Save Shorne Wood

Pudding Wood 1

Could they? Would they?

I have written before about the wonderful OUP early reader book, Save Pudding Wood.

It should be on every environmentalist’s shelf. The Woodland Trust should buy copies for all its members, or all the very young ones. Save Pudding Wood tells a story of community action saving a much-loved wood. Now ancient woodland and a country park near my home in Rochester is threatened by a new road. Could they? Would they?..

Save Shorne Wood! And, of course, the other woodland, countryside and villages which will be damaged or destroyed by the proposed Lower Thames Crossing.

There are some good local campaigns against the proposed new road. The established environmental groups are overwhelmed with development threats on all side, but I hope the coming weeks will see a really powerful alliance against these proposals from CPRE Kent, CPRE Essex, the Wildlife Trusts, the Woodland Trust – and a campaign not just against ‘option C’, as it is known, but for a much saner way of meeting the country’s economic needs and managing its transport demand.

What follows is a slightly longer version of my column in March’s Countryman magazine, available in all good newsagents.

The Highways England leaflet through the door says: “Have your say.” It concerns plans for a new Thames Crossing. There are three options and the consultation is on which to choose. Saying “no” does not appear to be an option. “A new crossing,” the leaflet says, “is needed to reduce congestion… and support economic growth, including new homes and jobs in the region.”

But it is not just about a crossing between Kent and Essex. A new crossing comes with big new roads. The link from junction 1 of the M2 will run about six miles from where I live and will destroy or damage woodland and countryside I enjoy. So for first time in my life, I will be opposing a development that affects me personally. But I am not saying “not in my backyard, put the road and river crossing somewhere else”. Rather I do not believe that a new river crossing, whether option A, B or C, is necessary or will relieve congestion.

This is not to deny that there is a problem with congestion in north Kent. In the last 20 years there has been an 80% increase in freight from the Channel ports. Sixty percent of UK freight now comes through the Straits of Dover, and most of that has to cross the Thames. The short crossing across the Channel is cheap for the freight companies, but the costs arising from ever more traffic are borne by the environment and the people along the route.

New roads quickly fill up. Highways England’s line about needing the road to unlock growth in jobs and housing rather gives the game away. First a new road is built to relieve congestion; then houses and businesses are located alongside it; next, rather predictably, people from these houses and businesses start to use it. A road designed to relieve current demand, inevitably generates future demand.

Already, new congestion is being planned – a big new Aldi depot on the Isle of Sheppey (100% road freight, I’m told), a giant Amazon warehouse near Ashford, and so on.

But of course, my concern here is not with ‘traffic demand’, which can seem an abstract concept. It is with the impact the new road will have on some lovely, much-valued countryside. The new road will apparently go to one or other side of the Shorne Wood Country Park, damaging its setting and directly threatening Jeskyns community woodland, opened to the public by the Forestry Commission in 1987; Ashenbank Wood, owned by the Woodland Trust; Cobham Wood, owned by the National Trust; and Plantlife’s Ranscombe Farm Reserve (“a botanical gem… a favourite haunt of wild plant enthusiasts for hundreds of year”).

The connecting road from Maidstone to Rochester along Blue Bell Hill will probably have to be widened, which will certainly have an impact on the Kent Wildlife Trust’s headquarters at Tyland Barn.

And so it goes on. A photo in my local paper of “how the new bored tunnel will look” shows acres of undisturbed countryside and a couple of largely empty carriageways surrounded by acres of undisturbed countryside. Gently and unobtrusively, they fold into a tunnel, and the countryside resumes. It looks quite attractive.

But no new road is ever this innocuous. In reality, they come with noise pollution, light pollution and air pollution. They destroy nature. Call me a NIMBY if you like, but I hope this new road is stopped – along with countless other unnecessary roads being planned across the country.

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