BATTLE lines have been drawn over Government plans to increase tolls at the Dartford Crossing and a third Thames river crossing from Thurrock to Kent. The Echo is supporting a campaign by our sister paper, the Thurrock Gazette, urging the Government to abandon its proposal to increase charges.

A Government consultation proposes toll increases from £1.50 to £2 later this year and £2.50 next year.

The campaign also seeks to press the Government to ditch a proposed third river crossing which, it is feared, would mean chaos on south Essex roads.

Three proposals for a new Thames crossing are on the table, all of which would cut through Thurrock.

One would be next to the current crossing and two could be from Gravesend, either to Tilbury and the Dock Approach, or to Chadwell St Mary, through Orsett.

Community leaders are rallying behind the campaign Peter Saunders, chairman of the Chadwell St Mary Community Forum, believes there is not enough evidence to support an additional crossing.

Mr Saunders, who has been campaigning on these issues since October, is supporting the campaign and has been holding public meetings to consult residents.

He believes tolls should be removed in total, something the Government originally suggested years ago.

Mr Saunders said: “Everyone was told the tolls would be removed once the bridge and tunnel were paid for and they have, so why are they still there?

“They are using the Thames crossing as a cash cow.”

A six-month trial is also under way to suspend the charges at times of severe congestion – however, this power has not yet been used.

Jackie Doyle-Price, Tory MP for Thurrock, has also thrown her weight behind the campaign. She said: “The toll increases will fund investment to implement free flow tolling and remove the toll booths.

“There would be no need for this if we simply lifted the tolls.”

Ms Doyle-Price said residents living in Thurrock would continue to qualify for the residents’ discount.

However, she added: “For those who work in Thurrock, or those coming to shop, the cost of a round trip is being substantially increased. Every time our roads are congested, it adds to the cost of doing business in Thurrock.

“These toll increases will add to those costs. So please support the petition.”

Ms Doyle-Price is also against an additional crossing. She added: “We host more than our fair share of national road infrastructure. I will fight any plan which involves more of Thurrock being dug up to build more motorways.”

She is lobbying the Government to look at a crossing linking the north and south circulars in London. She also urged readers to sign the Thurrock Gazette petition.