They hid the damage to Binsted Woods
Emma Tristram writes: I based my legal case against Highways England’s Preferred Route decision on the errors in the 2017 consultation. Rather than have the errors come out in court, Highways England decided to reconsult. The preparations for the court hearing – ‘witness statements’ by both sides - have revealed that in some cases they had the correct information but decided not to use it. This series of blogs reveals how Highways England's main errors came about. The outcome of the 2019 consultation could be very different if Highways England tell the truth about the costs, benefits and impacts of all the options.
Binsted Woods are 100 ha of semi-natural woodland, made up of 20 different named woods. They are huge, mysterious, varied, and on a par with nature reserves like The Mens for their incredibly rich wildlife. They have existed in much the same places since the Domesday Book. Protecting them from severe damage by Option 5A was a big motivation for my court case.
The importance of Binsted Woods is not just my opinion. Binsted Woods and some of their linking fields, titled the ‘Binsted Woodland Complex’ (see map below), were stated in 1992 to be ‘nationally important’ by a survey for the Department of Transport by the Environmental Assessment Unit of Liverpool University (EAULUL). The route of Option 5A has been added.
EAULUL divided Binsted Woods into 18 compartments and examined each one and compiled species lists. Their work was meticulous. They concluded that that ‘destruction or fragmentation’ would ‘substantially damage the national importance’ of Binsted Woods.
Since then, Binsted Woods have been intensively researched by the surveys of MAVES (Mid Arun Valley Environmental Survey). They are now known to hold 14 species of bat – EAULUL found only 5. EAULUL’s assessment has been proved correct many times over.
Binsted Woods, their importance, and the severe damage 5A would do, were hidden in the 2017 consultation.
- They were never identified or evaluated, or distinguished from Tortington Common.
- Important areas of Binsted Woods were simply left off many maps.
- A false statement was made that there was no ‘significant harm’ to semi-natural woodland from any option.
- The very inadequate Environmental Report said that finding rare bats in the area was ‘possible, but unlikely’.
- Highways England used the term ‘Binsted Woods’ to refer to the whole Local Wildlife Site now containing both Binsted Woods and Tortington Common.
- Highways England falsely implied in a press release that ‘Binsted Woods’ were outside the National Park and not harmed by Option 5A.
Binsted Woods were described in the Arundel Bypass Neighbourhood Committee’s pre-consultation ‘Evidence Report’ sent to Highways England in 2016. The EAULUL report and its estimate that Binsted Woods are ‘nationally important’ was quoted and referenced, and the location of Binsted Woods was made clear.
The papers prepared by Highways England for the court case show that they ignored this information. They failed to identify Binsted Woods. They stated that it was important to note that whilst there is a definite boundary to the Binsted Wood Complex Local Wildlife Site, there is ‘no definitive boundary that identifies the limits of extent of its component parts’. This was not true.
Binsted Woods are within the South Downs National Park and Highways England have a duty to respect its Purposes and Special Qualities – that includes properly evaluating the area’s biodiversity. They did not do their job.
Can Highways England tell the truth in 2019?
Previous blogs in this series: