Environmentally harmful “Expressway” canceled

The RSPB, Woodland Trust, Betten, Cambs and Northants Wildlife Trust (WTBCN), and Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) welcome the government’s announcement to cancel the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway.

The charities have long spoken out against the proposed expressway because of the environmental damage it would have caused. The RSPB worked successfully to prevent a proposed route threatening the RSPB Otmoor Nature Reserve and supported the BBOWT’s trial in the High Court against the plans.

The reason the government canceled the project is because it is no longer classified as “inexpensive”. We have long said that the cost to nature was too high and it is disappointing that the government has not recognized the cost to the environment as a reason to cancel, especially at a time when we are both nature and nature need to recognize and address environmental emergencies. As a society, we can no longer afford the environment to play second fiddle to the economy.

Turtle Dove, Otmoor, Copyright David Hutton, from the Surfbirds Galleries

Today’s news will mean that ancient forests and other valuable habitats that fall within the proposed route corridor are safe for the time being. However, the risks to nature from road improvements remain, including potentially damaging plans for the A34 (west of Oxford) that could adversely affect key natural areas.

There are many lessons to be learned from the failure of the expressway. Actions are still needed to influence other significant development and infrastructure projects throughout the Oxford-Cambridge Arc area. The financial savings from the highway’s cancellation should be used to improve the environmental performance of other projects, such as the electrification of East West Rail, and such projects should avoid damage to irreplaceable habitats. The environmental impact of development plans should be assessed as a priority and any development across the arc must put nature first and support the ambitions of the recently published Arc Environment Principles of local executives. All future plans for the Arc must focus on the environment.

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