Highways England submitted its application to the Planning Inspectorate on 23rd October 2020, only to withdraw it again on 20th November.
Highways England initially failed to provide enough information with its application – it omitted responses to its statutory consultation and parts of the consultation report were redacted.
In response to Planning Inspectorate demands, it then submitted the full consultation responses and unredacted report. But this was still not good enough.
A Planning Inspectorate meeting note reveals: “On 13th November 2020, the Inspectorate contacted Highways England to establish that the Inspectorate would be progressing to issue a decision to not accept the application and identified the main issues that had arisen from the consideration of the application. Highways England were provided with an opportunity to signpost where in the submitted application documents information relevant to the main issues were set out. Highways England provided a document that contained signposting on 17 November 2020. The Inspectorate continued to progress to issue a decision to not accept the application informing Highways England of this on 18th November 2020.”
Highways England then decided to withdraw the application.
A spokesperson for Highways England told us: “At this stage in the process we are currently awaiting detailed formal guidance from the Planning Inspectorate and we will be working to understand and respond to that feedback as soon as we receive it.”
The Lower Thames Crossing, a £7-8bn project in all, comprises 14.3 miles of new road to the east of London, with twin 2.6 mile-long tunnels connecting Kent and Essex.
Earlier this month Highways England invited tenders for the £2.3bn main works package to build the road tunnels – its largest ever contract. [See our previous report here.] It was hoping that works on the project could start in mid-2022. It is not yet clear what impact this latest setback will have on that timetable.
As a ‘nationally significant infrastructure project’ it requires development consent order (DCO) from the secretary of state, who takes his advice from the Planning Inspectorate. The secretary of state is free to override any recommendations from the Planning Inspectorate, however, as present incumbent Grant Shapps did earlier this month in granting a DCO to Highways England’s £1.7bn A303 Amesbury to Berwick Down (Stonehenge) scheme, against the recommendation of the Planning Inspectorate.