A NEW Thames crossing east of Gravesend has been backed by the leader of Kent County Council (KCC), angering local council leaders.

On a whistlestop tour of the county yesterday, KCC leader Councillor Paul Carter announced plans for a new bridge from east of Gravesend to Tilbury in Essex.

He said it could be paid for by generating around £30m through a toll and by charging £20 to every lorry which enters the country through Dover and Folkestone.

Cllr Carter said: "Projected toll income and lorry charging would combine to make this a practical and immediate financial proposition."

In May last year, KCC and Essex County Council identified three options for a third crossing to ease congestion at the Dartford Crossing and commissioned a study into each.

These were another bridge at the Dartford Crossing, a crossing between the Swanscombe Peninsula and the A1089, and the Gravesend to Tilbury road.

Yesterday, Cllr Carter said: "Consultation commissioned by Kent and Essex (County Councils) has identified three options and their favourite route is clear, further east along the Thames, around Gravesend.

"We can fund this without recourse to public money and I believe the private sector, even in these difficult times, will fund a really significant infrastructure."

Motorists across north Kent have criticised the government for imposing a toll on the Dartford Crossing, and it is unlikely they would welcome another crossing with a levy.

A detailed study into the east of Gravesend option will be published in the next few weeks.

Upon hearing Cllr Carter’s announcement, Gravesham Council leader Councillor Mike Snelling immediately attacked the plans, saying the crossing would be a "desecration" of a rural area.

He said: "We utterly oppose desecrating those precious parts of our borough which we have fought so hard to retain.

"While we agree on the need for more capacity to cross the Thames, the location apparently favoured by this draft study for Kent and Essex county councils threatens villages and countryside on a horrendous scale."

Cllr Snelling added: "We would have liked the opportunity to comment on this draft before it was put in the public domain."

In June last year Gravesham Council decided to oppose the east of Gravesend crossing on environmental grounds.

It recommended scrapping the Dartford Crossing tolls as a short term option to boost capacity.

Dartford Council leader Councillor Jeremy Kite says although there is a need for a third crossing, these plans would be "an absolute disaster".

He said: "The crossing as it stands is already a health nightmare and I think it is responsible for shortening lives.

"The fact they are even contemplating another crossing simply for reasons of cheapness is quite appalling to me.

"People living in the shadow of that are facing health deficiencies which would be multiplied by another crossing.

"It does not stack up in transport terms. The whole aim of the crossing is to stop lorries getting into Kent."