High Speed 2 (HS2) is the planned High Speed rail network for the UK – connecting London to Manchester and Leeds via Birmingham. It will be England’s biggest infrastructure project in modern times. Although The Wildlife Trusts are generally supportive of sustainable transport schemes – they are an important part of our necessary transition to a low carbon economy – we believe this must not be achieved at the expense of the natural environment.
In terms of HS2, The Wildlife Trusts are concerned about the impact it will have on the wildlife, habitats and sites along the proposed route.
HS2 is being developed in three phases:
− Phase 1: London to the West Midlands
− Phase 2a: Fradley (Staffordshire) to Crewe
− Phase 2b: Crewe to Manchester and Birmingham to Leeds running either side of the Pennines (the ‘Y-route’)
Each Phase of HS2 will require a separate Hybrid Bill which give the Government the powers required to construct and operate HS2.
Phase 1: London to the West Midlands
Since 2010, The Wildlife Trusts have campaigned against the proposed route partly because of the impact that it will have on wildlife, but also to challenge HS2 Ltd to raise their ambition for the natural environment. There are seven Wildlife Trusts affected by Phase 1 of HS2 (see below).
At every opportunity within the Parliamentary process we have responded to consultations and requests for information. Back in 2013, we were concerned that the 55,000 page Environmental Statement was so seriously deficient as to be inadequate, despite the stated intent of HS2 Ltd that the development should result in ‘no net loss to biodiversity’. Based on the incomplete evidence presented in the Environmental Statement, we felt the consequence of building HS2 Phase 1 would be a net loss of biodiversity.
Since the Phase 1 Hybrid Bill was introduced to Parliament on 25 November 2013, The Wildlife Trusts have produced reports and petitions to both the House of Commons and the House of Lords Select Committees. We have twice appeared before the Committees (Mar 2015 and Nov 2016) to encourage HS2 to reduce their environmental impact and to aim to achieve a net gain for biodiversity. Many of the individual Wildlife Trusts affected by the route also submitted petitions and appeared before the Select Committee to make the case for better wildlife protection.
When HS2 Ltd published their 'No Net Loss' in biodiversity calculation, it showed a 3% deficit in ‘biodiversity units’. However, we had significant concerns about the approach taken by HS2 Ltd and requested that an independent review was carried out. Natural England completed that review and made a number of recommendations. One was that HS2 Ltd should remove ancient woodland impacts from their calculation of no net loss to biodiversity. Our media release on the report is here.
Going forward, The Wildlife Trusts will be a member of the HS2-led Ecology Review Group. Part of the role of that group is to consider the results of monitoring and ensure that targets for replacing habitats and dealing with protected species impacts are actually met.
HS2 Phase One was given Royal Assent on 23 February 2017. Construction on the line will now begin in the spring. The Government announcement on Royal Assent also confirmed that communities and businesses near the route can now begin to apply for funding to invest in, for example, nature conservation or local community facilities. There will be a total of £40m available through the Community and Environment Fund and the Business and Local Economy Fund. Phase 1 of HS2 should be in operation by 2026.
Phase 2a: Fradley (Staffordshire) to Crewe
In 2015, a decision was taken to progress the section of HS2 from Birmingham to Crewe more quickly than the rest of the Phase 2 route. A draft Environmental Impact Assessment was published in autumn 2016. The Hybrid Bill for Phase 2a is expected to be presented before Parliament by the end of 2017. The line will be operational in 2027. There are two Wildlife Trusts affected by Phase 2a (see below).
Phase 2b: Crewe to Manchester and West Midlands to Leeds
The preferred route option for Phase 2b was published in November 2016. In seven areas, the proposed changes from the consultation on the route (in 2013) are substantial and Government is consulting on these (closes March 2017). The full Phase 2b route will be confirmed in 2017. The Hybrid Bill will be introduced by the end of 2019 and the line is expected to be operational in 2033. There are seven Wildlife Trusts affected by Phase 2b (see below).
A greener vision for HS2
The Wildlife Trusts own research shows that investment in green infrastructure, habitat restoration and creation as part of HS2 is both affordable (within the scale of the overall budget for the project) and cost-effective. To demonstrate this the Wildlife Trusts affected by Phase 1 and 2 of HS2 have identified and mapped habitat creation opportunities along the route. These areas were subsequently refined to identify the areas where the opportunity for nature restoration is greatest and most cost-effective to devise a strategic corridor (or stepping stones) of habitat that would reconnect fragmented habitats and strengthen local ecological networks.
This work has been published in summary form and as a longer Reference report. You can read a copy of the report here. It shows how a ribbon of natural areas, wild havens, green bridges and cycle ways could be created along the corridor of the HS2 route. Initial costings suggest that environmental restoration on this scale could be achieved with less than 1% of HS2’s overall budget of £42bn and a Cost Benefit Analysis undertaken by researchers at Newcastle University show that the benefits of restoring nature and providing access will outweigh the costs.
Wildlife Trusts affected by HS2 - links
There are 14 Wildlife Trusts along the route of HS2.
Below: Doddershall Meadow, a wildflower meadow in the Bernwood Forest area of Buckinghamshire – this will have a direct impact from HS2 (photo: Matt Jackson)