EC clears way for road link at Twyford Down

THE European Commission yesterday decided to drop its pursuit of complaints that the British government failed to comply with the EC environmental laws in respect of the M3 link road through Twyford Down, Hampshire.

But it is to press on with its legal action against the Government over two major projects - the east London river crossing through ancient Oxleas Wood in Greenwich, and the Kinneil oil terminal near Grangemouth, Falkirk.

It is also dropping its pursuit of complaints in respect of four other projects, including a four- mile dual carriageway in Hackney, east London, joining the M11 to the A102(M) Blackwall tunnel.

The commission's decision to send a legal letter, known as a 'reasoned opinion', to Britain this month is an important step towards taking the Government before the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, to answer claims that it has failed to comply with the EC's environmental impacts assessment directive, which aims to ensure that any environmental damage caused by major projects is fully considered before planning permission is granted, and that the assessment is made public.

The letter will set out why Brussels thinks Britain has failed to comply with the directive for the planned pounds 400m river crossing road, which will take the North Circular Road across the Thames at Beckton, and the pounds 300m extension to British Petroleum's Kinneil site, where construction work began more than a year ago. A spokesman said that the two cases resulted from complaints by citizens.

The decision to drop the action over the building of the M3 link through a giant cutting in Twyford Down came as a final blow to campaigners trying to save a wildlife area of great archaeological value. Construction work has started. David Croker, chairman of the Twyford Down Association, said: 'We had come to depend on the European Commission so we're very disappointed.'

In both of the outstanding cases, the issues that divide the commission and the Government are not the merits of the planning applications, but whether they were dealt with correctly.

Michael Howard, Secretary of State for the Environment, was satisfied that the Government had won its point on the dropped cases, but said: 'In the outstanding cases, we strongly maintain that there has been no breach of EC law.' But Britain has conceded that several regulations which transpose the directive into UK law will have to be changed after EC objections.

Campaigners fighting to save Oxleas Wood rejoiced yesterday. 'This is stunning news - we had become quite pessimistic,' Barry Gray, chairman of People Against the River Crossing, said.

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