Whenever I sit in traffic jams on the A14 “improvement” scheme, I’m saddened at the loss of the trees and the massive belt of devastation either side of the road. It was made worse recently when I heard that the A14 improvement scheme is in breach of its contractually binding agreements about air quality monitoring. Lucy Fraser, MP for South East Cambridgeshire has recently protested to the Roads Minister Jesse Norman MP about the impact this is having on residents.
As we’re the least wooded county in England, with just one quarter of the UK average woodland cover, we need to be planting more trees, not cutting them down. If we’re to have a hope of getting to Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050, and thus of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, trees are vital. They will help lock up our unavoidable carbon emissions, improve biodiversity, improve air quality, reduce flood risks, cool us in heatwaves and reduce the noise of the road. What’s not to like?
So how wide a belt of trees would we need to balance out the additional carbon emissions from the “improved” A14?
Our calculations using official Highways Agency and Forestry Commission reports show that we need to plant a belt of trees, on average 1km wide each side of the “improved” A14 for the whole of its 21 mile length. As these trees grew, they would absorb the additional 5.4 Million Tonnes of CO2 emissions resulting from the scheme. Nearly 1 Million tonnes of this is from the construction work, the rest is from the additional traffic the road will generate over its 60 year life.
This would be amazing! In addition to reabsorbing the increased carbon emissions, it could provide a wonderful woodland way between Cambridge and Huntingdon, improving biodiversity in our tree-denuded county, while sheltering local people’s homes from the noise and pollution of the traffic.
The forest would probably even reduce traffic accidents by providing greater visual stimulation for drivers
Of course, the landowners would need to be involved and properly rewarded for the use of their land, but this creates an opportunity to turn a monstrous scar through Cambridgeshire into a heritage East-West Forest that we could all be proud of.
But why stop with a 21 mile stretch of the A14? Northern England is planning a new forest shadowing the M62, aiming to create a broad green rib across the whole width of England from Liverpool to the east coast city of Hull.
If our Combined Authority Mayor, James Palmer, wants to truly make his mark, what better way to do it than by initiating an East-West Forest with Cambridgeshire at its heart? This East-West Forest could start by enveloping the A14 through Cambridgeshire, but then spread further East and West to other counties and cities, drawing in other organisations such as the Forestry Commission, the Woodland Trust and community groups, all supported by recently announced government grants, commercial sponsors and philanthropic funders. Just imagine: in 25 years time we could have created a new East-West Forest extending through Cambridgeshire all the way from sea to sea: from Ipswich to the Welsh coast.
That would indeed be something to be proud of.