Gobsmacked! Highways Agency won’t guarantee compensation

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I feel compelled to break our self-imposed purdah on relaying the detail of discussions at the A21 Inquiry.  I really didn’t think a Public Inquiry could surprise me, especially on the penultimate day, but going through all the late amendments and submissions, after all the witness evidence has been submitted and cross-examinations taken place, I have to admit I was indeed gobsmacked. 

One such late submission was the financial commitment to the capital funding for the scheme in the latest Chancellor’s Spending Review (CSR) – which is somewhat premature given the Public Inquiry hadn’t even closed, but that’s another issue!  Then the bombshell: The Highways Agency (HA) revealed that it cannot commit financially to any mitigation, compensation or monitoring measures after the initial capital-funded 5 year period mentioned in the scheme proposals.

Troublingly this would not have come to light if I had not been at the Inquiry.  I picked up on a  representative of the Highways Agency mentioning that the promised mitigation & monitoring measures would be included in general maintenance contracts, and with the permission of the Inspector (as this wasn’t a formal witness evidence/cross examination session) I asked if this particular maintenance budget would be ring-fenced against cuts, or indeed increased alongside inflation.  The HA confirmed that the capital funding included the initial 5 year implementation, but the rest would have to come out of the general revenue budget.  I pressed on the commitment to fund the mitigation and compensation “promised” by the HA, in the context of continuing cuts to the HA’s budget, and the HA representative confirmed that it would be subject to the availability and level of revenue funding agreed in future budgets. I pressed again on whether therefore he would guarantee the measures being delivered, and he said no and shrugged his shoulders…

This information was little short of revelatory. Natural England (NE) for instance withdrew their objection on the basis of commitments to longevity of management and monitoring made by the HA, and these commitments were also communicated to the RSPB and Kent Wildlife Trust. 

The facts of the case are now clear. The HA have guaranteed to dual the A21, and destroy 9 hectares of ancient woodland.  The HA will not guarantee that they will carry out the mitigation and compensation measures “promised” to the objectors – these presumably are merely aspirations.  These promises must be included in the capital costs of the project, or in a financially binding “conservation covenant”. The Woodland Trust will be recommending adoption of such conservation covenants in the proposed Biodiversity Offsetting consultation, to guarantee compensation and monitoring measures in future schemes.  If the Inspector weighs the balance in favour of the A21 widening, and destroying ancient woodland, then compensation for that loss needs to be appropriate, and guaranteed…

Finally, I’d like to say a special thank you to the hundreds of Trust supporters in the Kent area who shared their concerns over the loss of the 9ha of ancient woodland. Again your comments were taken note of by the Highways Agency and even more were accepted as an official part of the Inquiry process taking the total to 857 objectors since the Inquiry began.

Richard Barnes – Senior Conservation Advisor & Expert Witness

About Nikki Williams

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

10 Responses to Gobsmacked! Highways Agency won’t guarantee compensation

  1. peteratwressle says:

    Yes, it would be wonderful if we could increase the net “capital” of woodland stock. Brownfield regeneration with permacluture is an interesting one. My wife, in her role as Organiser for the Workers’ Educational Authority, is in the process of trying to organise permaculture courses in conjunction with the Permaculture Association and has her eye on a particular brownfield space in Sheffield. In the last couple of days I’ve been looking a little more closely at the new Nature Improvement Areas, especially the Humberhead Levels where I live. I think one of the keys to their success will be the collaboration and co-operation of the various stakeholders. I’m hoping that I may be able to get involved. So, it’s not all doom and gloom – stuff is happening. In a few minutes I’ll be off to Saltmarshe Delph, a superb little microcosmic haven, owned by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, that emerged from the building of the Hull to Goole railway in the 1840s. Nature has a way of having the final say!


  2. peteratwressle says:

    Richard, I wouldn’t disagree with much of what you say. I wouldn’t take issue with you about Scargill – another egomaniac (I was married to a miner’s daughter at the time and party to many a heated debate about his leadership), but that it no way negates Thatcher’s culpability and the long-term effects that resulted from her policies. Completely agree about Beeching (perhaps I shouldn’t mention the disaster of rail privatisation and the huge and continued loss to the taxpayer that has resulted); my grandfather, a far-sighted man who had worked on the railways all his working life, predicted dire consequences at the time. But hindsight is a great thing and I wonder how our current transport policy will stand up to scrutiny in 40+ years’ time – as you say, long-term vision is not part of our political landscape (it wouldn’t be entirely tasteful to talk about seeing the wood for the trees).

    The real point I want to get across is that, as an irreplaceable part of our national heritage, ancient forests should be inviolable under any circumstances. It should be as unthinkable to destroy ancient woodland as it would be to, say, knock down Stonehenge to build a by-pass or put a slip road through the centre of York Minster to ease the terrible congestion from the A19 into the city. As I’ve frequently quoted, John Maynard Keynes said: “Once we allow ourselves to be disobedient to the test of the accountant’s profit, we have begun to change our civilisation.”

