The environment loses out in Expressway judicial review

Curlew by Shutterstock

BBOWT loses legal challenge against the government over lack of environmental consultation in Ox-Cam Expressway proposals.

Today’s High Court decision against Berks Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) means the government can press ahead with its plans for a new Expressway between Oxford and Cambridge without looking at the potentially devastating impact their corridor selection may have on the environment and wildlife. The ability of government to get away with delivering a plan of this size without strategic environmental assessments and proper consultation shows that our planning system is broken.

BBOWT is taking advice on appealing the decision and making a reference on a key point of environmental law to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

BBOWT challenged the government for its failure to conduct a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and Habitats Regulation Assessment (HRA) – requirements under European law – before it chose a preferred corridor for the Expressway. This failure excluded key stakeholders, including expert ecologists, from the decision-making process, and the government chose the corridor that evidence shows to be the worst option for wildlife.

Orchids and cowslips in Bernwood Meadows

The failure to undertake a Strategic Environmental Assessment has put precious places and wildlife at risk. Photo of Bernwood Meadows by Rhea Draguisky.

This could spell disaster for the environment. It seems no lessons have been learned from HS2. The government is riding roughshod over environmental law.
Matthew Stanton
Head of Planning, Policy and Advocacy

Our legal challenge has taken place against the backdrop of work beginning on the High Speed 2 railway. There were no environmental assessments for this project either, and the clearance of sites prior to construction work has resulted in destruction of wildlife habitats. We raised our concerns about HS2 from the beginning, and are dealing with the consequences of the government’s failure right now at our Calvert Jubilee site.

BBOWT's Head of Planning, Policy and Advocacy, Matthew Stanton, said: "This could spell disaster for the environment. It seems no lessons have been learned from HS2. The government is riding roughshod over environmental law. National planning policy requires a net gain for biodiversity, which demands vision from developers and those who approve planning applications.

"The Expressway is a 20th century solution to a 21st century challenge. We do not need more congested roads and air pollution – especially as we face the urgent task of reducing the nation’s carbon footprint. The Welsh Government understood this and rejected the proposed M4 relief road which would have destroyed the Gwent Levels."

Carol Day, Solicitor at Leigh Day, the firm that represented BBOWT in the legal challenge, said:
 
“The court’s judgement will be a disappointment to many who believe that proper assessment of the environmental impact of large infrastructure projects should be assessed from an appropriately early stage – at a point where alternative options are genuinely still on the table.

"It is unfortunate that decision-makers have ignored the concerns of specialist wildlife organisations and local people and pressed ahead without such strategic assessment, particularly for a scheme described as a project of a magnitude not undertaken in the UK for some 30 to 40 years.

"We will be carefully reviewing the judgement with our client, who is considering whether to appeal the decision.” 

BBOWT will continue to scrutinise the government’s plans for the Expressway, including the scope and content of any future public consultations. We need to ensure that the potential impact of this concrete corridor on the environment and wildlife is fully assessed and the public are made aware. We will engage with planners and developers and use our expertise and local knowledge to provide evidence about how the Expressway plans will impact on local wildlife.

The Expressway is only one part of the Oxford to Cambridge Growth Arc being promoted by the government. As well as a new concrete corridor, this will include up to one million new homes, industrial estates, railways and utilities infrastructure. We demand that the government carries out an SEA on its Growth Arc vision. The idea that the environment can be ignored in such a huge project is reprehensible.

We thank all the people who have supported us in this legal challenge – BBOWT members and supporters, donors to our campaign, other concerned organisations including those who provided statements to back our case, and local councils.