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”.
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