High impact HS2 needs a new vision
Friday 25th April 2014
Doddershall Meadow, one of the SSSI wildflower meadows in the Bernwood Forest area of Buckinghamshire – this will have a direct impact from HS2. Photo: Matt Jackson
New report shows how large-scale nature restoration along the HS2 proposed route could help heal blighted communities and damaged countryside
On Monday 28th April parliament meets for the Second Reading of the HS2 Hybrid Bill. A new report published by The Wildlife Trusts today reveals the full extent of the impact on wildlife sites and challenges the government to adopt an ambitious, alternative vision for nature restoration to accompany HS2, if it goes ahead. The vision encompasses large-scale nature restoration to help communities and the countryside most at risk from the proposed High Speed railway line.
The report ‘HS2: A vision for large-scale nature restoration along the Proposed Route’ makes the environmental, social and economic case for the Government to properly address the impact of HS2 on wildlife and ecosystems. Wildlife Trusts along the course of the route collaborated on this vision of environmental restoration running the full length of the HS2 line (Phases 1 & 2). The vision 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.
The Wildlife Trusts’ Director of England, Stephen Trotter, explains:
“Currently, people and nature stand to lose if HS2 goes ahead which is why our opposition to the proposed route for HS2 remains. Like other affected groups, we will be petitioning against it. The Government needs to act now to set out an ambitious plan for restoring nature along the length of the route, if construction goes ahead, otherwise the environmental impacts will not be satisfactorily mitigated. The greener vision for HS2 that we have published today shows that it would be feasible to create around 15,000 hectares of new, interlinked wild places established along the entire length of the route that people can walk, cycle through and enjoy, ultimately providing a ‘net gain’ for wildlife.”
The Wildlife Trusts have deep concerns over the current HS2 proposals for environmental protection and mitigation:
• The HS2 Phase 1 Environmental Statement does not reflect the route-wide environmental impacts and is so seriously deficient as to be inadequate.
• The result of constructing the railway will damage and destroy more wildlife habitat and populations of wild species than will be replaced. We believe the consequence of building HS2 Phase 1 will be a net loss of biodiversity under the current proposals.
• We would like to see a much more ambitious and integrated strategy for mitigation and compensation along the route and one that delivers a significant ‘net gain’ for the environment not just ‘no net loss’.
Our latest analysis of the Proposed Route suggests that around 500 wildlife sites will be directly or indirectly affected by HS2. Ten Sites of Special Scientific Interest (the very best of our wild places), 150 Local Wildlife Sites and 42 proposed Local Wildlife Sites (including 43 ancient woods and 9 Wildlife Trust nature reserves) are all directly affected and will be damaged or destroyed by the line. Recently the Government’s own Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) report on ‘HS2 and the Environment’ expressed concern over both the proposed mitigation and protection and the scale of environmental ambition.
The stated intent of HS2 Ltd is that the development should result in ‘no net loss to biodiversity’. However, estimates by The Wildlife Trusts show that HS2 Ltd is falling very far short of considering the mitigation package that is required. For example, London Wildlife Trust has estimated that approximately 150ha of wildlife habitat will be lost or damaged by HS2 in the capital. Yet HS2 Ltd has offered to create just 97ha of new or enhanced habitat. This leaves a net loss of 53ha (roughly equivalent to the area of St James’ Park and Green Park combined). In the Colne Valley, an impact on 19ha of semi-natural broadleaved woodland, scrub, wetland and grassland is linked to just 3ha of compensatory habitat – a net loss of 16ha. The cumulative effect of further examples along the route could be enormous. The Wildlife Trusts are also concerned about the approaches being taken to protect wildlife species along the route. For example, the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) commissioned a review of the approach taken by HS2 Ltd to assess the possible impact of HS2 on Bechstein’s bats and also the impacts of the mitigation proposals. The review, carried out by the University of Leeds, has found that unless major changes are made to the route, HS2 (including the mitigation proposals) could result in the local extinction of one of the UK’s rarest mammals.
