Highways England – what’s that?

Ever heard of HS2 Ltd? Why yes, you say – it’s that company in charge of building the country’s second high speed railway straight through some of our most precious habitats and threatening, at latest count, 83 ancient woods.

How about Highways England? Perhaps not. This is a company being set up by the Government – courtesy of the Infrastructure Bill currently going through parliament. It will be responsible for delivering the Government’s new £15 billion road building programme – the Roads Investment Strategy (RIS).

Highways England has flown very much under the radar until now. But from April the company will control vast sums of taxpayers’ money, and will begin delivering a countrywide programme of upgrades to our major road network.

A mass road building programme – the Roads Investment Strategy - was announced in December 2014 which could see further loss of ancient woods and trees, like the 9ha condemned in the A21 widening near Tonbridge last year.

A mass road building programme – the Roads Investment Strategy – was announced in December 2014 which could see further loss of ancient woods and trees, like the 9ha condemned in the A21 widening near Tonbridge last year.

Why does it matter? 

Highways England is being created at a hurtling pace – to a timescale those working on the HS2 project can only dream about.

This has led to concerns across the environmental NGO sector and among some MPs that there could be serious oversights and omissions, particularly related to the requirements and limitations under which it will operate.

Indeed as an arms length public body, ensuring that comprehensive standards on environmental protection are enshrined within the company from the outset is a must.

What is the Woodland Trust doing?  

At the Trust we have been working to influence a number of crucial areas, including the licence Highways England will operate under, as well as its Watchdog (called Passenger Focus) and Monitor (run by the Office of Rail Regulation).

Despite much of the next Roads Investment Strategy focusing on upgrading the existing motorway network, we are concerned that over 30 schemes threaten ancient woods and trees.

Despite much of the next Roads Investment Strategy focusing on upgrading the existing motorway network, we are concerned that over 30 schemes threaten ancient woods and trees.

So far, we’ve seen some welcome developments, including a new section of the draft licence that focuses on the environmental requirements and responsibilities of Highways England. Before we, and others, got involved, this was entirely absent. But we still have substantial concerns, particularly around the RIS itself.

The focus of this is ostensibly on upgrading the existing motorway network, but according to our analysis, as many as over 30 new road building schemes threaten ancient woods and trees.

What next? 

Just before Christmas, Highways England published a strategic business plan for 2015-2020. It includes promises to produce a delivery plan containing better environmental outcomes, as well as a biodiversity action plan by June 2015. In addition, £300 million of the total spend has been ring-fenced for the environment  – some yet to be allocated – which leaves much opportunity for influence.

One may wonder about the need for this approach while the company is still being shaped, as opposed to simply responding to planning applications and consultations as they arise. But a look at the first road consultation on our radar in relation to this new spend already shows three sections of ancient woodland under threat from the bulldozer. Much more still to do.

Option C (the yellow route)of the M54-M6 road building scheme would cut directly through two quadrants of Burn’s Wood and impact on Spring Coppice too. Both are ancient woods.

Option C (the yellow route) of the M54-M6 road building scheme would cut directly through two quadrants of Burn’s Wood and impact on Spring Coppice too. Both are ancient woods.

Party political views and opinions as expressed in comments do not represent the views or opinions of the Woodland Trust, which is a non-partisan conservation charity. We encourage open debate. However, responsibility for comments made lies solely with individual contributors.

About Oliver Newham

Senior Campaigner Ancient Woodland
This entry was posted in Climate Change, England, Government Affairs, Protection, Roads, Woods Under Threat, WoodWatch and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Highways England – what’s that?

  1. Eve Murphy says:

    hi Oliver. do you really want some movement on this? please try avaaz people from around the world would sign as you would be protecting the woodlands and the birds etc. it was only a thought. Yvonne.

    • Oliver Newham says:

      Yes, I think Avaaz and other similar campaigning communities do have a part to play with this. Its a good point you make. We’ll give it some thought for sure.

  2. antvren says:

    Time to wean ourselves off the car – that ton of tin shifting a hundredweight of human. A litre of veg oil will keep an adult going, energywise, 4 days; but it’ll take a car just 10 miles (at 45mpg). We don’t really want to travel, with all that cost, hassle and time; we just want to get there! The best way to get there is to be there already (Rocky Mountain Institute quote). By organising our work, schools, pastimes, shopping and home we can whittle away at excuses to own a car…

    • Oliver Newham says:

      Wise words. If I were to pick something positive out of all of this, there is a real push in the newly announced strategy for a low-emissions network and an investment in cycling. As you say though the real change has to start with our own thinking and lifestyle choices.

