Hole Farm Community Woodland is a new community woodland being proposed by National Highways. The 95 hectare farm in Great Warley (near Brentwood, Essex) was bought by National Highways in June 2021.
You may remember our previous update where we explained that this is not part of the proposed LTC project. They have said it will go ahead regardless of whether they get permission for the proposed LTC or not. The proposed LTC can only legally go ahead if it is granted a Development Consent Order (DCO), so if this woodland is going ahead regardless it is clearly not part of the LTC project as that needs permission to be able to legally proceed. National Highways have also made it clear that they will be seeking planning permission from the local authority, Brentwood Borough Council, which again means it is not part of the LTC project as large projects like LTC can only be granted permission through DCOs being granted. They have also said that they will start work on the site this year, so again that proves that it is not part of the LTC project as that would be illegal until such time as a DCO is granted.
In their original press release about the proposed community woodland in 2021 National Highways were stating that the woodland would be “be created in Essex alongside Lower Thames Crossing route“. We very quickly drew attention to the fact that the proposed woodland site is actually alongside the M25 and not the proposed LTC. National Highways have now amended their wording in the latest promotions to say it “sits alongside the M25 at the northern end of the proposed Lower Thames Crossing.” Still ambiguously trying to give the impression that it is in some way connected to the LTC project.
They are now promoting the proposed community woodland, which would be managed by Forestry England on the LTC project website, along with details of a survey and webinars relating to the woodland.
TCAG question why National Highways are promoting and sharing details of the proposed community woodland on the LTC project pages, rather than on the National Highways website generally, since it is a National Highways and not LTC project. We can only assume that it is an attempt to greenwash, and mislead people into thinking this is mitigation for the proposed LTC.
We also note that both the proposed LTC and Hole Farm Community Woodland projects result in a loss of agricultural land, which also brings questions about food security and associated carbon footprints of our food due to the loss of so much agricultural land.
If National Highways truly cared about the environment and biodiversity then they would not be pushing ahead with such a hugely destructive and harmful project as the proposed LTC.
Questions about biodiversity
At the workshop webinars it was stated that the Hole Farm site had poor biodiversity. We were keen to know when the environmental surveys took place. The website states they were completed in Summer/Autumn 2021.
The initial response we got in Feb 2022 when we asked stated “Environmental surveys are being conducted over a two year period (they began in 2020) and haven’t been restricted to Autumn and Spring; they have also included wintering bird surveys and a great crested newt survey will be conducted this summer“.
We questioned this since NH/LTC only bought the Hole Farm site in June 2021! The next response we received in April 2022 stated “There was an error in our previous response to you; it should have stated that the surveys began in 2021 when the purchase of the full site was completed. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.”
We have to question further how these surveys can be considered complete or adequate. You need to survey at different times of the year and over time, so you can get a true representation of biodiversity levels. Clearly this cannot be the case if they started in June 2021 and we are only at the beginning of May 2022. Yet they are publicly stating they have completed the surveys and that biodiversity levels are poor at the site.
Hole Farm is in wrong location and will be tree nursery for LTC route
At the Feb 2022 Association of South Essex Local Authorities meeting, LTC Exec Director, Matt Palmer admitted that the Hole Farm Community Woodland is in the wrong location.
He also stated that their plans are to plant trees at Hole Farm as soon as later this year, and use it as a nursery to grow trees to be transferred along the LTC route, if it goes ahead. This is to save them money, and for them to be able plant larger trees rather than whips along the route. Hardly seems in keeping with their promises of a community woodland to be using it to plant trees and then dig them up to take elsewhere!
Latest Hole Farm update
Forestry England, in partnership with National Highways have announced a community tree planting event at Hole Farm on 4th Dec 2022.
Since no planning applications have apparently been submitted to Brentwood Borough Council, and the council are stating that the Hole Farm TCPA submission date in the programme is Monday 23rd January 2023, we have emailed Forestry England and National Highways/LTC to ask what is going on. After all, surely if you need to seek planning permission for change of land use, to change Hole Farm to a Community Woodland, you should get permission before you start planting the woodland?!
Previous Hole Farm workshop webinars and events
Forestry England and National Highways hosted two final consultation drop-in days in the Great Warley Rectory Hall on Friday 2 September, 12.00 – 5.00pm and Saturday 3 September, 10.00am – 2.00pm. There was also information on display at the Thames Chase Visitor Centre throughout September. More details and info on responding to the consultation – click here
National Highways/Forestry England/LTC held a series of workshop webinars about Hole Farm
They also hosted public drop-in days at Hole Farm (Warley, Essex), offering tours of the site with opportunities for you to share your thoughts and ideas about the designs for the proposed new community woodland on Tuesday 10 May and Wednesday 11 May 2022 at 12pm, 3pm, 5:30pm
Hole Farm Timeline
National Highways have provided a timeline for the proposed community woodland
- Summer/Autumn 2021 – Environmental surveys completed
- February 2022 – Online survey (Closed on 23rd February 2022)
- February/March 2022 – Online workshop webinars
- May 2022 – Consultation on proposed design *
- Summer 2022 – Planning application submitted **
- Winter 2022 – First trees planted
* Please note this is a separate consultation and is not an LTC consultation
** Please note this will be a local planning application submission to the Local Authority, Brentwood Council, and is not part of the proposed LTC Development Consent Order (DCO)
Hole Farm signage
Those in the Hole Farm area may also have seen National Highways signage about the proposed community woodland such as the one pictured. Click image to open in a new tab and then click again to enlarge.
We have again questioned National Highways on these signs. Why they are trying to suggest it is part of the proposed LTC scheme? Why are they trying to suggest they have permission for the proposed LTC? Why are they listing LTC social media channels instead of National Highways ones, since it is not an LTC project?
We have had an initial response to some of our questions, but unsurprisingly many of the questions we raised were avoided, so we have emailed again to ask for responses to the unanswered questions!
We have since been advised that, “Whilst the wording is not used on this particular sign, we are open and transparent that we do not yet have planning permission to build the Lower Thames Crossing.” and “As the Hole Farm community woodland initiative is being delivered by the Lower Thames Crossing team within National Highways, this is why its progress is being shared on the LTC channels.”
TCAG response to Hole Farm Community Woodland consultation – click here
HE community woodland nothing to do with LTC (June 2021) – click here
LTC impacts on farming – click here
LTC Update to the Association of South Essex Local Authorities (inc Hole Farm) – click here