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Wildlife trust issues proceedings in legal action against the government

The Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) have issued proceedings in the High Court regarding their challenge to the government's choice of route for a new highway and associated homes in between Oxford, Milton Keynes and Cambridge.

Posted on 22 November 2018

The group sent a pre-action protocol letter to the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, in September but did not receive a satisfactory response and have therefore commenced judicial review proceedings. They hope to receive a date for a judicial review hearing in the new year. 

BBOWT are supported in their legal action by the national body the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts, the River Thames Conservation Trust, the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust (BCNWT) and a number of local parish councils. Horton cum Studley Expressway Group, Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), Plantlife and RSPB have all supplied witness statements in support of the case.

The trust’s challenge relates to plans for a new Expressway, and associated homes, which is intended to increase connectivity between east and west and will contribute to significant growth in the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge region. The government ran a closed consultation on three options for the Expressway and on 12 September 2018 announced that it had accepted the recommendations of Highways England and had selected Corridor B1 and B3.

The trust believes that the decision to choose Corridor B1 and B3 for the development was unlawful because Highways England failed to commission a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) or a Habitats Regulation Assessment (HRA) as part of the process of selecting one of three Corridors.

The trust also argues that Highways England’s lack of public consultation on the decision was in breach of Article 7 of the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (the Aarhus Convention).

As part of the closed consultation process the Wildlife Trusts made submissions to Highways England detailing their concerns about the potential environmental impact of the three Corridors and made it clear they considered Corridor B to be by far the worst option, containing 51 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), two internationally important Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and 234 local wildlife sites.

BBWOT have launched a fundraising campaign for the case via Virgin Money Giving.

Estelle Bailey, CEO of BBOWT, said:

“This is a campaign for environmental justice – for the sake of wildlife and people. The Expressway is a 20th century solution to a 21st century problem. Wildlife in this country is in serious trouble. Many species are in steep decline. The government has committed to leave the environment in a better state than they found it, but it is unclear how the expressway and its potential impact on protected habitats is compatible with this ambition. We welcome support from the public to fight this legal battle so wildlife habitats are not destroyed.” 

Tessa Gregory, partner at Leigh Day, said:

“Our client has issued proceedings because it is deeply concerned by the failure of the Secretary of State to properly and lawfully consider the environmental effects of this important decision. The choice of corridor has wide ramifications not only because of the expressway itself but also because of the planned associated development in the area. The potential effects on wildlife are devastating. The public has the right to expect that large infrastructure decisions such as this will be subject to proper environmental scrutiny and full public consultation.”

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