Update on 18 July:
We have made our application to Natural England, and they have approximately two weeks remaining to make their decision.
From the extensive work that Surrey Wildlife Trust Ecology Services, have carried out on our behalf to this point we believe that a mitigation license is not likely to be required, which means works could restart shortly after hearing back from Natural England.
But we cannot categorically state this until such time as Natural England have reached their decision.
Update on 18 June:
Following the closure of Run Common Road last March in response to the subsidence caused by the collapsed badger sett, once the scale of the repair works became apparent later in the year, we commissioned a walkover survey by our ecology partner to establish what other potential impact our works could have. This highlighted the historic presence of Great Crested Newts (GCN) in the area, and advised on a suitable approach including presence/ likely absence surveys, which can only be carried out between April and June each year.
Great crested newts are a European protected species. The animals and their eggs, breeding sites and resting places are protected by law. As the Local Authority we have a responsibility to ensure that all of our work complies with the law. Guidance surrounding the protection of great crested newts can be found on the government's web page about great crested newts.
We took the decision to move forward with the repair works wherever possible whilst waiting for the appropriate time to do the survey, in order to mitigate the time that Run Common Road would remain closed. Working closely with our ecology partner to ensure we protected the local wildlife as far as reasonably practicable, we have felled the trees affected by the works outside of the nesting season, and constructed the site compound. At that point, the great crested newt survey works were able to get underway, and unfortunately the results identified the presence of great crested newts in one of the 25 ponds within 250 metres of our site. Once discovered, works had to cease immediately.
Due to the location of the great crested newts in relation to size and position of our site, guidance set out by Natural England suggests we have reached the threshold where a mitigation licence may be required, but it is up to Natural England to review our survey results and project plan in order to determine this.
Our ecology partner is currently working with Natural England using the most expeditious route available to determine whether or not a mitigation licence is required. It can take up to 2 months to gain a mitigation license from Natural England, but if it is determined that this is not required, works could restart immediately. At this time, we do not know what decision Natural England will make, so we are unable to accurately predict when works can recommence.
Update on 24 May:
Works were initially due to start at the beginning of May, however final environmental checks which commenced prior to works starting on site have uncovered DNA from Great Crested Newts. This was not present during previous inspections and is within the sphere of interest of our project (65 metres from the works).
Due to these findings we have had to pause our work for a short time whilst we manage this issue, and make sure we comply with the requirements of Natural England. We have been working closely with Surrey Wildlife Trust Ecology Services, on this project who have been supporting us as the project evolved, however we anticipate around a two-week delay whilst we manually check the site surrounding before we can recommence any further works.
We have a provisional date for completion of this project which is October 2021. This is however subject to change if further issues occur during our works.
Frequently asked questions
Why are the works taking so long to be programmed? Why could this not be carried out months ago?
None of the checks could be started until after the badger sett was closed, as they involved invasive sampling of the soils beneath the carriageway- running the risk of damaging the badger sett which would be a breach of the law protecting the species. Once the sampling could be carried out, and the tests of those samples completed- a process lasting several weeks, we then had to validate our proposed design against the actual results.
Why can the works not start straight way/quicker?
The results have highlighted the need for some additional checks on the stability of the existing structure during the works. We are going to have to remove more of the existing embankment during construction than first thought, to ensure we have a stable platform from which to operate the heavy machinery necessary to install the sheet piles. We are ensuring our intended plan is the most robust option and are checking the plan against all investigations, findings and the works plan.
Closure and works timeline
March 2020: Run Common Road was initially closed due to cracks opening in the surface due to subsidence west of the bridge which takes the road over the disused railway.
March 2020: We spoke to Natural England to understand what information we would need to provide to obtain a license to interfere with the Badger Sett
March 2020: We engaged our Ecology partner to assist with obtaining the license to interfere with the Badger Sett. These works began in April and lasted for four months.
April 2020: We used ground penetrating radar to "look" through the road surface at the voids beneath and we can see that the damage to the road extends beyond the centre of the road.
April 2020: We then explored our options – permanent versus temporary repair and it was decided that the best course of action was a robust solution to protect the structure of the bridge and embankment for years to come, including the creation of an alternative home for the badgers that will not threaten the integrity of the embankment.
August 2020: Following the completion of the badger survey, initial design of the permanent repair, and identification of suitable alternative sett locations and methods of sett closure, we submitted an application to Natural England to interfere with the badger sett.
September 2020: Design of the permanent repair continued with options presented for selection.
Late September 2020: we were granted a license to attempt evacuation of the badger sett.
October 2020: Works commenced to construct a man made sett for the badgers to relocate to, install mesh to prevent badgers from tunnelling into the other embankments, and close the existing sett using one way gates. Once complete, these works required monitoring for a minimum of 21 days after evidence of badger activity inside the sett ceased.
November 2020: Confirmation of the sett closure was achieved at the end of November.
December 2020/ January 2021: intrusive ground investigations undertaken to obtain detailed information about the ground conditions and soil types required for the detailed design. No intrusive investigation could be carried out prior to the sett closure.
January – February 2021: The samples from this study are being processed in a laboratory, findings assessed and the designs finalised.
