by ABNC Secretary Emma Tristram
On 24 June Norman Lamb MP hosted the opening event of ‘Evidence Week’ at the Strangers’ Dining room in the House of Commons. This is run by a charity called ‘Sense About Science’ together with the House of Commons Library and the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee.
Sense about Science ‘challenges the misrepresentation of evidence in public life’ (https://senseaboutscience.org/). They had commissioned a poll about the main issues that confront MPs and invited community organisations to send someone to speak for 90 seconds about top evidence issues. I made the following speech about Highways England’s misrepresentation of evidence in the 2017 consultation:
Evidence is so important, especially in big infrastructure projects such as road building.
Highways England misused evidence to push through a terribly damaging new route for the Arundel Bypass in West Sussex. It would severely impact a National Park, Ancient Woodland, two villages, historic parkland, and the Arun watermeadows.
They made this route look far less damaging than it really is. Their consultation was full of errors, with an untrue press release, woodland left off maps, garbled place names, inadequate wildlife surveys, and outright false statements.
They convinced Local Authorities to support this option, with figures for traffic reduction and economic benefit which made it look like the best one. Once they had chosen it as their new Preferred Route, they revised the figures, and its supposed advantages disappeared.
I used evidence to challenge their choice of this option through Judicial Review. The judge who gave permission for my Judicial Review said it was arguable that something went ‘clearly and radically wrong’. Faced with my evidence, Highways England chose to rerun the consultation later this year.
I hope MPs will engage themselves more with the standards of evidence used in decision-making by Highways England. I also hope the Government heeds the latest evidence on Climate Change, imposes a moratorium on new road building, and cancels this scheme.
In such a short summary, it was hard to give any idea of how badly Highways England misused evidence. But I was glad to have alerted at least two MPs to the problem. Stephen Metcalfe MP was also there, who represents South Basildon and East Thurrock. The proposed Lower Thames Crossing, ‘the biggest road project since the M25’, passes through his constituency. Let’s hope he learnt something.