An action group campaigning against the proposed Lower Thames Crossing (LTC) has accused the project of being a smart motorway “by stealth” - despite all new such schemes being paused since 2022. 

Thames Crossing Action Group (TCAG) has written to the government to raise its concerns about the £10billion project connecting the M2/A2, A13 and M25 via a new road. If approved, Upminster is to be among the areas affected.  

It is intended to alleviate traffic pressures around the Dartford Tunnel, though concerns about its environmental impact and its likely effect on traffic have been aired. 

The project is currently sat with the Planning Inspectorate, after the government agreed to examine National Highways’ proposals in more detail late last year

As part of its application, National Highways submitted reams of documents supporting the proposal. 

In one of these, named Outline Materials Handling Plan, it states how the proposed crossing “…would operate with no hard shoulder but would feature a 1m hard strip on either side of the carriageway. It would also feature technology including stopped vehicle and incident detection, lane control, variable speed limits and electronic signage and signalling.” 

TCAG, in a letter to transport secretary, Mark Harper, and roads minister, Richard Holden, claimed this proves the LTC would be a smart motorway “by stealth”, and that the project should be paused. 

In January 2022, the government announced it was halting the rollout of all new smart motorway schemes until five years’ worth of safety data becomes available, in line with the transport committee’s recommendations. 

According to the RAC, smart motorways can include variable speed limits and also can see the hard shoulder used as a traffic lane.

Laura Blake, chair of TCAG, said: “Since the government have paused the roll out of ‘smart’ motorways the proposed LTC should be paused now in-keeping with that decision.” 

Asked to comment on the claim the road is being planned as a smart motorway, Mark Bottomley, development director at LTC, said: “Safety is National Highways' highest priority.

"The Lower Thames Crossing is an A-road, also known as an all-purpose trunk road similar to the A13 and other A-roads in Essex that are used by tens of thousands of people every day.  

“It is being designed to the highest standards recommended today, but we will continue to adapt our plans to incorporate advances in safety design and technology that might come forward in the years ahead.” 

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TCAG previously called on the government to pause the LTC project in January 2022 due to concerns about it being a smart motorway

At the time, a DfT spokesperson described the claims as “factually incorrect”, adding: “The Lower Thames Crossing is being designed as a trunk road, similar to the A-roads used by millions of motorists across the country. 

“It will be built to the same standards that make the UK’s roads among the safest in the world.” 

When asked about the group's most recent claims, the DfT referred the Recorder back to its previous comment.