February 2021: Site Clearance works in advance of the main scheme.
February 2021: Individual elements of the detailed design are complete and specialist contractors and materials can begin to be procured.
March 2021: Resurfacing completed
March/April 2021: The main scheme to permanently reinforce the embankment begins.
October 2021: Road open (dates to be confirmed)
21 April 2021:
The resurfacing works have been completed. Design and contractor procurement for the stabilisation works is ongoing, they are vital for the safety and longevity of the work.
11 February 2021:
Ground investigation was carried out in late December/early January and the samples are being processed in a laboratory, findings assessed and the designs finalised.
Contractors will commence tree removal works in the next few weeks and carry out site clearance to ensure the area is ready for permanent repair, with a view to completing the project by summer.
A Contractor has been chosen to deliver the main scheme, they are in the process of arranging the specialist contractors needed for elements of the works, reviewing the design to ensure any foreseeable issues are dealt with in advance, and working with our delivery partner Kier to ensure that all of the necessary safety checks and permissions are in place before works begin.
The main works are scheduled to get underway in March, with a view to reopening the road in the early summer. Please note the completion date is still tentative.
We are also planning to resurface the rest of the road whilst it is closed, to ensure that once it is open we do not have to come back for a while.
21 January 2021:
The onsite ground investigation has been completed, the findings are being assessed and the designs finalised. In the next few weeks site clearance works will commence to ensure the area is ready for permanent repair, with a view to completing the project by summer.
3 December 2020:
The badger sett has been successfully closed, and the badgers relocated to a new man-made sett that has been constructed for them as part of these works. The metal mesh used to close the sett will remain in place on the embankments. Our works have been planned and supervised by experienced and licensed ecologists, and have the health and wellbeing of the badgers as their primary concern. The area will be monitored by our ecologists throughout the project to ensure we do not cause any unnecessary harm to the badgers or other protected species in the immediate vicinity.
Next we will be carrying out some invasive ground investigations to allow us to finalise the design of the permanent repair. We are assessing what the impact of the works will be on the other protected species in the area, including bats, reptiles, and nesting birds. This information will help us determine the best way forward in terms of timing and approach for the permanent repair, and whether a temporary repair could be carried out to reopen the road during this final planning stage.
12 November 2020:
Works to close the badger sett have been underway for two weeks and are due for completion by the end of November. At that point we can then undertake the invasive investigation works required to finalise the design of the permanent repair, and progress to construction.
The methods employed by Surrey Wildlife Trust have been designed to ensure the welfare of the badgers and include the creation of an alternative home. One-way gate systems have been placed at each hole entrance which allows any badgers to leave the holes, but not go back in, thereby safely excluding any badgers living in the holes. In order to encourage the individuals to use the alternative home constructed, Surrey Wildlife Trust have provided food at the new sett to entice them. Over the next three weeks activity will be monitored at the existing holes and the new holes and provided no badgers return to the old home and start occupying the new home, the existing holes can be closed permanently. This is a recognised method of managing mammals which can cause damage to roads. This process ensures that the legislation is complied with.
If we know that the permanent construction is likely to be delayed whilst we secure the necessary resources and approvals, then we are also looking at whether we can safely implement temporary measures to be able to reopen the road in a reduced capacity to alleviate some of the inconvenience.
14 October 2020:
We have been granted a license from Natural England to attempt evacuation of the existing badger sett by 30 November. A variety of measures are being put in place - in conjunction with specialists from Surrey Wildlife Trust - to discourage the badgers' return to this sett and to encourage their adoption of a new one located at a safe distance. If we can demonstrate by 30 November that the badgers are no longer returning to the sett, we will be able to move forward and finalise a plan for repairing the road. If we are unable to achieve this by 30 November we will not be allowed to do anything further until 1 July 2021, this is because licenses are not granted by Natural England for works between November and July.
We decided upon a chosen course of action for a permanent repair of the road and submitted an application in August to Natural England to interfere with the badger sett. We decided on a robust solution to protect the structure of the bridge and embankment for years to come. This course of action will allow for us to carry out repairs to the road and allow the badgers to return without further compromising the structure of the repaired road.
Run Common Road was initially closed due to cracks opening in the surface due to subsidence west of the bridge which takes the road over the disused railway.
The road remains closed as during investigation it was identified that the likely cause of the subsidence was a badger sett that had undermined the embankment supporting the road, therefore causing it to collapse.
Badgers are a protected species in law, and we are unable to disturb their habitat without permission from Natural England, and if we do, this can only be done at certain times of the year.
We have used ground penetrating radar to "look" through the road surface at the voids beneath and we can see that the damage to the road extends beyond the centre of the road. As a result, we are unable to open it to traffic in either direction, or with traffic lights.
Heavy rain or the passage of large vehicles could continue to weaken the embankment, causing it to slip further.
We have several potential solutions to reconstruct the road, but our investigation of the badger habitat is ongoing. We will then need agreement from Natural England on our proposal and license from them to interfere with the badger sett before we can appoint a contractor to proceed with the works. It is therefore possible that the road will remain closed for much of this year, and into 2021.