    • Richard Francis says:

      OK – we’ve got to the nub of the issue Peter – which is should ancient woodland be inviolable in absolutely any circumstances or not. You say yes – I say I’m not (yet) 100% convinced. The biggest learning out of this situation (and there will be one) needs to be examined in the same way as you examine plane wreckage after a crash.
      Was enough done to get community onside? Were negotiated alternatives for replacement and exchange explored fully and exhausted? Others?
      I’d personally like to see out of this a collaborative and signed-up / joined up charter that sets a minimum ratio of bulldozed ancient woodland site to new alternative bio-diverse planting minimum site of 10:1 or brown-field site re-generation for permaculture woodland site at 20:1.
      Progress vs destruction of ancient forest is a hard and non-trivial issue. It does however – become quicker and less attractive to remove it if you know ahead of time that what the real costs will be. I’m afraid those with an eye on balance-sheets have long since rumbled how to knock-over ‘lobbying and pressure’ groups (look at Twyford down and Newbury by-passes).

  3. peteratwressle says:

    I would certainly agree that a more balanced approach is needed in these matters because it is so heavily weighted in favour of the government and those with a vested interest in the destruction of the tiny, tiny amount of ancient woodland that now remains. Perhaps the problem is not that the road is inadequate but that there is too much traffic. It’s an old adage that traffic increases to fill the road space available (look at the M25) so how long will it be before these so-called ‘improvements’ are inadequate? Without a stance that defends the woodlands per se, against all opposition, they have no chance of survival anywhere in this country. Sometimes militancy is the only answer!

    Your analogy of the miners’ strike is interesting but it was not just Scargill’s stance that was the problem, it was Thatcher’s total, egotistical commitment to destroy the unions no matter what it took – even to the extent of destroying the industries where they were most powerful. A prime example of cutting off your nose to spite your face. Our communities here in Yorkshire are still paying the price. This attitude is prevalent in the current government and the destruction of ancient woodlands is just one small aspect of it.

    • Richard Francis says:

      Peter – w.r.t miner’s strike – many people in mining communities (including some of my relatives working in the industry at the time) wanted a better head at the helm than Arthur Scargill. The militancy of the strike – caused the UK to cut a deal for Polish coal that even included the UK government helping to mediate better relations with between the Poland’s government and the Polish mine-workers union! All whilst our own industry and jobs went down the pan!

      W.r.t roads. Well – thank Dr Richard Beeching – who’s ‘foresight’ included hacking to pieces the UK’s comprehensive railway networks to bits in 1963. All over Europe – after WW2 – many nations were desperately modernising public transport as they realised this was going to be a long-term economic saviour. We followed the USA’s lead – and filled our little green island full of roads & cars. All governments (left and right) weaned themselves onto the ‘revenue heroin’ created by cars and fuel. To blame ordinary people now seeking work, running businesses, running their lives for the decimation of woodland is absurd. It’s the result of the UK having a ‘near zero’ ability to think beyond the life-span on 4 years and the next election (and have accountants run everything)!

      Lastly – on the most important topic of woods – there is a better mousetrap to be built. The incredible damage of 1987’s hurricanes opened up massive positive consequences. Now – quarter of a century later – we need permaculture, urban agriculture, woodland management for the 21st century’s 7.2bn population. All of this is only going to be possible with the cooperation and support of a large % of the communities across the UK. Whilst no-one with a sane mind wants to see senseless and needless destruction of ancient woodland (me included) – there simply must be a more balanced, pragmatic, 360 vision developed that is not based on militancy – but on collaboration, trust and shared responsibility.

  4. Richard Francis says:

    I’m probably going to be attacked for what I’m about to write below – but here goes anyway:

    My position on the A21 is sadness – but not just for the loss of 9ha – but the loss of negotiation between charitable bodies, community and government. There are too many discreet charities and pressure groups now in my opinion – and the connection between them the interests of ordinary people in communities seems to be getting increasingly fractured.

    If you look at the wildlife regeneration of Thurrock estuary in Essex – from stinking land-fill site to conservation park that Sir David Attenborough even described as “outstanding”. Essex Wildlife Trust did a superb job of involving community & negotiating with the owners of the site to perform a fantastic turnaround.

    In all honesty – and I’m looking for an honest answer – did WT do ALL it could to involve ALL of the community affected by the widening of the A21? Really? The single parent dropping kids to school before scrambling to a job, the relatives of the people who’ve lost family in the many RTA’s over the years, the local business owners who had staff and vehicles continually stuck on it every day losing business? I can’t comment – because I wasn’t in every meeting and in every discussion with the relevant authorities. Only the WT can know.

    We are living in tough times. The UK government is (technically) bankrupt. Of course it can’t give spending guarantees. There is a need now for balance. Balance in what community and commerce needs vs respect for what we have and – most important – what we need to build in the way of wooded green lungs for now and in the future.

    I think the A21 is an example of lost balance. It was a stance that reminded me of the 1983 miner’s strike – where Arthur Scargill had one point of view. That ended in disaster for the UK coal mining industry – and this has ended in disaster for the WT.

    What’s needed now is a more balanced approach by not just the WT – but all of the other charity sector organisations. My feeling is they are too self-serving. That era is over – we simply can’t afford it any more.

  5. Pingback: A21 Widening Inquiry - No Compensation? - Wild About Britain

  6. Ash says:

    This is disgraceful! Yes, peter & Peter, campaign harder & push for changes in compulsory purchase.

  7. Peter Kyte says:

    I think compulsory purchase is medieval and should be abolished and any land that needs to be acquired for road building or house building should have to be the subject of negotiation with the landowners. Failing that, the level of compensation should be massive for anyone subject to a compulsory purchase order.

  8. peteratwressle says:

    This is real kick in teeth and reneging on something previously agreed is totally despicable. Well done for uncovering this – at least we now know what we’re up against and it gives the added incentive to campaign even harder.

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