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High Court grants permission for wildlife trust's judicial review of Varsity Expressway decision

The Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) has been granted permission by the High Court to challenge the government's selection of corridors for the route of a new highway and associated homes between Oxford and Cambridge.

Posted on 05 March 2019

At an oral hearing on 20 February 2019, permission was granted for BBOWT’s judicial review to proceed to a full hearing, overturning a previous refusal of the written case in January 2019. A date for the hearing is yet to be set. The case will be heard later in 2019.

BBOWT is challenging plans for a new Expressway (and associated homes) which is intended to increase connectivity between the two university cities 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.

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

The Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts made submissions to Highways England’s 2018 closed consultation process and detailed their concerns over the potential environmental impact of the three Corridors, making it clear it 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.

Along with the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts, BBOWT is supported in its legal action by 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.

In response to the High Court decision, Matthew Stanton, Head of Planning, Policy and Advocacy, at Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust, said:

“We are so pleased with today’s decision surrounding the government’s proposed corridor for the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway. We were forced to bring legal proceedings because the government has completely ignored European law, which requires a Strategic Environmental Assessment for schemes that impact on the environment such as this.

“Today shows us that the government has a case to answer and we look forward to fighting for wildlife at the full hearing.

“The Oxford to Cambridge Expressway could be a disaster for wildlife, and future generations may not forgive us if we fail to speak up.”

Tom Short, solicitor at Leigh Day, said:

“BBOWT believes that the Government has failed to properly consider at an early stage the environmental consequences of a major infrastructure project. By ignoring concerns and refusing to undertake a Strategic Environmental Assessment key stakeholders and members of the public have been alienated from the process. The court has agreed with our client that there is an arguable case to be heard and we look forward to a substantive hearing of the important issues raised.”