Monbiot slams wildlife groups' development response

George Monbiot
Wildlife conservation groups have come under fire for their stance on controversial government plans for one million homes between Oxford and Cambridge.

Government newspeak appears to have framed their language and shaped their thinking.

The government’s plans to build one million homes between Oxford and Cambridge have been in development for several years. 

Their aim, by 2015, is to transform the area into “an economic asset of international standing – a place that demonstrates the very best of British business and innovation”. It includes plans for both an “expressway” road linking the M1 and M40, and a rail line.

Berks Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) took the government to court over the expressway plans, claiming that it had not undertaken a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) and Habitats Regulation Assessment (HRA) – as required under European law – before it chose the route of the road. However, the High Court ruled against the claim in July last year.


Earlier this month, the trust, along with the RSPB and the Woodland Trust, published a document about the project entitled “Nature’s Arc, be part of it – how the proposed Oxford to Cambridge Arc can help restore nature”.

In a column in the Guardian, Monbiot called the document “one of the most outrageous exercises in greenwashing I’ve ever seen.”

Monbiot wrote: “By rebranding the Arc as the potential saviour of nature, I believe they are playing straight into the government’s hands."

He also criticised the groups for using the same PR language as the government, and for supporting the idea of “net gain”, where established wildlife habitats are destroyed by a project should be replaced by a greater area of new habitat: “Government newspeak appears to have framed their language and shaped their thinking."


In an updated statement on the BBOWT’s website, the groups said that they are still opposed to the government’s plans, but wanted to outline a set of principles to which the development must adhere if it goes ahead.

The expressway plans have been put on hold, according to the government’s road strategy, published in March 2020, and plans for the homes are now uncertain, according to the BBOWT.

However, the government has not yet made a formal announcement on the plans, and the organisations say that it is clear that there will be some development in the area, including a new town near Cambridge. They want the government to publish its plans so that they can be properly scrutinised.

Their statement said: “We know that plans for the Arc are being made now and there is a real risk that they will be drawn up without any proper consideration for the natural environment or people’s well-being if we do not make our views known."

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Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and chief reporter for the Ecologist. She can be found tweeting at @Cat_Early76.

Image: TED conference, Flickr.

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