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Project Team ‘Disappointed’ With SoS Decision to Slash M25 J10 Environmental Mitigation

Published on: 27 Jun, 2022
Updated on: 27 Jun, 2022

By Hugh Coakley

A government agency project team managing the controversial M25 Junction 10 scheme has taken the unusual step of publicly disagreeing with the Secretary of State’s decision to reduce environmental mitigation measures.

Extinction Rebellion Guildford staged a die-in at the M25 Junction 10 exhibition in North Street (Sunday, June 26) as passers-by looked on.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps pushed through a major reduction in the amount of land that is to be set aside to mitigate the environmental impact of the environmentally sensitive Junction 10 scheme say campaigners.

Originally 40 hectares of land was to be set aside but this has been reduced to 16 hectares (a hectare is 100m x 100m). The set aside land adjacent will be managed by Surrey Wildlife Trust (SWT).

In the highly unusual intervention, the National Highways project team who led the junction improvement proposals through the planning process, approved on May 12, said they were “not surprised but disappointed” with the SoS decision and admitted in a recorded telephone environmental briefing on June 14 and provided to The Dragon by a campaigner, that they “don’t know why it was done”.

Aerial view of junction 10 on the M25.

The May 12 decision letter from the Department for Transport (DfT) says there were objections to the DfT proposals to cut replacement land from a ratio of 1:2.8 to 1:1.

The long list of consultees who expressed concern included: National Highways itself (who appeared to have tried a compromise with a revised figure of 26.5 hectarers); Natural England (who expressed disappointment but conceded the reduced mitigation would be compliant with the 2017 Regulations); the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds; Surrey Wildlife Trust; Surrey County Council; the Royal Horticultural Society (who were concerned the environmental statement for the project would be made invalid by the reduction); Ockham Parish Council; and Elm Corner Residents.

Chris Campbell environmentalist and naturalist from the Surrey Amphibian and Reptile Group said the decision to reduce the mitigation “must be reviewed”.

Chris Campbell, environmentalist and naturalist from the Surrey Amphibian and Reptile Group (SARG), said about the surprise decision: “We only heard about this in the last month. I could find no justification for it in the decision letter.

“I bet there aren’t more than 20 members of the public in Surrey who know about this carte blanche decision to reduce the mitigation land.  Protected species will be lost as a result of this decision.

“The replacement land will now be to provide public access and not for wildlife. This must be reviewed, even at this late stage. These creatures are protected under UK law and what is being done here is inadequate.”

Campbell said it was profoundly undemocratic and suspected the government didn’t want to set a precedent for a replacement ratio of nearly 1:3. He said: “But the SoS has set a precedent himself. Now other projects will say if the environmentally sensitive M25 J10 project has a 1:1 replacement for protected land, it’s ok for us too.”

National Highways project manager, Jonathan Wade spoke about the SoS decision in a telephone environmental briefing on June 14 which was open to the public. He said: “We opposed it as did every single stakeholder, none of us were keen on doing it.

“I’m not sure, truthfully, we have ever got to the bottom of it. We don’t know why it was done.”

Wade subsequently pointed The Dragon to a letter from the SoS which he said provided some explanation to the decision. The seven-page letter refers to a minimum requirement for a 1:1 replacement land and refers to land originally proposed to be replaced as “relatively poor recreational quality”. No mention in the SOS justification is made to wildlife or protected species.

National Highways were beginning a public information exercise for the M25 Junction 10 project with the first event being held in Guildford in North Street on Sunday, June 26. Construction is to start on September 12.

National Highways senior project manager Simon Elliott said: “This upgrade will not only deliver improvements for drivers, but there will be huge benefits for local people, equestrians and walkers alike.

“We have worked on our plans not only so that the scheme makes a real difference for the 300,000 drivers using the interchange each day, but we are undertaking a major restoration of the heathland which will have a huge positive impact on the local community and visitors to the area.”

