On Monday, my colleague Kaye and I met with Gatwick’s second runway project team to ensure they fully understand the value of the ancient woodland at risk around Gatwick.
We requested a face-to-face meeting because of the concerns we have about Gatwick’s report on their recent consultation. We’d initially suggested a meeting in an ancient wood, which was politely but firmly rejected. We often find that a site visit in a local ancient woodland is a good place to meet decision-makers, especially in a case such as this where we would be able to discuss the issues that we have regarding ancient woodland in a real life context, without distractions. It would also help us to be able to illustrate many points that we would like to make about ancient woodland. Still, there are other battles to win here and the most important objective was to meet, so off we headed to the airport.
The proposals for a new runway that Gatwick have submitted to the Airports Commission will destroy over 8ha of ancient woodland and we’re keen to discuss avoiding this. We wanted to clarify some of the language Gatwick uses in the current proposals, such as mitigation, offsetting and ‘relocating’ woodland. We also went to hand over the comments our supporters made to the formal consultation in May, as we have been very concerned they had not been accepted.
The second runway project team is led by Alastair McDermid who made it very clear that Gatwick recognises AW is irreplaceable, and that they accept the Trust will object to plans which involve loss of ancient woodland. Gatwick is fortunate enough to be surrounded by ancient woods, so it’s hard for the team to see how ancient woodland might be avoided if a second runway is recommended by the Airports Commission, which is advising the Government on the UK’s airport capacity.
Obviously, this wasn’t music to our ears but at least they were being honest. And it’s too soon to talk about compensation plans yet! But like HS2 proposals, Gatwick’s proposals to compensate for loss currently fall short of draft biodiversity offsetting guidance. IF loss is indeed unavoidable, the highest possible ratio of planting should be undertaken – which is 30:1. Gatwick needs to reconsider the 3:1 they are currently committed to, and also take on board ‘conservation covenants’ suggested by the Law Commission as a tool to achieve best long-term management practice.
For our part, we learnt that Gatwick have already identified some steps to avoid environmental damage, such as re-routing a large sweep of road around the eastern boundary, and that such national infrastructure projects are subject to a raft of environmental constraints and demands. We will work to ensure changes to the current plans are made to limit the amount of woodland at risk.
We had been outraged by the apparent dismissal of thousands of comments by Trust supporters about their proposals, so much so that we took along all your comments plus the selfies we’d been sent by many of our supporters in a hefty tome, and handed it to them personally, to ensure they fully understood your individual concerns. And we are delighted that Gatwick stressed they hadn’t intended to dismiss these, and implied guidance from Ipsos MORI (who conducted the consultation) is to collate responses with similar messages that have been obviously facilitated through campaigns like ours.
They will go against this advice now and accept the additional comments as individual submissions. Also Kaye wont be letting Ipsos MORI get away with this type of guidance! We are pursuing a meeting with them to ensure they acknowledge that when people take part through organisations such as the Woodland Trust, they are still making an individual submission.
While we remain disappointed that Gatwick’s current plans can’t solve the problem ancient woodland faces, Gatwick stresses that their proposals (including road alignment and compensation arrangements) are very much at an initial stage, and have agreed to a further meeting during the next consultation phase of the Airports Commission, expected between November 2014 and February 2015. We’re glad the concerns of the Trust and supporters have not been ignored, but we expect to see substantial improvements to Gatwick’s proposals if they go forward.
Richard Barnes, Senior Conservation Adviser