FEARS are emerging that the controversial second Lower Thames Crossing could be fully funded by taxpayers – to the tune of £6.8billion.

Originally, the project had been set to be part funded through taxpayers’ money and private funding schemes.

But during last week’s budget announcement, it was announced the government was abolishing private funding schemes, where private companies fund and manage large projects for a long-term profit.

And in an interview with the Highways Magazine, Highways England chief executive Jim O’Sullivan warned that the crossing may have to be funded by the public if it was to be open by the 2027 target.

A spokesman for the department of transport told the Gazette it is committed to progressing with the scheme and that a business case, including funding, would be considered next year.

But members of the Lower Thames Crossing Action Group are not happy – and they claim they were told at an information event it would now be fully publicly funded.

Thurrock Council has previously stated it is completely against the crossing proposal, and is now set to consider a judicial review into the plans.

A spokesman for the action group said: “Originally the tunnel section had been proposed to be public (taxpayers) money/funding, with the rest of the route being funded with private money.

“Since the budget announcement this has all changed.

“We asked Highways England at the Blackshots information event how the Lower Thames Crossing would now be funded, and they confirmed it will all be funded with public money.

"So £6.8billion of taxpayers’ money or more if the cost rises, as often happens with projects like this, as we all know, spent on a project that will not solve the issues we all suffer with, north and south of the river, due to the Dartford Crossing, and will bring more congestion and pollution to the areas along and surrounding the route.”

Some unwelcome new elements of the scheme are a motorway layby area for lorries, near East Tilbury, and the road forming three lanes rather than two north of the A13. 

Meanwhile councillors have accused Highways England of deliberately overwhelming residents with the “sheer size and complexity” of its Lower Thames Crossing consultation.

The consultation was launched last month and runs until Thursday, December 20, but the documents run to thousands of pages.

Thurrock Council fear people could therefore be put off from responding and believe it could be a deliberate ploy from Highways England.

When asked by the Highways Magazine about whether the funds will come from the public or Highways’ own pocket, Mr O’Sullivan said: “Yes. There is no other way. It will take a period of time to design a new type of public finance mechanism that satisfies the chancellor’s requirements of value for money. The Lower Thames Crossing is being talked about being open by 2027.We are on a tight timescale.

“To design a new PFI and deliver that would not allow us to make the original timescales. So you have to switch to public money in some way, shape or form.”

A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: “The Chancellor announced the Government will no longer use Private Finance for new projects. We remain committed to progressing the scheme – the LTC is being consulted on now; the business case will be considered next year as planned.”