The second reading of the HS2 Hybrid Bill on Monday is a critical moment for people who live along the route. Stephen Trotter explains:
“Early next week MPs will decide whether or not the specially-formed Select Committee for the Hybrid Bill has a duty to consider the environmental impact of HS2. If HS2 goes ahead we want to see MPs requiring a hugely reduced environmental impact of HS2 as well as a commitment to ensure that the Select Committee’s Terms of Reference include impact on the environment. HS2 would be England’s biggest infrastructure project in modern times so, if it goes ahead, we think it should be implemted alongside England’s biggest nature restoration project.”
The summary and full reference reports can be downloaded below. More information at www.wildlifetrusts.org/HS2
Notes for editors:
Background: The Second Reading, and subsequent debate, of the HS2 Hybrid Bill is due to take place on 28 April. To secure the powers required to construct and operate Phase One (London to Birmingham) and subsequently Phase Two (to Manchester and York) a Hybrid Bill is required. The Bill for Phase 1 has already been presented to parliament (the First Reading) and it is now due to come back again for MPs to debate. A Third Reading and passage of the Bill through the House of Lords would follow in due course if there was no opposition to this.
The overall case against HS2 has been made by many people and groups including the Institute for Economic Affairs and the RAC Foundation. The latter report was commissioned by the 51 councils against HS2 [the 51m group] and so reflects their views). There are also concerns over the Government’s refusal to publish its own Major Projects Authority (MPA) report on HS2 as reported in the Telegraph in January 2014.
Directly affected = sites within 100m of the route (<50m from the centreline)
Indirectly affected = sites within a 1km boundary – 50m to 500m from the centreline – or under a tunnel.
Woodland Trust website http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/learn/threats-to-our-woodland/human-impa...
The Environmental Audit Committee report HS2 and the Environment. Thirteenth Report of Session 2013-2014 stated: “On HS2, the Government should aim higher than simply striving for no net biodiversity loss” and “The Government has not been able to establish a full environmental baseline against which the aim of ‘no net biodiversity loss’ can be assessed. HS2 Ltd must carry out outstanding environmental surveys as soon as possible. It should focus particularly on cataloguing all ancient woodland and protected animal species, and as much as possible of the 40% of the route yet to be examined by involving local wildlife groups where possible.”* The Environmental Audit Committee report goes on to say “It is vital that, when the HS2 Hybrid Bill is given its Second Reading and referred to the Select Committee to consider petitions, the House’s instructions to it: require it to consider and report on the environmental impacts of the project.”**
*Environmental Audit Committee (2014) HS2 and the Environment. Thirteenth Report of Session 2013-2014 Paragraph 12, page 8 and Paragraph 22, page 12.
**Environmental Audit Committee (2014) HS2 and the Environment. Thirteenth Report of Session 2013-2014 Paragraph 86, page 38
Cost Benefit Analysis
See page 14 of our HS2 full report. We wanted to see if the economic case for this idea was there too so we commissioned a Cost Benefit Analysis by Newcastle University to see how much our ideas would cost to put into place. The Analysis shows that our proposal would use less than 1% of the current HS2 budget and that the benefits of new areas for wildlife and people would outweigh the costs. It demonstrates the importance of persuading our MPs to do the right thing and properly assess and mitigate the environmental damage that will result if HS2 goes ahead.
There are two important caveats for our report:
1) The implementation of any proposed habitat creation scheme, particularly on the scale we are proposing, would need detailed consultation with residents and a huge range of partner organisations and tailoring accordingly. Our aim at this stage was to muster an alternative vision for the environment along the HS2 route in response to the weak proposals from HS2 Ltd. We are in discussion with other nature and countryside groups and envisage that any petitions from the Ramblers, the Woodland Trust, the National Trust and other groups would not conflict with what we are proposing and would together form a much bigger change of direction for HS2’s environmental vision. It is also important that environmental compensation should not come at the expense of other compensation payments for people living along the route – a separate transparent budget for environmental mitigation and compensation should be provided by HS2.
2) The habitat mapping is provisional and not done to field level at this stage. Final mapping and proposal for habitat creation and regeneration would be done in consultation with landowners through HS2’s land purchase and rental processes.