UK has failed to adequately plan river crossings

17 March 2015

In its report on strategic river crossings the Transport Committee warn that the UK has failed to adequately plan river crossings for the long term.

The Transport Committee says a short-term approach to planning key infrastructure projects has left many estuary areas in the UK with inadequate transport capacity and poor connectivity. A ‘design life’ for new crossings that has been too short to accommodate future traffic growth has also led to costly duplication decades after existing crossings have exceeded their capacity, say MPs.

The Committee examined a number of case studies during its inquiry including the Mersey Gateway Project, the Tyne Tunnels and proposals for new crossings in East London and the Lower Thames. Launching the report Louise Ellman MP, Chair of the Transport committee said:

"A lack of cross-river capacity limits local and national economic growth so we call upon the Government to take a far more long-term approach when planning new bridges and tunnels. We also heard during this inquiry how current cost-benefit analysis methods used in project design consistently underestimate the usage of new crossings. The Government must rectify that weakness as soon as possible

Important infrastructure projects, such as the Mersey Gateway Bridge, have the potential to generate economic growth by linking workers to jobs and consumers to retailers. We have recommended ways for the Government and transport planners to maximise those benefits to local communities"

East London and the Lower Thames

The Committee welcomes proposals to build a package of new river crossings in east London and believes these developments are "long overdue".

With London predicted to grow into a city of ten million people by 2031, MPs argue that east London has the potential to absorb a large proportion of that population growth but won’t do so unless new crossings are built. Warning that there has not been sufficient leadership to see plans through to construction, the Committee calls on the Government to work with the GLA to establish a special purpose company with a high-profile chief executive to deliver the crossings.

Commenting on the proposals for new river crossings in east London, Louise Ellman MP added:

"Time and time again a clear need for new river crossings has been identified in east London, but a lack of political leadership has seen plans shelved repeatedly. Without new crossings congestion will continue to get worse and the area will never realise its full potential. To solve that problem, the Government and GLA must work together as a matter of priority to establish a special purpose company with the sole objective to deliver a package of crossings east of Tower Bridge."

The Dartford crossing 

The Committee also calls on the Government to make meaningful progress on building a new river crossing in the Lower Thames to alleviate pressure on the Dartford Crossing and to improve connectivity between Dover Docks and the north of England.

Commenting on Dartford Louise Ellman MP added:

"The Dartford Crossing is the least reliable section of the Strategic Road Network. The DfT’s own figures show that the congestion delays at this pinch point cost the economy £15 million every year. Yet ministers have done little over the past five years to build the kind of consensus between local authorities that is required in order to reconcile national transport objectives and respect local concerns. Worse, they have now said no final decision will be taken until as late as 2016."

The Committee also calls on DfT to:

  • Publish research that demonstrates the link between enhanced cross-river connectivity and urban regeneration, for the benefit of infrastructure planners.
  • Investigate what lessons can be learned from the introduction of the Dart Charge, following reports that 15% of users failed to pay during the first month after implementation.
  • Investigate how to make free-flow technology, such as that used on the Dartford Crossing, interoperable with other river crossings and road charging schemes.
  • Publish risk assessments before authorising projects for the UK Guarantees Scheme which make clear the risks to be borne by the taxpayer and the mitigations that Government expects private sector partners to take.

In addition, the Committee calls on the Treasury to update the Infrastructure Pipeline system to show the funding status of each project so that the private sector can better identify investment opportunities.

Further information

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