• Highways England's Errors Blog no.4

    • The Extraordinary Mistake about

      Ancient Woodland Areas


      Highways England’s 2017 consultation about the Arundel Bypass was already rotten with errors - so much so, that they propose to re-consult this year.  

      Now a new, extraordinary error has come to light which throws even further into question the whole road decision-making process, the role of Highways England (HE), and the competence of their consultants, WSP.

      In 2017, they said Option 3 took 24 hectares (ha) of Ancient Woodland, Option 5A took 6 or 13 ha (depending on which page of the consultation documents you believed), Option 1 took 6 ha.   But in a ‘witness statement’ by WSP, in the proceedings of her 2018 court case against the Option 5A decision, WSP admitted to Dr Emma Tristram that:

      Ancient woodland

      Option 3 is now reckoned to take only 12 ha of Ancient Woodland,
      NOT 24 ha.   They had overstated it by 100%.

      The mistake is said to be due to an error with software.


      A Freedom of Information (FOI) request has revealed that the mistake was even greater than appears from the witness statement.[1]   

      1. A table in the FOI documents shows that a 15m ‘buffer zone’ has been added in calculating the new figures.   The ‘buffer zone’ was not included at the public consultation stage.  
      2. The true figure of Ancient Woodland taken for Option 3 (without the ‘buffer zone’) was 7.67 hectares.    This is the figure that should have been presented to the public in 2017. 
      3. The ‘witness statement’ says that the mistake was detected by WSP on 14 May 2018.   However, the FOI emails state that ‘the areas were re-calculated…in late 2017.   The correct areas were used at this time’.  
        This suggests the error has been known since late 2017 and concealed since then.     

      Timing is everything

      The 24-ha figure was used in the 2017 consultation and emphasised by HE spokespeople and in their public exhibitions.  

      It acted as an effective ‘bogeyman’ which scared Local Authorities away from their former support for Option 3 (the old ‘Preferred Route’), onto supporting Option 5A through Binsted and Binsted Woods.  

      ‘Ancient Woodland has to be compensated for with new planting of up to 30 times the area lost’, they were told.   This made Option 3 sound impossible, with up to 720 ha of replacement planting.   

      Option 5A was duly chosen as the new Preferred Route on 11 May 2018 ...

      It is extraordinary that no-one spotted this mistake.   Those who queried the figures at the 2017 consultation were told that Option 3 would be in an exceptionally wide cutting.  

      Trust IssuesTo put forward road routes that destroy a large amount of Ancient Woodland in a National Park is against government policy on National Parks and on biodiversity.  

      Awareness of the sensitivity of this issue should have ensured that HE and WSP at least quality-checked their maths. What does their failure to do so say about the competence and culture of organisations that can miss such gross and easily detected errors in the first place, and then, decide to conceal them?

      How can we trust the same team to run a new consultation correctly?  


      [1] The emails, and the witness statement, can be seen on https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/option_3s_ancient_woodland_area#incoming-1291320.


      Can Highways England tell the truth in 2019?  


      Previous blogs in this series:  

      No.1  They hid the damage to Binsted Village

      No.2  They hid the damage to Binsted Woods

      No.3  They hid the damage to historic Binsted Park

      No. 4  The Extraordinary Mistake about Ancient Woodland Areas

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