a community update released last week, Highways England head of communications for its complex infrastructure programme Sarah Walker confirmed that the team is “busy” collecting the information required by the Planning Inspectorate.

She added: “The Planning Inspectorate has asked us to provide some more information on some technical elements of our application and we are busy bring this information together, but we also see this as a great opportunity to strengthen our application as we continue to work with key stakeholders to make the Lower Thames Crossing the best it can possibly be.”

A Highways England spokesperson added: “We are continuing to work with the Planning Inspectorate and are carrying out extensive engagement with our neighbouring local authorities to address their feedback, and take the opportunity to strengthen our application.

“We appreciate that there are millions of people every year who are frustrated by congestion on the Dartford Crossing, and who are looking forward to the opportunities that come with building a scheme on this scale, and we can reassure you that we will be resubmitting our revised, stronger application as soon as possible.”

Since pulling the application Highways England has awarded Jacobs a £162.5M integration partner contract for work on the Lower Thames Crossing.

Jacobs will act as a catalyst for collaboration between Highways England and the project’s three main works contracts.

Palmer previously announced the start of procurement on the design and build contract for the project’s tunnels at New Civil Engineer’s Future of Transport conference at the start of November.

The main works contractor will be responsible for boring the two 4.2km long tunnels beneath the River Thames; construction of portal buildings and approach roads; and fit out of the tunnel systems with systems including ventilation and lighting.

The tunnels will be the largest diameter tunnels in Europe and the third largest in the world with a diameter of 16m. They will also be the longest road tunnels in the UK.

Their size is determined by the need for each bore to cater for three lanes of traffic travelling at up to 70mph. The contract is expected to be awarded in 2022.

The tunnels and approaches contract is the first of the three main works contracts to be procured for the scheme, with the Roads North and the A2 M2 contracts expected to be announced early in 2021.

When speaking in November, Palmer added that the procurement timeline is likely to be pushed back a month or two because of the DCO setback but added that it “will have no impact on those bidding [for the contracts]”.

It is understood that the remaining contracts will be put out to tender within the next month or so.

Ground investigation work has been ongoing at the site since 2017. The third phase of ground investigation work finished this summer, led by the Perfect Circle JV comprising Pick Everard, Gleeds and Aecom.

In total, more than £100M has been spent on ground investigations due to the chalky conditions in that part of the Thames.

 

Source: New Civil Engineer

 

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