Ex-vicar pushes Highways England into renewed environmental assessment of motorway. Photograph: Alexander W Helin/Getty Images Ex-vicar pushes Highways England into renewed environmental assessment of motorway. Photograph: Alexander W Helin/Getty Images

Ex-vicar pushes Highways England into renewed environmental assessment of motorway

Following a threat of legal action from an ex-vicar, Highways England (HE) has said it will review the environmental assessment of its plans to transform part of the M62 into a smart motorway.

Mark Coleman, 62, sent HE a pre-action letter informing the public body that he would be launching formal legal action because its plans for the section of the M62 between Rochdale and Huddersfield did not include a full environmental impact assessment (EIA).

In response, the public body has agreed to review the impact of the scheme, but nonetheless has not committed to carrying out an EIA. 

EIA’s are not mandatory for all new developments, and government guidelines lay out that EIAs “should not be a barrier to growth and will only apply to a small proportion of projects considered within the town and country planning regime”. 

According to the notice of determination published by HE, an EIA was deemed not essential for the smart motorway development because there would be “no likely significant effects on the environment when taking into account the characteristics and location of the development, and the type and characteristics of the potential impacts”. 

Coleman, who is now an environmental campaigner, claimed to the New Civil Engineer that failing to carry out an EIA would allow HE to build the smart motorway without proper scrutiny for the project’s “large carbon impact”.

Commenting on the public body’s proposal to review the scheme’s environmental impact, Coleman said: “HE has been made to pause and listen to reason, science and common sense.

“In this climate and ecological emergency, we need urgently to cut through the many words and greenwash to what really matters.

“We must cut CO2 emissions quickly and cannot have the government expanding motorways and increasing traffic and carbon in an ‘under the counter manner’.” 

He added: "We will be keeping a very close eye on what HE does next with this M62 smart motorway extension from Rochdale to Huddersfield, and will wait to see if they take climate change seriously. We remain vigilant.”

The M62 junction 20 to 25 smart motorway is approximately 19 miles long, running through a rural Pennine landscape that contains the highest point on a motorway in England.

Commenting to ENDS, David Bray, smart motorway programme director at Highways England said: “We remain committed to delivering the M62 upgrade between junctions 20 and 25 to a high environmental standard. 

“During the development of our schemes we carry out environmental assessments and we publish notices of determination to provide more information to the public about our decisions. These assessments are not mandatory for projects of this nature, however, for this scheme, we’ve decided to review the environmental assessment. 

“We will publish a new notice of determination in due course and our plan remains to start this improvement in early 2023.”

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