The controversy surrounding the announcement of the proposed solution for the scheme aiming to improve the M2 junction 5 continues unabated, but is all the criticism levelled at the scheme justified?
For example, one long held and often voiced opinion is that upgrading Junction 5 without first upgrading the corresponding M20 junction would be irresponsible. Council leader Andrew Bowles has repeatedly stated as much saying “there is no point is upgrading the M2 Junction 5 because it simply pushes the problem down to the M20 Junction 7”
However, it should be noted that Cllr Bowles has been a long-term proponent of an entirely different scheme as an alternative to the M2 junction 5 upgrade, one which traffic modelling clearly demonstrated would result in an increased volume of traffic on the M2, still requires a significant upgrade of Junction 5 and has been forecast cost even more than even the most expensive Junction 5 upgrade option considered as part of this scheme.
So, I put that very question to the traffic modelling expert from Highways England who told me that the traffic modelling is still ongoing and won’t be complete until the end of the year.
Highway England are using a Kent wide traffic model, which takes into account not only everything currently contained within the Swale Local Plan, but has also been extrapolated until 2041 to allow for a period of future growth.
Preliminary modelling work already includes for the Lower Thames Crossing and this initial work has shown that this has minimal impact on M2 Junction 5.
Finally, I’m informed that, various planned works on the M20 and the M20 Junction 7 have also been factored in, and again initial work to date does not flag up any issues.
I then broached the question of whether, if money were not a consideration, would Highways England still promote option 12A or would they go for the widely favoured option 4 with the flyover.
I was told “that was a really difficult question to answer and that both schemes were quite close, but purely on the cost benefit ratio option 12A is the best solution”
“Option 4 is 60% more expensive than option 12a but does not offer 60% more benefit.”
I then proceeded to touch on the subject of the dedicated west bound slip on the M2 for traffic going London bound. Looking at the information provided it does appear to be quite short and I questioned whether the queue for the A249 would make this ineffectual due to queues forming beyond the bridge.
Again I’m informed that “initial modelling suggests that this is the length that is needed, but this could be extended if found necessary.”
Cllr John Wright will be calling on fellow councillors tonight to back a motion to back option 10 which came in at £184 million as the way forward, but I am unaware of any members of the public voicing support for this in any of the discussions I’ve seen or heard. By some sizeable margin the majority of support would appear to be for option 4 which would cost £158 against the proposed option 12a which is looking to come in at around the £100 million mark.
Previous experience has left me in no doubt that councillors are huge fans of traffic modelling until it doesn’t come out with the preconceived answer they were looking for and I am deeply sceptical that this isn’t a smoke-screen for delaying the project whilst they dream up yet another bid for Junction 5a.
Any delay in delivering this junction improvement is not only dangerous as government policy can shift very quickly, but also places at risk the delivery of the local plan. Now, whilst I fully appreciate that many would not particular care whether the housing is built or not, its much more significant that you might imagine and failure to deliver could actually result in even more housing.