As Highways England’s Lower Thames Crossing project moves forward into the Detailed Design phase, we look back at our involvement in this exciting major road infrastructure scheme connecting Kent and Essex.

CJ Associates was initially engaged in 2014 during the Options Development phase. Our remit was to provide specialist infrastructure stakeholder engagement advice and assistance, working with local authorities, local businesses and utilities companies as location and structural options for the crossing were developed.

Our scope was soon widened to include engagement with local industry, political, statutory and environmental bodies as well as other key groups and organisations to ensure all parties potentially affected by the plans could have their say, and to garner further critical support and momentum for the project.

We developed and delivered a successful stakeholder engagement strategy which established a framework around communication with stakeholders and enabled a two-way dialogue between Highways England and stakeholders. Our team of political, environmental, strategic and technical stakeholder engagement specialists established advisory groups, local forums, one-to-one meetings, online and printed communications materials and distributed information to tens of thousands of residents, organisations and businesses along and around the potential routes.

Over time six routes were shortlisted as best meeting the project’s environmental, economic and social criteria: one near the existing Dartford Crossing (Location A) and the other (Location C – three routes north of the river and two south of the river) linking the A2/M2 with the M25.

In early 2016 our stakeholder engagement work culminated in delivering a major public consultation on route options; organising 24 days of public information events across Kent and Essex with a total attendance of almost 13,000 people. The team planned, managed, implemented and enabled the delivery of the consultation, working in partnership with Highways England.

Coordination and distribution of the consultation literature to tens of thousands of residents, organisations and businesses along the potential routes demonstrated the commitment of the team to engage the local community. More than 47,000 people responded to the consultation, making it the largest ever public consultation for a UK road project.

The relationships our team built and developed with key stakeholders were fundamental to the success of the consultation – a two-way dialogue was essential for keeping our stakeholders fully informed as the project was developed and refined. In turn their feedback meant that we could feed into the options development to ensure the project delivered the best possible solution.

The feedback we’ve received from our stakeholders on the quality and integrity of our engagement work has been overwhelmingly positive:

A statutory environmental body representative said: “I’ve been impressed by the quality of stakeholder engagement on this project so far. It’s apparent the team has a genuine interest in hearing what we have to say, and I’m satisfied we’ve had an opportunity to shape the proposals. Also, having a dedicated single point of contact has made communications easy.”

A member of our Stakeholder Advisory Panel said that it had been one of the most open forms of engagement they had experienced on a Government project.

A local authority officer said: “The consultation has been well publicised and organised, with plenty of opportunity for people to get to grips with the preferred route and the general proposals through the various public information events, press notices and so on. The online forms and paper forms have made it easy to respond, thank you.”

The LTC Project director told us: “It was good to see a ‘PIE in action’ on Friday and I should like to let you know how impressed I was with the level of organisation and the obvious commitment and enthusiasm of the team at the event. Full credit to you and the team for organising it so professionally. There was a real ‘buzz’ in the room and every sign that the public are getting very engaged with the project. Please pass on my appreciation to the team.”

Our task now is delivery of the Consultation Report – a comprehensive overview of all responses to the consultation and supporting Highways England with their recommendation to Government to inform the decision on next steps for the project.

Once a route is selected, the next stage involves more detailed design, planning and further investigation and assessment of a wide range of factors including noise, air quality, land and property impacts, cultural heritage, biodiversity, landscape, water resources, construction impacts, costs and finance mechanisms. There will be further public consultation on these detailed elements of the scheme and Highways England will then make a Development Consent Order application, beginning the formal planning process for the new road.

CJ Associates is delighted to be part of this exciting project that will open up new areas for economic growth, relieve congestion at Dartford and improve the resilience of our vital road network. We will continue to work with our stakeholders to ensure a positive legacy is created for the communities in Kent and Essex.