One million trees target for Lower Thames Crossing
28 Jun 2022
A community woodland and two public parks among 400 hectares of ‘landscape scale’ woodland creation planned with Natural England
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Over one million extra trees are to be planted in Kent, Thurrock, Essex, Havering and Brentwood as part of plans to enhance the local environment when building the proposed Lower Thames Crossing.
The Dartford Crossing is one of the UK’s most vital roads – connecting key ports, distribution hubs and manufacturing centres – but it is also one of the most unreliable, as the huge volumes of traffic frequently lead to long delays, diversions and frustration. The new crossing would ease congestion at Dartford, improve journeys across the whole region, better connect the country's ports and drive economic growth.
The trees would be planted to help the project address its impact on the local environment. National Highways has worked with Natural England to develop plans for bigger, better, and more joined up habitats across the region that add up to over 400 hectares of woodland planting. Large ‘landscape scale’ proposals include public parks in Thurrock and Gravesham, a new community woodland in Brentwood, and other areas of woodland and other habitat creation spreading as far as Maidstone in Kent and Upminster in Havering.
"Natural England is supportive of National Highways’ landscape-scale approach to providing environmental mitigation and enhancement measures in both Kent and Essex"Patrick McKernan, Natural England: Manager, Sussex and Kent team
These new areas would be professionally managed to support the growth of high quality habitats, including new grassland, rides, hedgerows, ditches and ponds, to give local wildlife the best possible chance to thrive. These green corridors would connect existing habitats to the new areas of planting to enable wildlife to move and plant life to spread through the landscape more easily, helping them to adapt to future pressures such as climate change.
National Highways is working with local specialists to ensure the right trees will be planted in the right location to provide high quality habitats. Native broad leaf species will be sourced from local nurseries to match the natural environment of the region. Planting at the community woodland at Hole Farm in Brentwood is due to begin later this year, and other areas planted as early as possible once the Lower Thames Crossing is given permission to go ahead.
The project has already been able to reduce its potential impact on existing woodland and habitats by carefully designing its structures and finding new ways to divert essential utilities. Current assessments of the area of ancient woodland directly impacted by construction of the new road has been significantly reduced to around 12 hectares, two hectares of which would only be used for bat box installation and dormouse boxes, to help protect these species. Whilst it is irreplaceable, the project has designed a compensation strategy specific to ancient woodland loss which would provide more than six times as much woodland as that lost, as well as moving soil from affected areas to areas where woodland would be planted. Once the project’s main work contractors are appointed they will be incentivised to reduce the impact of building the new road even further.
Matt Palmer, Executive Director for the Lower Thames Crossing said: “The Lower Thames Crossing would tackle the daily frustration caused by the congestion at Dartford, improve journeys and bring exciting opportunities for new jobs and businesses across the region, but we are determined that this will not come at the expense of the environment. We have planned its route and how we build it to not only reduce its impact, but leave a legacy of bigger, better connected, and well managed habitats that would give local wildlife and plant life the chance to thrive long into the future.”
Patrick McKernan, Manager Sussex and Kent team, Natural England, said: “Natural England is supportive of National Highways’ landscape-scale approach to providing environmental mitigation and enhancement measures in both Kent and Essex. We continue to work with the project as it addresses the environmental challenges of the scheme to help ensure there is a strong outcome for the natural environment.”
"We have planned its (the Lower Thames Crossing) route and how we build it to not only reduce its impact, but leave a legacy of bigger, better connected, and well managed habitats that would give local wildlife and plant life the chance to thrive long into the future"Matt Palmer, Lower Thames Crossing Executive Director
Today’s announcement forms part of a wider commitment by National Highways to enhance the local environment surrounding the 4,300-mile network of motorways and major A-roads in England. Roadside verges are already home to huge amounts of wildlife and vegetation and the company is aiming to ensure no net loss of biodiversity up to 2025 as part of its activities.
National Highways is designing the Lower Thames Crossing to be the greenest road ever built in the UK. A tunnel rather than a bridge was chosen to avoid protected wetlands and marshes, seven green bridges would provide safer crossing points for people and wildlife, and viaducts are planned to protect a nearby flood plain. Over 60km of new or improved pathways would be made available for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. The project has also been designated a “pathfinder” project to explore carbon neutral construction and has recently become the first major infrastructure project to use its procurement process to reduce emissions.
National Highways recently sought feedback from the public and stakeholders on the project’s latest environmental proposals, in the local refinement consultation that closed on 20 June 2022. The plans are subject to change following the review of feedback, and once the project’s main works contracts are awarded the delivery partners will be incentivised to reduce the impact even further. An application for a Development Consent Order will be submitted later this year.