Road scheme EIA must consider impact on ecological sites of importance, inspectorate rules

Highways England must consider the environmental impacts on protected sites such as ancient woodland arising from an 8km Northumberland road expansion project within the scheme’s environmental statement, the Planning Inspectorate has ruled

A1 near Alnwick
Highways England is looking to expand the Alnwick and Ellingham A1 route to make it a dual-carriageway

Highways England must consider the environmental impacts on protected sites such as ancient woodland arising from an 8km Northumberland road expansion project within the scheme’s environmental statement, the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) has ruled.

The A1 dual-carriageway expansion between Alnwick and Ellingham is being determined via the fast-track Planning Act 2008 process for nationally significant infrastructure projects.

Highways England’s scoping report was compiled by multi-discplinary consultancy WSP. In its scoping opinion, issued before Christmas, PINS disagreed with some of the scoping report’s conclusions.

Highways England’s scoping report sought to “scope out” the project’s environmental impacts on designated statutory and non-statutory ecological sites of importance – including ancient woodland.

Although no statutory ecological sites sit directly within the scheme’s footprint, some protected sites are within a 10km radius – including four special areas of conservation (SACs) and one special protection area (SPA) and Ramsar site, as well as a local nature reserve (Hulne Park) and local wildlife site (Ratcheugh Crag).

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Environmental study assessing impact between 2-5km of road expansion. Dark green blocks show ancient woodland.

The protected River Coquet and Coquet Valley Woodlands site of special scientific interest (SSSI), home to Atlantic salmon and lamprey species, sits only 580 metres away from the proposed development. Dukes Bank ancient woodland also sits within the boundary of the SSSI and Swineclose Wood – a 5-hectare ancient semi-natural woodland – is located just under 2km north-east of the scheme.

The applicant had sought to “scope out” the impacts of the scheme on these sites, arguing that “the scheme is not likely to generate significant impacts upon them due to the distances between the scheme and the sites of interest”, according to the scoping opinion.

But PINS responded that the impacts of the scheme “could extend to designated statutory and non-statutory ecological sites”.

“On that basis the Inspectorate does not agree to scope these matters out and the [environmental statement] should include an assessment where likely significant effects may occur,” the scoping opinion added.

Highways England had also hoped to scope out the need to carry out further assessment of terrestrial invertebrates, but the Planning Inspectorate disagreed, as protected species such as the great crested newts were likely to be present on site.

The inspectorate also disagreed with the scoping report’s request to scope out the impacts of very fine particles of air pollution (PM2.5) in Highways England’s environmental statement.

Construction of the road expansion project is intended to start in 2021 and is due to last 18 months.

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