‘Hands Off Habitats’ sign going up at the National Highways public information exercise in Guildford (Sunday, June 26).

A small number of protesters from Extinction Rebellion Guildford staged a die-in outside the National Highways information trailer at the rotunda in North Street Guildford (June 26) and shouted “No new roads!” and “Hands off habitats!”.

Emily Inge, a member of Extinction Rebellion Guildford, said: “Against all advice, the government has bizarrely changed the design of the project team to do less for wildlife without justification. How can we trust them to do the right thing for the environment?”

Members of the public spoken to by The Dragon were divided about the need for the project with one saying: “It’s progress, we need the roads.” Another said: “It will only fill up again in a few years.”

The Department for Transport declined to comment about the decision to reduce the replacement land saying: “Everything that the Transport Secretary had to say on his decision is set out in the decision letter“.

When asked to comment on the decision to reduce replacement land, project manager Simon Elliott said: “The scheme features some of the most extensive environmental work ever carried out by National Highways, restoring over 25 hectares of heathland as well as planting new woodland, all of which will provide massive environmental benefits. We are looking forward to getting started in the autumn.”

Hugh Coakley is a member of Extinction Rebellion

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test 6 Responses to Project Team ‘Disappointed’ With SoS Decision to Slash M25 J10 Environmental Mitigation

  1. Ben Paton Reply

    June 28, 2022 at 12:02 pm

    The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

    Having been eating this pudding for some time the unavoidable verdict has to be:

    1) public consultation is a complete and utter waste of time. The government takes the public for fools and does whatever it wants in any case. Just like GBC and its corrupt Local Plan.

    2) for all the ritual observances of environmental policies, in practice the government simply could not give a damn.

    And what does Guildford’s elected representative have to say about this? Build more and bigger infrastructure. Build a tunnel. Mitigate all the damage away.

    That might have been fine if we were living in 1822 or 1922. But mitigation will not work in 2022. The damage has been done.

  2. Harry Eve Reply

    June 29, 2022 at 3:28 pm

    The Biodiversity Crisis appears to be no more than a minor irritation for the government. Biodiversity Net Gain and “Nature’s Recovery” are proving to be hollow words.

    As for the “Climate Change Emergency”, it seems that any ministers involved in planning legislation and decisions are trying hard to avoid the issue – preferring to worship at the altar of unrestrained growth instead.

  3. Helen Jefferies Reply

    June 29, 2022 at 3:48 pm

    Once again it’s, “do as I say and not as I do”. More cars equals more pollution. It’s all very well saying it will ease congestion but the M25 is a car park for much of the day. With virtually no additional capacity being added by this project, locals believe that the traffic model (not updated since 2015) will lead to widespread disruption on the local roads. A questionable use, at best, of well over £300 million of taxpayers’ money, with further ecological damage certain.

  4. Frances Porter Reply

    June 29, 2022 at 4:02 pm

    They do not have details of the mitigation for all the traffic that will re-route through Ripley, I was simply assured the plans would be ready before the new Wisley Lane opens (September 2023).

    I am also stressed about the huge tailbacks Horsley people can expect when trying to access the Ockham roundabout. There will be chaos as the A3 south off slip will have priority over the other access points.

  5. Jon Dobinson Reply

    July 10, 2022 at 12:21 am

    The countryside around Wisley and Ockham is an important amenity used by countless walkers, cyclists, and many other leisure users, not to mention the huge number who come to RHS Wisley. It has huge importance for wildlife, with several local sites of special scientific interests, and many protected species in the area. It’s also important for keeping some kind of check on the growing air pollution surrounding London.

    It’s tragic to see the mounting threats to this precious and dwindling resource, while actions run counter to promises and rules that should protect it.

  6. Kirsten Hermes Reply

    July 10, 2022 at 7:42 am

    This is appalling, especially given the new legislation that any large development should entail a net gain in biodiversity. How can this be legal?

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