  3. Ash says:

    There are just too many people driving too many cars on too few roads! Now what can we do about it & how do we change things without destroying what little countryside that is left? And if the population continues to rise what can we do about it then, apart from turning to drink & chain smoking?

    • Oliver Newham says:

      Traffic density is indeed a huge problem in the UK like you say Ash. I was reading recently that on UK motorways its 113 million vehicle miles per mile of road, versus 47 million in Germany and 39 million in France. This, along with an expected population growth of 10 million in the UK over the next 25 years (according to the Office for National Statistics), is partly what’s pushing forward this big spend on roads.

      • Ash says:

        Oliver, those figures are alarming! The growth in our population is also alarming & the impact it has on every aspect of our lives is frightening: the health service, education, infrastructure……all taking funds & resources out of an ever decreasing pot of money. Politicians AND voters need to raise woodlands & meadows & the environment in general much further up the list of priorities.

        • Oliver Newham says:

          Yes, one of the other really big infrastructure concerns is housing growth and location. Just this week we’ve had a case in with a developer looking to build 300 houses on an 9.88 hectare ancient woodland site.

          100% agree with you re: politicians raising woods and trees (and indeed the environment generally) up their priority list. We’ve got some activities related to this and the general election coming soon – watch this space – and have quite a few meetings, a parliamentary event etc… happening over coming weeks which should help push this further.

        • WT says:

          Why does population growth have a frightening impact on health, education and infrastructure? The NHS would collapse without foreign workers to care for increasingly elderly and obese Brits. And is there “ever decreasing pot of money”? The last few years have been difficult but are you saying we’re worse off than 20, 30, 50 years ago? What’s the evidence?

          Growth in population through immigration of working age people is important to provide the productive capacity to support the increased share of post-retirement baby boomers in the population. Without more workers, there may well be an unbearable burden on the future workforce.

          • Ash says:

            In 1950 the population of the UK was just over 50million! Today it stands at 64million! In 64 years that’s an increase of nearly 28%! AND, it’s expected to rise to 77million by 2050, an increase of 54%, Nothing to worry about then!

          • WT says:

            For some reason I can’t respond directly to Ash’s Feb 4 comment – which actually makes my point for me. Ash says population growth and its impact on services is frightening, taking money from an ever decreasing pot. By that logic, and given the historic population growth cited (which anyway is far more in some places, and generally more rapid in the last 20 years) – our health, education and infrastructure systems as well as the economy should have collapsed. Instead, we live longer and are better-educated and have seen almost constant economic growth. Our infrastructure copes well – there are no 1970s blackout, the trains carry twice the passengers they did 20 years ago and so forth. There are some pinchpoints but these are largely down to poor planning and underinvestment.

            Population growth brings challenges. So does population decline. So do changes in the structure of a stable population (e.g. ageing). Challenges can be effectively responded to, and even worry can encourage positive responses. Only worrying though is unnecessary and a waste of time.

    • WT says:

      “what little countryside that is left” – what percentage of England is still countryside? What was it 20, or 30 or 50 years ago?

  4. Peter Kyte says:

    Time to vote for the Green party.

  5. Jim Clark says:

    I’m not a regular user of M Ways but every time I use one what should be a straightforward journey of four or five hours becomes a complicated journey of sometimes double that, what with road works, accidents, or delay through volume of traffic.
    The age of the road is over they are already too crowded, and it will get worse. Please don’t anyone tell me it’s immigrants, we already have one beer swilling chain smoking slob saying that.

    • Oliver Newham says:

      Jim, I don’t know if you have seen this already, but Campaign for Better Transport has pulled together some really interesting work on how new road building helps create new traffic. Here is a link, well worth a look… http://www.bettertransport.org.uk/roads-nowhere/induced-traffic

      • Jim Clark says:

        Yes I’m aware of that but other factors are involved. My daughter lives in a rural village, they have to park their one car sometimes 50 plus yards away from their house. As my son-in law said when these houses were built no one owned a car, they all worked within easy distance from their home, now the people next door have two cars and a family down the road four cars all are used every day.
        We live in a rural area down a private track which we share with a farm. We have one car, now the children in the farm have grown up, there are sometimes several cars in the farm area., repeat this from Lands end to John o’ Groats.
        People no longer work or shop in their local area. In the last five years despite slimy Cameron’s pre election statement four local post offices have shut and a number of local shops. We are forced to travel several miles just to post a letter or buy a pint of milk.

  6. Derek West says:

    More destruction of the natural world,but never mind Torie donors are going to make a lot of money.

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