They got away with it

We challenged the Government's decision to approve the Development Consent Order (DCO) (or planning permission) for the A428 Black Cat to Caxton Gibbet road 'improvement'. It is a 10 mile, £1bn dual carriageway, whose benefits, other that some short term congestion relief are questionable and it's value for money had already dropped quite considerably.

It is one of the biggest emitters of carbon in the roads programme (RIS2) which will undermine local and regional efforts to tackle climate change. In places it would treble the existing road space. Provision for active travel was woeful, despite the opportunities with a detrunked road. It will also lead to a large loss in hedgerow biodiversity and affect a number of important species.

Given it was dreamt up before the declaration of a climate and ecological emergency, the scheme should have been scrapped in favour of smaller scale interventions and substantial investment in public transport and active travel.

The challenge was based on three grounds:

  1. Biodiversity and the avoidance of harm
  2. Need in a climate emergency and contrary to Transport Decarbonisation Plan
  3. Climate change

Unfortunately, we were not given permission for judicial review of the decision, despite it being such a significant scheme and the Government being short on its target to cut emissions by 68% by 2030. The misapplication of the mitigation hierarchy was also not properly addressed.

Had the A428 been approved now, after the Government has been forced to release key data about the Transport Decarbonisation Plan and has admitted it will not meet its target of a 68% cut in emissions by 2030, signed up to under the Paris Agreement, it's likely our challenge would have succeeded. It is inconceivable that the Government didn't know these facts at the time they approved the A428, over a year after the publication of the Transport Decarbonisation Plan. Yet we were unable to make these arguments. In this context, building new roads, which increase carbon emissions, is inherently irrational.

Equally, it's been a principle for years that we should try to avoid harming nature before trying to offset its loss, yet this didn't happen here. With extreme weather setting ever more records as every year goes by, this principle is more important than ever. Especially, given National Highways success rate with new planting: just down the road most of the trees planted as compensation for the A14 have died, yet only some of them are being replanted and then at great expense.

Hedgerows take at least 40 years before they become valuable for nature, for there to be a range of species colonising them (e.g. need a mixture of younger middle aged and decaying wood for the full range of fungi, insects etc.). The idea that Biodiversity Net Gain is a solution or means that developers don't have to try and avoid damage in the first place is a deeply worrying interpretation by the DfT.