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Lower Thames Crossing

On 14 March National Highways announced the shortlist of bidders who can now tender for the two road contracts for the Lower Thames Crossing, worth £1.9bn in total. One of the headline aspects of the contracts is that they will involve agreeing “ambitious” carbon baselines and will incentivise ongoing carbon reduction.

This is an approach that Swedish transport authority Trafikverket has taken for over five years on larger projects. But it is a first for the UK and is definitely a sign of things to come, for other highways projects and in other sectors as clients look to turn climate change plans into actions.

Some lower carbon solutions have had very limited use due to their higher capital cost. However, for the contractors bidding on the Lower Thames Crossing, such solutions could become a whole lot more attractive, as they work to hit the baselines – and hopefully earn more money by getting below them.

National Highways is calling the Lower Thames Crossing a ‘pathfinder’ for carbon procurement and sustainability. The knock-on effect for other road authorities and suppliers could be insights into what does and doesn’t work with carbon procurement, together with a boost for lower carbon material suppliers.

The larger of the two road contracts is the £1.3 billion Roads North of the Thames contract which encompasses 16km of new road, over 30 structures and junctions with the A13 and M25, together with paths, parks and woodlands. The shortlisted bidders are Balfour Beatty Civil Engineering and Kier Eiffage JV.

Photo credit: National Highways

South of the tunnel in Kent, the £600m Kent Roads contract includes 6km of new road, a junction with the A2, three green bridges, pathways and a new park. The shortlisted bidders are BAM Nuttall Ferrovial VINCI JV (BFV JV), Costain, Kier Eiffage JV and Skanska.

The Lower Thames Crossing has faced opposition from pressure groups who claim that the new tunnel will increase carbon emissions by encouraging more road traffic. In 2020, the project reported that it would generate 2m tonnes of carbon during construction and a further 3.2 million during operation over a 62-year period. National Highways has said that it has already cut one-third from construction emissions by making designs more efficient and substituting lower carbon materials.

The procurement of the two roads contracts and the £2.1bn tunnelling contract are taking place in parallel with the development consent process. National Highways was forced to withdraw its development consent in 2020 after the Planning Inspectorate warned it was likely to be rejected and has said it plans to submit a new one later this year, following further consultations.

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