BBOWT issues claim against government over the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway

Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust is dissatisfied with government lawyers’ response to our pre-action protocol letter of 27 September, regarding the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway, so today we are issuing a claim in the High Court. The Court will consider the case’s merits and it is anticipated that there will be a Judicial Review hearing in the New Year.

Last week we launched a fundraiser to help cover fees for this legal challenge. We are seeking to raise £40,000. Since we first declared our intention to challenge the government on 27 September, we have received a number of donations from concerned members of the public, and now have a dedicated fundraising web page We have received more than £15,000 in donations so far and thank all individuals and organisations that have donated.

We are challenging the government because Highways England failed to commission a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) or a Habitats Regulation Assessment (HRA) as part of the process of selecting a ‘Growth Corridor’ (within which the Expressway and associated housing will be built). This is required under European law for schemes that impact on the environment such as this. This means the true environmental impact has not been properly considered, and the public has been denied the opportunity to fully scrutinise the comparative economic, societal and environmental impacts of the options.

We have the support of The Wildlife Trusts nationally, and witness statements backing our case have been supplied by RSPB, Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), Plantlife and Horton cum Studley Expressway Group. We also have the support of the River Thame Conservation Trust and The Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, and some parish councils located within the areas that are in danger of being affected by the development.

Estelle Bailey, CEO of BBOWT, said: ‘This is a campaign for environmental justice – for the sake of wildlife and people. The Expressway is a 20th century solution to a 21st century problem. Wildlife in this country is in serious trouble. Many species are in steep decline. The government has committed to leave the environment in a better state than they found it, but it is unclear how the Expressway and its potential impact on protected habitats is compatible with this ambition. We welcome support from the public to fight this legal battle so wildlife habitats are not destroyed.’

Tessa Gregory, Partner at Leigh Day, said: ‘Our client has issued proceedings today because it is deeply concerned by the failure of the Secretary of State to properly and lawfully consider the environmental effects of this important decision. The choice of corridor has wide ramifications not only because of the Expressway itself but also because of the planned associated development in the area. The potential effects on wildlife are devastating. The public has the right to expect that large infrastructure decisions such as this will be subject to proper environmental scrutiny and full public consultation.’

At the end of October, the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave his support for the National Infrastructure Commission’s recommendation to build up to one million new homes in the vicinity of the Expressway. This could see the number of homes across Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes nearly double.

The current population of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes is very roughly 1.5 million, and the average number of people per home is 2.45, so there are currently more than 600,000 homes. Even if only half the new homes are built across these three areas (and the other half in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire) it will still represent a near doubling of homes.

Colin Wilkinson, Senior Conservation Planner for the RSPB, said: ‘The RSPB is happy to support this action. Like BBOWT we believe Highways England simply has not looked hard enough at the likely impact of this road on nature.’

Helen Marshall, Director of CPRE Oxfordshire, said: ‘We do not believe that development on this scale should be brought forward without full public consultation or legally compliant environmental assessment. We must look at the impacts the proposed one million homes and major new road will have on the countryside, people’s health and well-being, and climate change in a holistic manner.’

Jenny Hawley, Senior Policy Officer at Plantlife, said: ‘We’ve lost 97 per cent of Britain’s wildflower meadows in less than 90 years; projects like the Expressway threaten to erode the last 3 per cent. Magnificent meadows with floral histories dating back centuries may be destroyed, wiping out treasures such as green-winged orchids and adders-tongue fern.The alarm bells on wildlife loss and climate change are ringing loud and clear; the government must stop and listen.’

Tim Dixon, a member of the Horton cum Studley Expressway Group, said: ‘The intention of Highways England to avoid undertaking a Strategic Environmental Assessment is wrong and needs to be challenged, we are very pleased that BBOWT is leading this challenge, and they need financial support to help do this.’