PLANS TO build Britain's biggest container port hinged this week on whether developer P&O would raise its offer to fund major road improvements in Essex.
Transport minister Derek Twigg said last week he was 'minded' to approve the £1.5bn London Gateway project on the north bank of the Thames Estuary near Stanford le Hope in Essex. The project is on the site of the former Shell Haven oil refinery.
NCE understands that the decision on whether to allow the project to go ahead was on a knife edge until early last week. Ministers are thought to have been persuaded not to block the scheme because of the potential economic benefits for south Essex.
But Twigg warned P&O that it would have to increase its offer to contribute to road capacity increases.
They include work to increase capacity at junction 30 on the M25, and the widening of two stretches of the A13: between the M25 and the A126 at Lakeside and between the A1012 and the A1089.
The A1014, which runs into the heart of the Shell Haven site, will also have to be upgraded.
The scheme should be phased to coincide with payments from P&O to the Highways Agency for road improvements, he added.
A P&O spokesman told NCE this week that it would start new talks with the Agency within days.
Last week the government gave P&O three months to come up with a funding solution.
'We hope to be sitting down with the Highways Agency in the next few days to start these discussions. We are prepared to contribute to the road work, ' said the spokesman.
Thames Gateway South Essex Partnership chair Gary Sullivan said it would be reasonable for the Agency to fund most of the M25 Junction 30 improvement and for P&O to fund most of the A13 widening and local road improvements.
hames Gateway South Essex Partnership is a group of local authorities supporting the port scheme.
'Junction 30 is a national priority so to ask P&O to be responsible for all of that would a little unfair, ' said Sullivan.
'But it is more than reasonable for them to fund a substantial part of the A13 improvements given the increase in traffic created by the scheme.' The Freight Transport Association (FTA) said the project showed that it was time for the government to set out rules on how much developers should contribute to infrastructure improvements that benefit the national transport network.
'If they are asking for funding towards the national road infrastructure then a debate needs to be had on where to draw the line. How do we assess the contribution developers should make-' asked Andrew Traill, the FTA's head of rail freight, maritime and air cargo policy.
Under the scheme, the former oil refi ery on the north bank of the Thames Estuary will be connected to a deep water container port with a 3.5M TEU/annum capacity and 2,300m of quay.