Lower Thames Crossing (LTC) must set a course for net zero carbon or it won’t be built, according to one of National Highways leaders on the project. National Highways has designated the new 23km road, which will feature the country’s longest road tunnel, as a carbon neutral construction “pathfinder” project. This means that all procurement for the controversial project will target low carbon construction methods with incentives that drive further continuous carbon reduction. It is to set a benchmark for carbon neutral construction and help the UK reach net zero by 2050. Speaking at NCE’s Tunnelling Festival on 7 December, National Highways Lower Thames Crossing project director, tunnels, Sinisa Galac put an even finer point on the imperative for the project to eradicate carbon emissions and lead the way for future projects. “We have been rightfully challenged by environmental groups and by the government to be where we should be with the Paris Climate Agreement. And the Climate Change Act 2008 is a legally binding document – if we don’t end up on the path towards carbon net zero in 2050, we are going to be breaking the law,” he said. He continued: “Government has supported us, and they have announced us as a carbon pathfinding scheme […] It means we’ve got the budget for innovation, it means that we’ve apparently got the support in the change in the standards when required. Without this, we will not be able to deliver and we’re going to fall off the curve going towards 2050.

“Alternative? There is None. If we Don’t Resolve it, There Won’t Be a Project.”

Galac then briefly outlined some of the ways in which they are already working towards reducing and offsetting the project’s carbon. He mentioned the biodiversity net gain plans that have been embedded into the project, including planting a million trees, building seven green bridges and creating 60km of active travel pathways through new landscaping. He said that the project has also already removed 30% of the carbon through redesign. “It’s nothing too smart,” he said. “After the first design team has designed a bridge, [another design team] goes in solely to reduce carbon.” He said that another 20-30% of the carbon will be reduced by the future replacement of fossil fuels with hydrogen and alternative fuels. Another 10-20% will be slashed through carbon capture.

“If Any of Those Fail, the Project Fails,” He said.

Speaking earlier at Tunnelling Festival’s session on barriers to innovation, Mott MacDonald tunnels project director Rosa Diez also stressed the need for major projects to lead the way in implementing low carbon construction, but showed scepticism that it was actually happening. “I think major projects should have a budget for R&D and innovation, it should be part of what they request,” she said. “When you tender for a job, you usually have a part for innovation, but, for me, it’s a bit like the green washing currently going on in terms of the environment. Everybody says things are innovative when a lot of the time there’s not really any innovation, as such.

“It should be part of Major projects, But Because of budget Constraints it is not Happening.”

The development consent order (DCO) application for LTC was submitted in early November, two years after the initial application was withdrawn due to the Planning Inspectorate’s demand for more information in relation to construction plans and environmental mitigations. The DCO application has been accepted by the Planning Inspectorate for examination, which is expected to be a long and hotly contested one. NCE recently revealed that the roads operator spent £267M on the development of the two DCO applications. A leading planning lawyer told NCE that this figure is not unexpected in the current climate, with applicants having to provide much more robust information on carbon and biodiversity targets. A recent report from the National Audit Office revealed that the cost of the LTC project has recently been revised upwards once again to £9bn. National Highways is said to be monitoring the project over value for money concerns. National Highways has also announced that it will be setting up a digital Carbon Academy as part of the LTC project, with the aim of leaving a “legacy of green skills” for businesses and people in the region.