The Thames Estuary is an incredible place for wildlife and it has some of the rarest bugs and beasties in the UK as well as being one of the most important migration routes in the country for hundreds of thousands of birds. It is a highly developed area with some great examples of sustainable development such as DP World’s London Gateway port development. Sadly, there are also plenty of potential threats to the wildlife of this unique and special place. The Thames Estuary Airport and the Lower Thames Crossing are two high impact developments that we are currently looking at as part of our casework.
I have to admit though, that working within the planning system can sometimes feel a bit like you’re stuck in Groundhog Day.
This is the experience I have had recently with the proposed Lower Thames Crossing. It is a new crossing which would be east of the existing Dartford Crossing and the Government believes it is the only long-term solution to the well known congestion problems there. We believe that if it is considered properly it can provide a solution to the congestion, be economic and have minimal impact to wildlife. A win – win!
The crossing has been on the cards for at least the last 5 years and has been fully investigated with various options (there were originally 5 options A – E) slowly being ruled out. Options D & E were eliminated by the government because research indicated they would only make a minimal improvement to congestion at the existing crossing, they would be incredibly expensive and they would have a serious environmental impact. It made sense to everyone.
However, over the last month various MP’s have again raised the issue of options D & E and asked for David Cameron to reconsider them. In light of the overwhelming evidence, that these options would not provide an effective solution, would be hugely damaging to some of the most important habitats along the Thames and would be vastly more expensive than the other options, this seems bizarre. Groundhog Day rears it’s ugly head once more!
Both these options have been estimated to cost between £3.5 and £10.5 billion in stark contrast to option A which is only estimated at £1.25 to £1.57 billion and they would have a disastrous effect on important wildlife sites along the Thames, including the RSPB’s newly created wetland site Bowers Marsh. They would completely destroy some of the Thames greatest homes for nature.
These special places are some of the few remaining unspoilt natural habitats along the Thames and the mudflats and saltmarshes provide crucial food and resting areas for thousands of wintering geese, ducks and waders.
The RSPB is trying to work within the planning system to achieve sustainable development. In the context of the Lower Thames Crossing this means that if the government decides a crossing is necessary it should effectively tackle congestion problems and be built and designed in a way that causes least harm to the environment and contributes to the economy. Only by considering planning in this way will we achieve a sustainable future for ourselves and the wildlife that we depend on.
We need your help to remind MP’s that the Thames is a special place and it is important to wildlife and people. Together, we can fight to see that the Thames remains an incredible home for some of the world’s most amazing creatures. If you have a Twitter account we are asking you to mention @RSPBEssex and tweet your local MP telling them how you feel about development in the Thames.
Alex Cooper – RSPB Conservation Officer for Essex