Essex: LEP wants Dartford crossing tolls scrapped

A LEADING business group has called for tolls at the Dartford River Crossing to be scrapped to boost the economy.

The South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP), which covers Essex, Kent and East Sussex, had made the plea in its response to a Department for Transport consultation on proposals to raise the charges, to �2.50 for cars and �6 for articulated lorries.

The crossing, which involves twin tunnels beneath the River Thames and the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge, is used by 200,000 vehicles a day.

If tolls are to be retained, SELEP says there should be no increases until “free-flowing” charging, similar to London’s congestion charge, is installed.

It also wants any increase to be introduced in one stage, rather than two as proposed, to avoid confusion and extra administrative costs to businesses, and says the current period of free use between 10pm and 6am should be retained.

George Kieffer, the interim chairman of SELEP, said: “The SELEP area pumps �55billion into the national economy. Our efforts to maintain this by growing and developing our own local areas are being hampered by the severe congestion caused by the Dartford Crossing.

“It is not rocket science to see that the toll booths act as a major traffic bottleneck which can have a huge knock- on effect for the surrounding road network including the M25, A2, A13, and A127. This is not good for any motorist but can have devastating effects on businesses especially in this economic climate.

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“Removing the booths and tolls will ease the huge delays people often endure when using the crossing and surrounding roads, as well as the financial burden to hard-pressed families and businesses.”

Mr Kieffer acknowledges that the Government was unlikely to want to lose the income the tolls generate, but added: “If they press ahead with the plans to increase the tolls this should coincide with the implementation of free-flowing tolling to at least help ease the congestion.”

Investment in the road networks surrounding the Dartford Crossing including free-flowing tolling, junction 30/31 of the M25 and investigating the need for a Lower Thames Crossing are among the issues being explored by SELEP.