Despite our legal challenge to the £27 billion roads programme and widespread recognition we need to dramatically change direction due to COVID and the deepening climate emergency, Highways England are ploughing on regardless. While government ministers are still under the illusion that electric cars will solve everything.
This week has been a busy week with a number of announcements on some very damaging road schemes.
Firstly though, to remind you that a decision is expected by 13 November on the extremely controversial A303 Stonehenge scheme. With a £2 billion price tag it will cause significant damage to the World Heritage Site where an important new archaeological discovery was recently found. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has already twice delayed making a decision. Follow Stonehenge Alliance on Twitter and Facebook to get the latest news and help get their petition to over 150,000 signatures.
Secondly, Highways England has launched a consultation on the A417 Missing Link in Gloucestershire. This is one of the most damaging schemes in the RIS2 roads programme, cutting through the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and impacting on Crickley Hill iron-age hillfort and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The National Trust and Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, who co-own Crickley Hill, issued a joint statement against the proposals.
Highways England also announced their preferred route (aptly named the ‘grey route’) for the highly controversial A27 Arundel Bypass in West Sussex. Only 7 per cent of local people supported this route when consulted. It will cause significant harm to the Arun Valley and the setting of the South Downs National Park and have a devastating impact on local communities. There is strong resistance to this scheme from Arundel SCATE and A27 Arundel Bypass Neighbourhood Committee. Highways England will now prepare a consultation for next year.
The biggest road scheme in the RIS2 programme is the £8.2 billion Lower Thames Crossing 3-lane dual-bore tunnel from Kent to Essex. Highways England have been pressing the accelerator for this scheme, even conducting consultations throughout lockdown. They’ll be submitting their planning application to the Planning Inspectorate on 23 October. An Examination is likely to be held early in 2021 when the scheme will be resisted by the Thames Crossing Action Group. The carbon emissions from the construction and increased traffic from this scheme are expected to be huge.
Meanwhile, examinations will soon be heard into two other carbon-inducing road schemes. The A1 Morpeth to Ellingham dualling in Northumberland will damage ancient woodland, a SSSI and another nature reserve. The M54-M6 Link Road in the West Midlands, will lead to loss of ancient woodland and local nature reserves.