Government plans to build an Oxford-Cambridge motorway over some of the UK’s most biodiverse nature reserves break EU laws and should be put on hold, according to a cross-party group of MEPs.
Up to a million homes could be built in the planned conurbation link-up which would carve across some of the UK’s richest floodplain habitats such as the Otmoor Basin and Bernwood forest.
Local people say they have not been consulted about the project and the Berks, Bucks, Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) have already launched a legal challenge against Highways England, which lobbied hard for the scheme.
Now, in a letter to the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, the 11 MEPs say: “Ploughing ahead with this expressway project, without first conducting an open and thorough public consultation, sends very worrying signals about whether, despite the commitments it has made, the government will maintain European-wide environmental standards in practice [after Brexit].”
Under EU law – and the Aarhus convention – public consultations and environmental risk assessments are needed before major projects are allowed in sensitive areas.
“One can only question why that is not being done in this case,” the Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder said.
In a parliamentary question to the commission seen by the Guardian, Bearder is calling for the UK to be taken to the European court of justice over the issue.
She has also asked for a statement on what measures the EU is putting in place to ensure the UK maintains nature protections after it leaves the bloc.
Jean-Claude Piris, a former director general of the European Council legal services, told the Guardian that the UK would remain bound by international treaties after Brexit.
The UK would also have to follow EU rules over a transition period ending on 1 January 2021 under the terms of any withdrawal agreement.
“It is very probable that there will be provisions in the treaty on future UK/EU relations on protection of the environment in order to ensure a level playing field while aiming at ‘as frictionless trade as possible’,” Piris said.
“Everything will depend on the content of these provisions but I guess there will also be rules on governance, surveillance and possible measures if needed.”