The Government still seems hell bent on pushing ahead with a massive road building programme in England that will cost billions of pounds to complete. This is at the constant expense of the environment too – ‘just a few hectares’ of ecologically valuable land lost here or there, but this ignores the cumulative impact of development across the country.
I doubt this would be as frustrating to us if we believed it was really a good solution to the growing aggravation of congestion on our roads. If for example these new roads and widening schemes would solve traffic problems in the UK it might possible to see the point of the Government’s ambitious road building programme. However, it is well known that increasing the capacity of a road just causes an increase of traffic, demonstrated by junctions 9-10 on the M25 for example. Newbury bypass is also another good example of predicted traffic levels being significantly lower than the actual volume of traffic once the road was built.
As part of offsetting the hefty environmental impacts, elaborate mitigation schemes are usually drawn up often at great taxpayer expense. The type of mitigation depends on the habitat or species being affected – for example creation of new habitat to replace what’s lost – but not all situations are suited to mitigation. This is especially true for ancient woodland, which is irreplaceable. This fact immediately rules out compensatory planting and so the success of habitat translocation is dubious , although this is often a key part of the mitigation strategy. It seems to be taken for granted by developers and decision-makers that mitigation proposed will work, yet more often than not habitats take decades to reach maturity and scientific research does not consistently support the success of individual species mitigation.
One of the newest schemes that the Woods under Threat team have become involved in is the widening of the A23 between Handcross and Warninglid in West Sussex. Here valuable ancient woodland is already right up against the edge of the existing road. The Highways Agency have confirmed in the recently published Environmental Statement that at least 0.6 hectares of ancient semi natural woodland will be lost – with a total of 6.6 hectares of ancient and secondary woodland loss.
You might say that this not that much really, and you would probably be right – if this was the only case the Woodland Trust was dealing with. However, when you look at the bigger picture and include the 500+ other ancient woodlands we know are under threat, suddenly the danger seems more real and imminent. If you bear this in mind the 0.6 hectares of woodland loss looks a bit more formidable. There are other issues here as well, such as indirect imacts on ancient woodland and edge effects.
The Highways Agency has recently issued the Draft Orders for the A23 side roads and slip roads, with the intention of issuing the Compulsory Purchase Order for the main carriageway widening shortly.
These are the only 2 opportunities to object to the scheme and indicate concerns about the environmental impacts of the scheme. The Woodland Trust will be submitting a formal objection. High opposition will also help to encourage the Government to hold a Public Inquiry and discuss the scheme in full before making a decision without full facts. We urge you to send in your own objections – we can avoid a similar situation which recently occurred with the M25 widening where there was little opposition and so the Secretary of State for Transport decided that no Public Inquiry was needed and plans are now full steam ahead.
Local people need to stand up against these kind of schemes – your voice really does count! Take Action now! Visit our WoodWatch site for further details of the plans and how you can object, too!