Highways England has announced that a new woodland the size of 135 football pitches will be planted alongside the route of the proposed Lower Thames Crossing (LTC), in partnership with Forestry England.
The new community woodland is part of its commitment to increase biodiversity along the Strategic Road Network by 2050 and will go ahead regardless of consent being granted for the crossing.
However, the government-owned company has not been able to state when it will re-submit its planning application.
An application for a Development Consent Order was originally submitted to the Planning Inspectorate in October last year but was withdrawn following early feedback from the Inspectorate.
Last autumn it said that it ‘will be resubmitting the application early in the new year’.
Hole Farm artist's impression
Highways England said the planned woodland at Hole Farm near Great Warley, Brentwood in Essex will be the largest community woodland in the East of England and described it as being at the heart of the project’s plans to boost the wildlife and increase habitats in the area.
The site will be managed by Forestry England, the country’s largest land manager, on Highways England’s behalf. The roads operator said Forestry England is supporting the Government’s target of planting 30,000 hectares of new woodland every year by 2025.
‘Under Forestry England’s care, the 100-hectare site will become home to around 150,000 new trees and provide homes to thousands of native species, from mammals to invertebrates and birds to fungi.’
The green space could include facilities such as a café, education centre and a community orchard, Highways England added.
A range of provisions for outdoor activities are also being considered, and new public paths may link to a footbridge across the M25 to create an uninterrupted walking and cycling route between other nearby woodlands.
Matt Palmer, executive director for the LTC, said: The Lower Thames Crossing is the most ambitious road scheme in a generation, because as well as improving your journey and supporting 22,000 jobs, it will enhance the natural environment and leave a positive green legacy for our neighbours.’
Forestry England chief executive Mike Seddon said: ‘We know how important high-quality, local greenspace is to people as well as the country’s ambition to plant new woods and forests.
‘We have been creating and managing community woodlands for decades and are excited to be working with Highways England and looking forward to hearing from the local community. This will become a great addition to the nation’s woodlands.’
Barley fields at Hole Farm
Highways England said the new woodland complements the project’s existing environmental initiatives, which will enhance and connect habitats across the area by returning farmland along the proposed route to semi-natural habitats, including species-rich grassland and wildflower meadows.
Elsewhere along the route, another 260 hectares of new woodland will be planted and the project will significantly increase the number of ponds, watercourses, and hedgerows in the area. These areas will be connected by seven new green bridges and 42km of new pathways.
Forestry England will carry out a consultation later this year to seek feedback on plans for the site.