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Environment groups go to court over ‘Hardy Country’ Road

9 July 2007
In order to protect a nationally designated landscape, Transport 2000 [1] and CPRE [2] have today gone to court to challenge Dorset County Council`s decision to let the Weymouth Relief Road be built.

The road, which the council approved on 16 April, would gouge a cutting out of the Dorset Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), written about and praised by Thomas Hardy. AONBs have the highest protection possible under planning law.

Represented by the Friends of Earth’s Rights and Justice Centre [3], the groups have asked the High Court to judicially review the granting of planning permission. The groups say that in approving the road, Dorset County Council failed to consider strict regional planning policies preventing development in AONBs.

The regional policy regarding development in AONBs says "the conservation and enhancement of their natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage will be given priority over other considerations in the determination of development proposals. Development will only be provided for where it would conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty". [4]

However the council itself said, in its planning application, that the road would have a "moderate adverse" impact on the AONB, even after mitigation measures had been implemented, so would not "enhance" the AONB [5]. Also, the council granted itself planning permission despite being aware the Government was deciding whether to call the application in for a public inquiry, and without consulting the South West Regional Assembly as it was required to.

Stephen Joseph, Transport 2000`s executive director, said:

"The damage caused to Hardy`s ridgeway is just not worth it. If allowed to go ahead, this road would not solve Weymouth`s traffic problems and would instead increase traffic and add thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year, whilst destroying irreplaceable ancient woodland."

Shaun Spiers, CPRE’s chief executive, said:

"We would be failing in our role to protect the countryside if we did not take this important legal action. Policies to protect our most treasured landscapes are rightly very strong and must not be ignored."

The judicial review is supported by CPRE Dorset, the Woodland Trust and Friends of the Earth.[6]

Notes to Editors

[1] Transport 2000 is an independent campaigning and research body that represents the key transport interests of around 40 environmental groups, transport organisations and transport unions. We bring together people who seek to reduce the environmental and social effects of transport through encouraging less use of cars, lorries and planes and more use of rail, buses, trams, cycling and walking. Transport 2000 has been helping to lobby for alternatives to this road, including an upgrading of the railway line.

[2] CPRE, the Campaign to Protect Rural England, is a charity which promotes the beauty, tranquillity and diversity of rural England. We advocate positive solutions for the long-term future of the countryside. Founded in 1926, we have 60,000 supporters and a branch in every county. Patron: Her Majesty The Queen.

[3] Friends of the Earth’s Rights and Justice Centre provides legal advice and representation to members of the public, community groups and other environmental NGOs, helping them to use the law to protect people and the environment.

[4] Policy ENV3 Protected Landscapes, in the region’s draft Regional Spatial Strategy

[5] Environmental Statement, Chapter 10, paragraph 10.228, says "The construction and operation of the new road would nonetheless initially have a large adverse effect because it would introduce a new highway into the AONB, although this would diminish over time to a moderate adverse impact once the mitigation works have been implemented and new planting becomes established".

[6] The Government`s environment watchdog Natural England also objected to the scheme, saying the need for the scheme has not been demonstrated and alternatives have not been adequately explored. Natural England has responsibility for protecting AONBs. The road proposal also attracted over 5,800 objections during the planning consultation, with more objections coming from local people than support.