Alliance against road building
PRESS RELEASE – 16th May 2005
Linslade Bypass protesters acquitted after stopping bulldozers
The two women (1) arrested after halting work on the controversial Stoke Hammond and Linslade Western Bypass (2) by chaining themselves to a digger to prevent bat roosts being destroyed were today acquitted at Aylesbury Magistrates Court, when the District Judge threw the case out on a technicality. He argued the police warning to the pair was inadequate.
Victoria Harvey and Rebecca Lush are ironically very disappointed, as they did not have the chance to give evidence that they had prevented a greater crime as bat roosts were about to be destroyed illegally. They were confident that they had a very strong case, and were going to call the leading expert on protected species legislation who had produced a report to say that they were absolutely right that the law had been broken (3). They are now considering whether to bring criminal proceedings against Bucks County Council, and a complaint to the European Commission.
They wanted to argue their actions prevented Buckinghamshire County Council from committing a criminal offence under the 1994 Habitats Regulations by destroying bat roosts (4). They wanted to go onto the witness stand, and expose that over two years, Buckinghamshire County Council had trampled over the wildlife legislation. Victoria had two years of correspondence about this issue, which was going to be produced as evidence.
Although their protest resulted in clearance work being halted for a week, the site has since largely been cleared. Local residents claim that trees with potential bat roosts have just been flattened with JCBs.
Victoria Harvey of South Bedfordshire Friends of the Earth, said: "We are furious that we have been robbed of our opportunity to expose how Bucks County Council have rode roughshod over the wildlife laws. Our precious wildlife is disappearing so fast, and the protection laws must be enforced. But Councils are able to ignore the law, hoping that nobody will pick them up on it or care. We had all the evidence to prove that Bucks County Council had given the merest nod towards obeying the laws. What is the point in having these environmental protection laws if they are not going to upheld?
Notes to Editors:
(1) Victoria Harvey, 37, of South Bedfordshire Friends of the Earth, and Rebecca Lush, 33, of anti-roads alliance Road Block, were chained to a digger for more than two hours and were arrested after being cut off by a specialist protest removal team.
(2) The £50 million Stoke Hammond and Linslade Western Bypass is the first of four proposed bypasses, which will provide a dual carriageway between Milton Keynes and Aylesbury, within one of the Government's controversial 'growth areas'.
(3) The report is available on request.
(4) Bats are protected under the 1994 Conservation Regulations, which implement the European Habitats Directive of 1992. Bats are also protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. In the last 50 years the UK's bat population has dropped dramatically, largely due to habitat loss. In response to the decline, all UK bat species were given protected status in the 1981 Act, and it is a criminal offence for destroy or disturb their roosts and habitats, and carries a potential prison sentence. Special licences must also be applied for to remove bats, once it can be demonstrated that there is no other alternative.
(4) Road Block is an alliance of groups and individuals opposed to road building.
(5) South Bedfordshire Friends of the Earth formed a coalition with other local groups and raised £8,500 in four months to pay a barrister and an ecology expert for the public inquiry into the road in 2003.
Campaigners have been concerned for more than two years the county council may have been breaking environmental legislation. According to the legislation, councils should conduct bat surveys and fully consider the effect of development on an endangered species before they apply for planning permission to build a road on a particular route. Right up until their arrest, the women claim that inadequate surveys had been conducted, and no licences had been applied for to remove any bats.
South Bedfordshire Friends of the Earth has raised this concern throughout the planning process. The two women said the council had been continually obstructive when asked to provide information about wildlife and ecological surveys, including refusing to comply with requests made under new freedom of information legislation, even demanding £25 an hour to answer requests.
South Bedfordshire Friends of the Earth could not take the case to judicial review court last year because they would have risked prohibitive legal and court costs of up to £40,000.
The episode highlights concerns that local people do not have proper access to the law to protect important wildlife sites. The UK becomes a party to the Aarhus Convention in a week's time, on May 23, which says that in environmental matters access to the courts must be "fair, equitable and not prohibitively expensive".
Contacts: Road Block: 01803 847649 or 07854 693067.