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Dartford River Crossing

Volume 476: debated on Tuesday 3 June 2008

1. What estimate she has made of the average delay caused by congestion to commuters and commercial vehicles using the Dartford river crossing. (207971)

The estimated delay affecting vehicles travelling the five miles between the A13 north of the river and the A2 to the south using the Dartford river crossing is about three minutes northbound and two minutes southbound. That is the average for the period between 6am and 8pm; delays at peak times are longer.

I think my constituents would agree with the Minister that delays at peak times are considerably longer. That marvellous, comfortable picture does not reflect what is a daily reality for thousands of them. I wonder when the Minister will do something to alleviate the daily misery and cost incurred by millions of people who spend, I would guess, hundreds of thousands of hours each year sitting in traffic jams because of the tolls.

Obviously, congestion at peak times is an issue, but all the evidence suggests that without the tolls it would be even worse. The Dartford crossing is a vital part of the national road network, and is used by about 150,000 vehicles every day. In the longer term the answer may be a new crossing, which is why we have commissioned a study.

My constituents, and those living opposite us in Dartford, look forward to the long-promised concessions for our communities to which the Government have committed themselves in respect of the toll, but may I urge my right hon. Friend to act on the second crossing? United Kingdom Ltd demands—needs—an opportunity to gain access to the channel ports and the north of our country, not just via the Dartford crossing but via a crossing on the Thames estuary east of Dartford. The sooner the Government address that need, the better it will be for the commerce of the United Kingdom as well as the minimisation of congestion and pollution in Dartford and Thurrock.

I am probably more aware than most of the strength of my hon. Friend’s feeling about discounts for local residents. He has certainly pressed his case very effectively. As for the options for a new crossing, as I have said, a study is being conducted, and we expect a report at about the end of the year.

I noted the Minister’s response to my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Holloway), but does she consider that the proposed local discount scheme is fair to my constituents and the other residents of east Bexley who are not to be included in it, given that they live closer to the Dartford crossing than some Dartford and Thurrock residents? Or is this just another example of Bexley being let down by Labour?

We set out the reasons for our proposals in our consultation document. As the hon. Gentleman probably knows, we propose to base the scheme on the boundaries of the two local authority areas on either side of the crossing, as they include the most affected locations. Our aim is to adopt an approach that is proportionate and provides clarity on eligibility. I shall announce our conclusions shortly, following the consultation.

Is it not a strange coincidence that both councils nearest to the bridge where residents will travel free happen to be in marginal Labour constituencies? Other commuters in Kent who live just as close to the bridge will now have to pay higher tolls.

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman should want to make a party-political point out of a very serious issue. I should also point out that the two councils involved are Conservative controlled.

The Minister is referring to county councils, whereas my hon. Friend was referring to marginal parliamentary constituencies. There is an obvious distinction.

The study that the Minister has announced is welcome, but will it include the Thames Gateway expansion plans and, more specifically, the slightly confusingly named Thames Gateway port expansion plans? When the port is redeveloped—as I assume it will be—it will generate a large amount of HGV traffic.

As I said, the study that is looking at the options will report by the end of the year, at which point we will be able to give more details about the way forward.