The usual mixture of triumph, alarm and gnashing of teeth greeted the publication of the Government’s Roads Investment Strategy earlier this week. Strong reaction to the laying of an additional 1,300 miles of tarmac was heard from both sides, with the media’s focus naturally gravitated towards the potential impact on one of the world’s most iconic prehistoric monuments.
A volatile package
The debate is far more extensive though, and indeed nuanced, than a simple ‘car driver versus environmental-and-archaeological-damage-at-Stonehenge’ conundrum. It involves a dilapidated strategic road network creaking under the weight of 21st Century demand, a booming population and significant advances in technology. Throw in a plethora of irreplaceable habitats, endangered species, greenbelt and air quality concerns and what the Government described as the “biggest investment in our road network since the 1970s” becomes a volatile package.
For well over a year as this road building package has begun to emerge, we have been lobbying the Department for Transport (DfT) on behalf of woods and trees. Our position is clear: irreplaceable habitats like ancient woodland should not fall victim to asphalt. Recently we joined forces with a wide array of environmental and transportation organisations, from National Express to the Ramblers, to press the DfT to examine alternative solutions, urging the Government to consider a green retrofit programme.
Some progress has been made. Not least, in that the Strategy requires the soon-to-be-established Strategic Highways Company (replacing the Highways Agency) to demonstrate how it will deliver ‘no net loss’ of biodiversity. Thanks to our pressure, supported by others, the Strategy goes further, with an aspiration of net biodiversity gain by 2040.
‘Green’ spending is also promised
Green spending is also promised. For retrofitting the existing network, £300 million has been earmarked. A further £100million is laid aside for air quality, and an Environment Fund has £300million allocated; this includes £100million for landscape and biodiversity. ’Landscape’ in this sense isn’t just about the natural environment but also our built heritage. We should also note that the ‘Environment Fund’ includes monies (£75m) for dealing with noise pollution like noise barriers and resurfacing. While welcome these figures are small drops in the overall £15 billion strategic roads ocean.
We know from experience that the “environmental protection” message only goes so far in development circles. As we go through the detail (often lacking) of the 127 schemes announced, we are seeing areas of ancient woods and trees directly in the path of the bulldozers. I’ll post more on these soon.
Our work continues and you can help
These proposals need intelligent and careful thinking as they have the potential to cause enormous damage. So our work continues, to persuade all those in power to understand that once gone, our ancient woods really are gone forever. The Strategy itself is part of the Infrastructure Bill, something we are also working on.
We’re looking at the most effective way you can play your part, too. In the meantime, watch out for future blogs about how this Strategy progresses, the specific schemes and also about the changes to the Highways Agency, coming up and make sure you keep supporting our Enough is Enough campaign demanding greater protection for our ancient woods and trees.