In the hot seat: our day in court – A21 Continued

The first time I experienced life in a courtroom, I was a student. My landlord had a rather interesting take on health and safety, one that saw our carbon monoxide emitting boiler deemed to be of little immediate concern. It was a sobering, yet thoroughly worthwhile experience.  Years later and a similar experience proved to be just as valuable and noteworthy; this time at the public inquiry into the widening of the A21.

This inquiry is open to the public and overseen by an inspector. Much like a judge, the inspector will come to a decision, or in this case make a recommendation to the Secretary of State. Indeed the parallels with our legal system do not end there as witnesses, barristers, associate solicitors and a plethora of expert opinion-givers all play their part.

Last Friday was very much our day in court. In fact unlike almost all other ‘court’ days with multiple participants, there was a single item on the agenda: it simply read “The case for the objectors: the Woodland Trust”.

Richard Barnes - the Woodland Trust Expert Witness

The first thing we did was to lay out our case. Our expert witness, Richard Barnes, the Trust’s Senior Conservation Advisor, performed admirably. He took the inspector through our concerns over the proposed loss of 9ha of ancient woodland, explaining the value of this woodland, and the technical and detailed aspects of mitigation, compensation and translocation in the most lucid and accessible terms.

Building upon this he then gave a visual presentation highlighting much of the unique wildlife, flora and fauna that would be adversely impacted, including 1000 species of fungi, 24 species of bee, 10 of ladybird, as well as many woodland birds, dormice, bats and so on.

Finally came the cross-examination, which lasted more than two hours. In short this was where the Highways Agency’s barrister looked to pick holes in our arguments. Thankfully though, in my opinion at least, these remained very much intact.

So the case now enters its third week and the final day is now in early July. We are not likely to know a decision for several months after that.  We are certainly under no illusions that our battle is an uphill one, particularly given Government’s desire for more infrastructure spending as a means of boosting the economy, but you can certainly rest assured we will keep up the fight and remain the voice that woods and trees need to protect our precious ancient woodland, for this and future generations.

Oliver Newham – Senior Campaigner for Ancient Woodland


About Nikki Williams

Head of Campaigning for the Woodland Trust
This entry was posted in Campaigning, Planning, Woods Under Threat and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to In the hot seat: our day in court – A21 Continued

  1. Anonymous says:

    I love what you guys tend to be up too. Such clever work and reporting!
    Keep up the wonderful works guys I’ve included you guys to my own blogroll.

  2. Sharon Kelsey says:

    I hope the court case goes well. My comment is about the advert that is at the bottom of blog – I think you should be more careful about the adverts that are associated with the Woodland Trust . Not sure you should have one from Mazda showing irresponsible young men playing frisbee between two high powered sports cars as they travel along a road and then a display of drifting with burning rubber on a road in a woodland.

    • Kaye Brennan says:

      HI Sharon! Thanks for your comment. This blog is hosted on a free site so we can be subject to ads, depending on your browser you may see various ones when you come to the blog. We can’t do much about it unfortunuately – but we’re working hard on an exciting new website which will incorporate Woodland Matters, this should stop the ads in the future 🙂 Kaye

  3. Finn Holding says:

    Great work, I hope you get the result and the trees are saved!

    • Richard Barnes says:

      Thanks Finn, just the Closing Submission to present in early July, then it’ll be a long wait for the result – no dates are given for that!

  4. Julie Taylor says:

    Well done! … and keep fighting! … because, as we know well, woodland really does matter.

  5. edithkl says:

    I expect Mr Barnes was heroic, in the face of considerable difficulties.

    If by any chance the Decision should be wrong, this will be because Planners and Planning Lawyers in the UK have not understood that all Planning Law and all Planning Matters are totally subject and subservient to the great international Conventions and Charters on the Environment.

    I speak from experience when I say that all planning professionals without exception, including top QCs, operate in a UK Planning Law bubble which is frankly illegal when it comes to matters affecting the environment. I.e. they are literally breaking massive international, EU and UK laws, some of which have criminal penalties attached – simply by engaging in a frivolous, vexatious and contemptuous process which denies that Planning can be affected by international environmental law.

    Until THEY are taken to court, instead of the natural world being “in the dock” repeatedly – or “In The Hot Seat” to quote the apt title above – they will carry on like Zombies or like the Terminator, because they have been programmed a certain way and they cannot help themselves.

    There was a mock Ecocide trial recently at the UK Supreme Court, but this was clearly for really major environmental crimes. Unfortunately, it is the “salami-slicing” cumulative effect of one destructive project after another, some very small scale, that is shredding biodiversity.

    The problem is, that were the international Conventions and Charters to be obeyed, none of these professionals would have a job at all – as 90 per cent of all proposed Development would be “struck out” as an Abuse of Process to use a court term – i.e. it would be judged inadmissible from the start, and no time or expense would be incurred dealing with the progress of 90 per cent of all Applications, or with giving the Applicant a “fair hearing” when their aims have no legal basis and indeed are downright illegal in many instances.

    • Richard Barnes says:

      Thanks for your interesting comments – sadly, below the SSSI site hierarchy, environmental legislation protecting ancient woodland (and other irreplaceable habitats) doesn’t exist in the UK and planning etiquette rules, as noted by Professor Lawton in his 2010 review. The adversarial nature of planning inquiries is also an expensive obstacle, and intimidating.

      As for salami-slicing, we’re waiting for a series of local inquiries for new bits of dualling along the A21…

  6. Peter Kyte says:

    I echo the above sentiment.

    • Richard Barnes says:

      Thanks Peter, I note you’ve been supportive throughout this case, it really helps!

  7. For the first 30 minutes of Richard’s cross-examination the HA’s Barrister was just about as intimidating as anyone could be without incurring a ‘red card’! It is probably of no consolation to Richard to know that this treatment was simply a measure of the Agency’s ‘concerns’ for the strength of the Trust’s case.
    All credit to Richard. He maintained his calm and considered demeanor throughout and even ‘scored’ a winning point against the Barrister (about the significance of Member’s support for the campaign). Well done Richard. Well done the Woodland Trust.

    • Richard Barnes says:

      Hi Keith, thanks for your support, it was a definite help to see your face in the audience, and I also thought it was great that the barrister had to read out your letter at the end 🙂

  8. Well done! Let’s hope we get the right decision.

    • Richard Barnes says:

      Thanks Pete, we’ll probably have to wait until at least the Autumn before we hear the result.

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