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Thursday, 15 February, 2001, 18:39 GMT
Hastings bypass plan 'flawed'
helmeted protestor
Protest has begun: The second battle of Hastings is in prospect
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

The government's wildlife adviser, English Nature (EN), has dismissed plans for a road to bypass the historic town of Hastings in East Sussex.

Describing the study on which the plans are based as "deeply flawed", EN says they would cause severe damage to key wildlife sites.

The government has pledged itself to improve public transport and to limit the use of private cars.

But if the bypass is built, the government's critics say it has betrayed its promise.

Opponents of the proposal, in a reference to the crucial fight in the Norman Conquest of England in 1066 AD which took place nearby, say the bypass will provoke "the second battle of Hastings".

Regeneration hopes

They say it could lead to protests of the sort which marked the building of the Newbury bypass in Berkshire and the Twyford Down motorway outside Winchester.

upper brede valley
The roads would cross tranquil country (Photo: East Sussex County Council)
The plans, intended to regenerate the town, which is described as the most deprived district in south-east England, will have to be approved by the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott.

They have already been endorsed by the South East England Regional Assembly (Seera), and Mr Prescott is thought unlikely to overrule it.

But EN, in a release headed "The second battle of Hastings", expressed "extreme disappointment" at Seera's decision, saying the proposal would involve damaging some of England's best wildlife sites.

It said the planned roads, and the upgrading of a railway line, would have very damaging effects on a number of sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs), the highest category of conservation protection.

Almost all the SSSIs are within the High Weald area of outstanding natural beauty, and the scheme would also affect several ancient woodlands and the habitats of species of European importance, including dormouse and great crested newt.

Tim Bines of EN said: "In our view the study on which these recommendations are based is deeply flawed.

"It fails even to identify all the important wildlife sites at risk.

"Given the enormous scale of this project, the vast costs involved and the length of time taken to produce the report, it is surprising, to put it mildly, that the very far-reaching implications for the natural environment have not been taken adequately into account.

Not acceptable

"Among the alternative strategies put forward by the consultants for consideration, there are public transport options which seem to involve a lower level of impact on SSSIs.

protestors in trees
Protest was fierce at Newbury
"However, further studies are needed to assess their precise effect."

Mr Bines told BBC News Online: "New development has to be sustainable. Development which damages habitats which may have taken hundreds of years to develop and which are simply not replaceable is not acceptable."

EN said there had been a lack of consultation with environmental bodies during the preparation of the bypass plans.

Balance sought

But Martin Tugwell, head of regional transport planning at Seera, told BBC News Online: "This was a difficult decision, and the exhaustive way the assembly has looked at it shows that.

"We have tried to balance the social, economic and environmental issues in searching for sustainable development.

"We've made absolutely sure that bodies like English Nature have been able to make their views clear, and the assembly has taken them very carefully into consideration.

"It has insisted on the need for mitigation measures - like putting part of the bypass in a tunnel - to be used as fully as possible."

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