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Wildlife trust launches legal challenge against new expressway scheme

A wildlife trust in the south of England has today begun a legal challenge against Highways England and the Department for Transport against their chosen route for the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway.

Posted on 27 September 2018

The Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) have today sent a pre-action protocol letter to the Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, to express their concerns over the decision to choose ‘Corridor B’ for the new highway and associated homes. BBOWT are supported in their legal action by the national body the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts, the River Thames Conservation Trust, and the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust (BCNWT).
The trust believes that the decision 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).
The Government announced that it had accepted the recommendations of Highways England and had selected ‘Corridor B’ as the corridor in which the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway would be developed on 12 September 2018.
The expressway is intended to increase connectivity between east and west and will contribute to significant growth in the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge region.   The expressway itself will be an east-west road link and will support the Government’s stated intention to deliver up to 1 million new homes in the “corridor” by 2050.
The wildlife trusts made submissions to Highways England earlier this year 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), three internationally important Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) and 418 Ancient Woodlands.
If the trusts do not receive a satisfactory response to today’s letter they will begin judicial review proceedings in the High Court.
Estelle Bailey, Chief Executive BBOWT, said:

“Earlier this year we told Highways England that the potential impact on biodiversity of Corridor B is so serious that the route should have been discounted entirely, and pressed them to conduct a Strategic Environmental Assessment. They ignored us. Today we challenge the Secretary of State for Transport to address the government’s failure to take the environment into account in its decision.”
Tessa Gregory, partner at Leigh Day, said:

“It is important that decision-makers listen to local organisations and local people and imperative that environmental effects are properly assessed at the appropriate stage. Corridor selection is precisely the time for such strategic assessment to be carried out so that the environmental impacts of a plan or programme, such as the Expressway Corridor, are understood. It is disappointing that the Secretary of State has pressed ahead without such assessment, despite consultation submissions from the Wildlife Trusts.”
Emma Montlake, of the Environmental Law Foundation who are supporting this action, added:

“We believe this is just the sort of proposal, in its early development stage, where a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) is required, unfortunately, Highways England does not agree. ELF is delighted that this matter is being taken forward by the The Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust. They are well placed to challenge the decision to choose corridor B without an SEA, the most environmentally impactful of all the corridor choices. A fantastic legal team has been put in place and we would like to thank everyone for their generosity of time and commitment.”