River Thames and Parliament

Over a million trees to be planted as part of River Thames road tunnel project

Image credit: Foto 23415676 © Bo Li | Dreamstime.com

Plans for a new road tunnel under the River Thames will include the planting of more than a million trees to offset the project's environmental impact.

A community woodland and two public parks are among the 400 hectares (1,000 acres) of “landscape scale” forest creation that the government has planned to offset the environmental impact of a new road tunnel scheme under the River Thames. 

The proposed plans for the Lower Thames Crossing are expected to almost double road capacity across the Thames east of London and ease congestion on the Dartford Crossing, with the aim of connecting residents to jobs, boosting the economy and creating new public parks and woodland habitats, according to National Highways.

National Highways said the Lower Thames Crossing aims to be "the greenest road ever built in the UK", as the project plans include the planting of over one million extra trees in Kent and in Thurrock, Havering and Brentwood in Essex. 

The “landscape scale” proposals would include public parks in Thurrock and Gravesham, a new community woodland in Brentwood and other areas of native broadleaf trees and habitat creation, including grassland, hedgerows and ponds.

“The Lower Thames Crossing will tackle the daily frustration caused by the congestion at Dartford, improve journeys and bring exciting opportunities for new jobs and businesses across the region, but we are determined that this will not come at the expense of the environment," said Matt Palmer, executive director for the Lower Thames Crossing. 

View of the landscape by the Thames with the proposed tunnel entrance

View of the landscape by the Thames with the proposed tunnel entrance / PA

Image credit: PA

However, Woodland Trust campaigners have criticised the scheme, pointing out that the construction of the road will still lead to the loss of  “irreplaceable” ancient woodland and wildlife, as well as an increase in carbon emissions.

“No number of new trees compensates for the loss of irreplaceable ancient woodland; centuries-old and nature’s own carbon stores,” said Jack Taylor, lead campaigner, Woodland Trust. 

Taylor also criticised National Highways (NH) for saying it could transfer soil from cleared ancient woodland as part of efforts to create new habitat as “touting a flawed concept” that will not avoid the creation of "one of the highest emitting roads" currently planned in the UK.

“We’re fighting both a nature and climate crisis and destruction like this for a road scheme beggars belief,” he said.

Upon hearing the criticism, National Highways decided to reduce the area of ancient woodland lost to the road to less than 12 hectares, but maintained that the current strategy will provide six times as much woodland as that lost.

“We have planned its route and how we build it to not only reduce its impact but leave a legacy of bigger, better-connected and well-managed habitats that would give local wildlife and plant life the chance to thrive long into the future,” Palmer said. 

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