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ACT NOW: Oxford to Cambridge Expressway

The Government wants to see up to one million new homes built by 2050 within the area of land located between the cities of Oxford and Cambridge, along with a new dual carriageway (expressway) and railway to connect them. It is the Government’s belief that this will help maximise economic growth, and because of this the area is often referred to as ‘the Oxford-Cambridge Growth Arc’.

Save ancient woods and trees from East West Rail

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 East West Rail (EWR) project.

The EWR project, a proposed new railway linking Oxford to East Anglia, is threatening precious ancient woodland. The current consultation concerns five route options for the central section of the railway project, which stretches between Bedford and Cambridge. The project is intended to be part of the Oxford to Cambridge ‘growth arc’.

While the mapping detail is currently very limited, our analysis has shown that each of the five route corridors has the potential to significantly impact ancient woods and ancient and veteran trees, as well as five of our own sites.

However, we also know that EWR has more detailed information on the project which it is choosing to withhold unless we sign a non-disclosure agreement promising not to share the information with you, our supporters. We believe this is a flawed and inappropriate approach, as in order to understand the possible impacts, you need all the information.

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

Project latest

Many thanks to supporters who responded to our recent consultation on the central section of the EWR project. Over 3,200 of you reacted, highlighting the importance of ancient woods and ancient and veteran trees to EWR and calling on them to protect these precious irreplaceable habitats.

It was vital our supporters responded to the consortium's flawed and secretive approach to ‘consultation’ on these route options. It lays down a marker, too, that the discussion process must be more open and collaborative in the future.

We are now looking to further engage with EWR’s project team, to shape proposals for better protection of irreplaceable habitats.

We will continue to keep you updated on this project and any other future developments within the Oxford to Cambridge growth arc.

What does the rest of the growth arc mean for woods and trees? 

We are concerned because significant amounts of ancient woodland and ancient and veteran trees lie inside the Growth Arc, including 383 known ancient woodlands within 2km of the expressway route corridor. 

We want to avoid adverse impacts, such as loss or damage. However, we do recognise the potential opportunities such investment in this area represents, such as delivery of major tree planting and woodland creation, the construction of wildlife bridges and green corridors and the restoration of damaged ancient woodland. The potential to provide for nature is immense, though this must not make up for or offset any destruction of ancient woodland elsewhere.   

What will the growth arc involve?

The arc incorporates the counties of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire. The Government’s ambition requires investment in major transportation projects to support delivery of the plan, particularly in the significant new road and rail infrastructure – the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway and the East-West Rail link, respectively. 

Finemere Wood, Buckinghamshire. A SSSI and one of many ancient woodlands at risk from the Oxford-Cambridge Growth Arc. Photo © Andy Gryce (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Current status of the projects

The three major projects (housing, road and rail) within the Oxford-Cambridge Growth Arc are at very different stages of delivery. Some limited house building has already occurred or been allocated within local plans. Government funding has been earmarked to accelerate 100,000 new homes in the area before 2031.

East-West Rail has already undertaken construction of the first of its three sections, with a further consultation now open until 11 March. The major road-building element – the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway – selected a large route corridor in autumn 2018, with a consultation on possible routes set to take place in autumn 2019.

What is the Woodland Trust doing?

The Woodland Trust is currently working with other conservation organisations, such as the RSPB, National Trust and Wildlife Trusts, to develop a vision for nature within the corridor.

The plan is to use our collective vision to influence the Government on delivering the best possible outcomes for the natural environment in this area.

As well as this, we are watching out for and engaging on specific schemes, as and when opportunities arise. We are likely to need the help of Woodland Trust supporters, and we may well have to campaign against certain elements of the Growth Arc as it develops.

Black hairstreak butterfly
The area covered by the Growth Arc contains many ancient woodlands housing rare species such as the black hairstreak, which occurs in a narrow area between Oxford and Peterborough. (Pic: Charles J Sharp)

What next?

The future timetable is as follows:

  • consultation in early 2019 on route options for the East-West Rail central section (Bedford–Cambridge)
  • conservation organisations publish shared Vision for Nature within the corridor
  • by spring 2019, Government – with local partners – publishes a corridor-wide Joint Vision Statement to 2050
  • Highways England will consult on route options for the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway in October 2019 and then announce a decision on a preferred route. 

In the meantime, we need your help to make sure that every single ancient tree within the Growth Arc is identified – we can’t protect them if we don’t know they’re there. If you know of any ancient, veteran or notable trees in the area, make sure they’re on our Ancient Tree Inventory.

Record on the Ancient Tree Inventory