Havering Council has hit back at Highways England after a U-turn on their decision to give Havering residents a discount on the toll charge for the future Lower Thames crossing.
The council is also urging Highways England to revisit a consultation held earlier this year after Havering residents were left silenced following the early closure of the consultation, due to COVID-19.
In an open letter to the Secretary of State for Transport, the leader of Havering Council, Councillor Damian White, has called for the local Havering discount to be reinstated and for Highways England to re-open the consultation (beyond the design refinement consultation Highways England are currently consulting on) to give local residents a proper chance to have their say on the plans. Failure to do this will result in the council pulling its support for the project.
Highways England had previously promised the council that Havering residents would qualify for a reduction on the toll charge for the new crossing in the same way as residents in Thurrock and Gravesham.
Highways England has now reversed this commitment without any explanation for the U-turn.
Councillor Damian White, said: “We won’t stand back and let Highways England short change Havering residents without any justifiable reason. The council considers this U-turn unreasonable, illogical and unfair. In our view, there is no difference between the other councils and Havering as each of them will host the crossing and be affected by it in similar ways.
“The crossing will have a significant impact on Havering and its residents. It will result in noise and disturbance, make our roads even busier and undermine our efforts to improve air quality in the borough.
“Ensuring that our residents can enjoy discounted toll charges won’t offset this but it will go some way to showing the impact on Havering’s residents and businesses have been considered, that we are being treated fairly alongside other local authorities, and that the wellbeing of our local communities has been, and will be, considered.”
The open letter also draws attention to the short consultation process, which due to the coronavirus pandemic has left many residents without a voice.
Cllr White, continued: “The way in which Highways England has carried out recent public consultations on this scheme is well short of our expectations given the importance of this project.
“Our view is that Highways England has been more concerned about closing the consultations than listening to what people wanted to say. We simply cannot understand why people haven’t been given longer to look at the plans and to give their feedback, particularly during an unprecedented period where people have been locked down at home and social distancing.
“During the pandemic, the focus of our residents and local businesses has rightly turned towards home, family and their livelihoods. This means that any type of consultation, while a priority for them in normal times, has understandably taken a back seat during this time of national crisis.
“Like many councils we also closed our public buildings as soon as the lockdown started to ensure that the spread of the virus was reduced. Many of our residents don’t have access to the internet or prefer to look at real documents.”
“Highways England must re-open their consultation held earlier this year to provide our residents and communities with a fair and effective consultation and an opportunity to be heard, particularly those who are likely to be most severely impacted by the scheme such as the elderly, schools and businesses.
“We have previously been strong supporters of this project because we understand the importance of resilient infrastructure. This is even more the case as we all work hard to overcome the challenges we face coming out of lockdown and the importance of restoring the economy to good health. Ensuring that our residents benefit from discounted toll charges will enable Havering to play its part in that.”
A Highways England spokesperson said: “We remain keen to work closely with Havering Council on any areas of concern.
“Our proposal is that the level of the charge and the charging regime would replicate the approach taken on the Dartford Crossing.
“Our design refinement consultation remains open until 12 August and we would encourage people to send us their feedback so their views can be fully considered before any final decisions are made.”
Residents can back the council’s campaign to fight for a local Havering discount at: https://consultation.havering.gov.uk/communications/lowerthamescrossing/
The charging powers for the scheme remain with the Secretary of State for Transport.