As well trying to defend the lovely Broughton Woods we have also been trying to stop the Highways Agency from destroying ancient woodland by widening the A23 between Handcross and Warninglid in Sussex. Sadly for us it did not go quite as planned and we recently heard that after a public inquiry the Secretary of State (SoS) has approved the scheme with none of the recommendations that we had suggested. Grr!
On arrival to the public inquiry, to their credit, the Highways Agency had slightly reduced the amount of woodland loss due to the road but were still convinced that mitigation would more than make up for the remaining loss. Unfortunately for them ancient woodland is irreplaceable – once gone it is gone forever and therefor cannot be mitigated for. We suggested that their mitigation plans (token management and woodland replacement) were not enough to even start to come close to the loss. We said that as a very last resort they could plant significantly more new woodland or at least acknowledge that their plans were not appropriate – but to no avail. Apparently the mitigation is fine and will more than compensate for the loss. The Inspector and SoS agree with this but we (the Woodland experts!) do not.
If this was not enough frustration for one day we also heard that another Inquiry we had been involved in a few months ago had also been allowed. Although not involving ancient woodland there are plans to build two blocks of apartments adjacent to Woodland Trust wood Bewsey Farm Wood. Now buffering will take considerable steps to reduce the impact of adjacent development to woodlands but here there were no plans for buffering. Worse than that the developers look to have got their measurements wrong and it is likely the apartments will actually encroach onto our land.
I’m not sure which is worse here – the fact that the developers are clearly incompetent and have their measurements wrong (makes you wonder what else is awry!) or that the Planning Inspectorate doesn’t have a problem with this?! The appeal decision notice indicated that the Inspectorate believed the original reasons for refusal were not valid and that the trees along our boundary are protected by Tree Preservation Orders and would therefore be safe. Er, not if the building is actually over our boundary and what about tree roots, might they not be impacted on by building through them?
So it appears that we are wrong in thinking that well balanced arguments based on factual evidence and science will help us win our fight – maybe we need to come up with an alternative plan? Although this does present a bit of a stumbling block we will not be put off – we will continue to fight for the protection of ancient woodland.