Keep this fight going: the message is clear at Lower Thames Crossing walk

The walk drew campaigners from a range of groups (pic Woodland Trust/Thames Crossing Action Group)

“This is not a done deal – the Lower Thames Crossing is hanging by a thread.”
Becca from Transport Action Network had travelled from Hampshire to join a range of campaigners for last week’s Woodland Trust walk at Shorne Woods Country Park and Ashenbank Wood near Gravesend.
Both sites (they comprise part of the same SSSI) are threatened by the proposed crossing, and those present on a swelteringly hot day (Wednesday, July 13) gained a first-hand look at what could be in store should Highways England’s largest road scheme come to be built.
“This is the biggest carbon-emitting scheme in the whole roads programme – it would bust the country’s carbon-reduction target,” Becca told the group.
More specifically, the road would effectively destroy what was described as the last green space between Medway and London – itself a damning indictment of how over-developed north-west Kent has become.
It is, of course, always good to talk and Tim Bell, county council ranger at the country park, said the original plans for the crossing would have “pulverised” the site but five years of discussion had gone a long way towards saving much of it.
The worst-case scenario would still result in the loss of 30 metres of the park’s woodland from the boundary fence, but if placement of utilities could be tackled, that loss could be cut to six metres.
Of course, factors such as noise pollution, nitrogen deposition, micro-climate changes and impact on heritage can’t be ignored however much the road, should it be built, carves into the wood. (It was pointed out that HE was only evaluating noise pollution 300 metres into the site… as if it stops at 301 metres!).
With the A2 chopping a thunderous wall of noise and fumes between the country park and Ashenbank, it would be disingenuous to suggest such matters aren’t already evident, but it was perhaps surprising how much the noise faded once we were deeper inside the woods.
Happily, it made it easier to listen and learn about a place so rich in natural, historical and archaeological interest. We heard about dormice mitigation areas, the brown long-eared bats using an air-raid shelter as a winter roost, the Bronze Age barrow (a Scheduled Ancient Monument) at Ashenbank, the £1 million funding for tree surveys, the fact that any veteran trees existed here at all was near-miraculous given the demands of, for example, the war effort and the nearby cement industry… and very much more.
Sometimes the source of the threats came as a surprise – for example the diversion of National Cycle Route 177 through Ashenbank would necessitate the path on which we were walking being resurfaced and potentially widened – an intrusive and damaging process that the trust wanted assessed by Highways England itself… if only the agency’s officials would come and look for themselves.
We learnt that veteran trees don’t have legal protection (the trust is working on this) and that, even though the whole site is subject to a Tree Preservation Order, that won’t be enough to save them from a project such as the LTC.
Hot tip: you need to find a rare bug or insect on your veteran tree to increase its chances of protection.
The Lower Thames Crossing is a huge scheme – its costing of £8.2 billion eats up more than half Highways England’s capital enhancement budget of £14.7 billion – but its poor functional case and the environmental damage it would inflict on both Kent and Essex means the respective CPRE branches, together with so many other groups, oppose it.
The team at Shorne Woods Country Park have already won some handsome concessions in the planning process, but, as others pointed out on Wednesday, HE needs to keep the county council onside. Other organisations and campaigners might not find it so easy.
We’ll leave the final word to ranger Tim Bell: “Be assertive – you need detailed answers.” Or, in other words, don’t take no for an answer!