Concern has been raised about an announcement from the Department for Transport on the decision for the route of the Oxford Cambridge Expressway. Three different route corridors were considered for the road, options A, B and C; today (12 September) Roads Minister Jesse Norman revealed the chosen central corridor B was judged to offer 'greater benefits to the region', but undoubtedly is the worst choice for wildlife.
The Government is upgrading roads from Cambridge to Oxford to create the expressway - in Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire it will be mostly on existing roads, largely the A421 and A428, with proposals to create an entirely new section of dual carriageway from J13 of the M1 in Bedfordshire to the A34 in Oxfordshire.
Corridor B crosses the River Ouzel to the south east of Milton Keynes - the river and its associated habitats must be taken into account in the exact route choice following corridor selection. The Greensand Ridge includes a network of wildlife-rich sites including King’s and Baker’s Woods and Heaths. Rushmere Country Park, a popular public open space, would also be affected. Where the corridor moves towards the M1 around Woburn, there are woodlands which contain Wavendon Heath Ponds; any route within this corridor could need to avoid these biodiversity hotspots.
The Wildlife Trust for BCN, together with the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire & Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT), provided information on key wildlife sites that could be affected by the road. The Trust are also meeting with the Highways England team to ensure that key wildlife data are considered in the development of the route options. Wildlife Trust BCN Conservation Manager Matt Jackson says: “We are very concerned about the lack of public consultation on the proposals, specifically the lack of a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) of the proposal for a new road. Other concerns include the lack of clear commitment by Highways England to achieving a net gain for biodiversity, despite this being government policy for planned development.
“Although only a short section of the corridor for the new road lies in Bedfordshire, it includes areas of important grassland and woodland and part of the Greensand Ridge Nature Improvement Area. The Wildlife Trust BCN will continue to work to support colleagues at BBOWT and ensure that Highways England are aware of key wildlife sites within the corridor. As with all new road projects, the detail of the selected route will determine how damaging the proposals are for the natural environment.”
The two Trusts worked with The Wildlife Trusts nationally to submit detailed information to Highways England on 12 April 2018. You can read and download the Executive Summary of the response from the BBOWT website, or download the Full Response document (2.5mb).
The decision on the route of the new road will not only determine how much direct impact the construction will have on wildlife, it will also influence future housing developments across the region which government refer to as the Oxford to Cambridge Corridor. A study by the National Infrastructure Commission proposed that house building rates should be double the current level in this broad corridor.
Although only a small section of the new road will be in Bedfordshire, to link up with the A421 at J13 of the M1, the road will have to run close to the Greensand Ridge Nature Improvement Area. It will also pass to the south-east of Milton Keynes through areas which are known to support wildlife rich grasslands. Read the response from BBOWT here.