Woodland Trust asked to sign gagging order if it wants to see rail plans affecting its own sites

Woodland Trust asked to sign gagging order if it wants to see rail plans affecting its own sites

The Woodland Trust has been told it cannot see detailed maps for a new train line between Oxford and Cambridge unless it signs a gagging order, even though the track could cut through five of its sites.

The charity has asked East West Rail (EWR) to view the full proposals for the central section of the railway which is likely to pass through ancient woodland.

But EWR is withholding the maps unless the Trust signs a non-disclosure agreement promising not to share the details with supporters.

The project is currently out for public consultation but the Trust claims it is impossible to give an opinion without knowing the full extent of the plans.

Director of Conservation and External Affairs Abi Bunker at The Woodland Trust said: “Actively withholding information from a public consultation that they know may sway opinion is flawed and inappropriate.  We have never been gagged when it comes to standing up for ancient woodland and we are not about to start now.

“EWR’s decision makes a mockery of the planning process. People cannot understand the impacts and make an informed decision if they do not have all the facts.

“With centuries-old woods and trees potentially in serious danger, it is simply unacceptable to hold back important information from a public consultation.”

The current consultation which closes on Monday, 11 March, concerns five route options for the central section of the project, which stretches between Bedford and Cambridge.

12 areas of ancient woodland, at least six ancient and veteran trees and five Woodland Trust sites are under threat from the central section of the project.

The scheme falls under the wider umbrella of the Oxford to Cambridge growth arc, a £5.5 billion scheme to link the two cities with a new transport corridor and one million new homes.

The government gave permission for the project last year but in February the High Court ruled that Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) could challenge the decision because developers did not carry out a thorough environmental assessment.

The charity claims that The Oxford to Cambridge Expressway could be a disaster for wildlife.

Matthew Stanton, Head of Planning, Policy and Advocacy, at Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust, said: “We were forced to bring legal proceedings because the government has completely ignored European law, which requires a Strategic Environmental Assessment for schemes that impact on the environment such as this.”

East West Rail has not responded to the Woodland Trust’s claims.

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