Reaction to the Government's HS2 project

The Independent on
Sunday canvassed a range of organisations and politicians for their opinion on
HS2’s impact on wildlife and habitats. Here are their responses in full

Hilary Wharf, director, HS2 Action Alliance

“The Government has done everything it can to pretend that HS2 will not have a huge negative environmental impact.  But we will lose forever ancient woodlands, wildlife and nature reserves, not to mention an area of outstanding natural beauty. If the government had carried out a full environment assessment as is normal for projects of this size, much less environmentally damaging alternatives would have been considered and we would not have to gone to court with a Judicial Review to get them to think again.”

Barney White-Spunne, chairman, Countryside Alliance

“The Government has given the green light to this scheme without full consideration of the devastating impact HS2 will have on Britain’s countryside, or the lives of the hundreds of thousands of people living along the route.

The countryside, its communities and important wildlife habitats must be a factor in any evaluation of major projects that affects them, and should be protected if a sound business case is not made. Regrettably, the impacts that cannot be monetised - damage to landscape and biodiversity have yet to be seriously addressed by the Government and people who will feel these impacts most acutely are not being given a fair hearing.

At present the costs of HS2 - both to the environment and the public purse - are simply too great to justify, and the Countryside Alliance therefore urges the Government to reconsider the impact that High Speed Rail will have on Britain’s countryside and rural communities. High speed rail projects are hugely expensive and therefore must offer significant benefits to justify investing public money - those benefits are not apparent.”

Jane Thomas, senior campaigner, Friends of the Earth England

“New investment in rail infrastructure is exactly what the UK needs; but for HS2 to have any environmental benefits it needs to be part of a wider national transport strategy to improve our existing overcrowded rail network.

HS2 will be largely carbon neutral but it looks like the chosen route will have a significant effect on the natural environment, landscapes and local communities. We urge the Government to seriously consider the environmental impacts the construction of the new routes will have on local species and habitats, during the consultation with local communities and organisations this Spring.

There are cheaper and quicker ways to cut carbon from transport and these should be the Government’s priorities - people must be encouraged to switch from cars to trains or this will be a missed opportunity.”

Marina Pacheco, chief executive, the Mammal Society

“Something like HS2 which is going to divide the countryside quite drastically would have a significant impact on quite a number of mammals. We understand that development is part of modern life but if we are going to have development we would expect the highest standards of survey and impact mitigation.

It will have the same kind of impact as putting in a major motorway, you would be dividing populations, that can impact on genetic diversity. So bat colonies may stop crossing the lines and may start interbreeding on either side. Fragmentation means that you could lose genetic diversity in some animal populations.

Our perception has been that cost always wins out and unfortunately mitigation measures to limit the impact on wildlife tend to cost more money. HS2 should prioritise minimising the impact on the landscape and wildlife, and not let cost be a barrier to putting mitigation measures in place.”

Paul Wilkinson, head of living landscapes, The Wildlife Trusts

“The current HS2 proposals could have devastating impacts on hundreds of wildlife-rich places previously saved over decades.  Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, for example, spent 20 years trying to save an area from becoming land-fill - with potential to be recognised as nationally important - only to be carved up by HS2.  There are examples like this up and down England.  High Speed Rail could form part of a sustainable future but this future must include a thriving natural environment.”  

Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party

“The design speed is 250mph (400kph). This should be reduced to 186mph (300kph) or 200mph (320kph), similar to HS1. The higher design speed requires straighter alignments, which are more difficult to fit into the landscape - although the proposed ‘Y’ extension is better than the first London-Birmingham stage in that it makes more use of existing transport corridors.

But a lower design speed would enable it to follow existing transport corridors and contours more closely along the route. The lower speed would also reduce the energy required to operate the trains: 400kph trains will use three times the electricity that a 200kph train would use. The high speed also contributes to the noise problem, significant both for humans and wildlife.

The proposed route would run through numerous protected and sensitive areas including SSSIs, ancient woodlands, local wildlife sites, nature reserves and areas of outstanding natural beauty - and it doesn’t have to, if the speeds were reduced. Of particular concern are the impacts on bluebells, wood anemone, woodpecker, tawny owl, black hairstreak butterfly, and several species of wildfowl. Grave concerns remain about the environmental and economic viability of this project.”

Sue Holden, chief executive, The Woodland Trust

“Transport that destroys ancient woodland cannot be called ‘green’. This irreplaceable habitat covers just two per cent of the UK. The unique, undisturbed soils and ecosystems found in ancient woodland form our richest land habitat and support a host of rare, protected and threatened wildlife - species that are slow to react to change, find it difficult to adapt, and are not mobile enough to move to other locations to survive. Ancient woodland can never be replaced, translocated or recreated through new planting.

The Woodland Trust continues to oppose any destruction of ancient woodland and will lobby to ensure its loss is minimised and that woods and trees are central to the mitigation proposals published in the formal consultation expected later this year. We are prepared to fight for alternative routes to be considered that lessen the impact on ancient woodland.

Any government agreeing to the destruction of ancient woodland is wholly mistaken when referring to itself as the ‘greenest government ever’. Regardless of any mitigation strategy put forward by Government on HS2, no compensation can make up for this loss.”

Nick Reeves OBE, executive director, Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management

“Another example of unsustainable development that exposes the myth of the ‘greenest government ever’. The coalition has sanctioned the building of unnecessary infrastructure in the name of economic growth at a huge cost to the environment and some of Britain’s most precious landscapes. Romantics see this is a Victorian-style grand project that is more about Britain’s prestige and trumping the French and the Germans; and ensuring that large lucrative contracts flow in response to the wailing of powerful lobbyists. With £33 billion at stake, the priceless beauty of the countryside cannot compete.”

Former Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan, Conservative MP for Chesham and Amersham

“I’ve always objected to it since 2009. I’m not sure that this is the right project at the right time in the right place. I think it’s possible 20 or 30 years too late. I don’t think you should be going ahead with the London to Birmingham section before you know where your hub airport is going to be. It doesn’t make sense to me and there’s no point in just going ahead with it and cancelling the Heathrow bit, which is what has effectively happened in the latest announcement. If it is going to help kick-start the economy in the north why not start it in the north and do the connectivity between the northern cities and why not wait for the southern section until you know where your airport is because I think you need an integrated transport system, which should connect directly to HS1 and to wherever the hub airport is.

My constituency is an AONB, an area of outstanding natural beauty. It’s designated in that fashion to protect it from major infrastructure projects such as this, so we are going against our own designation effectively.

It will have a drastic effect on both the environment and the local wildlife. It’s the largest infrastructure project since the second world war, Simon Burns confirmed to me that the price tag on it has gone up again by he estimated roughly £1.5bn so it’s standing at about £34bn but that’s just your starter for ten.

They could have used much more existing transport corridors, sacrificed a bit of speed and protected the AONB better, there are alternative routes. Why designate something an AONB and then run a major thing right through the middle of it? It’s people, their homes, their businesses, their communities and some beautiful countryside which is so precious because it’s the nearest AONB to London. It’s for Londoners to come and enjoy as much as the people that live in the Chilterns.

When you are building something as large as this project is through effectively virgin countryside it’s going to have a lot of unintended consequences including disruption to the wildlife. There is a value on our green spaces and on our countryside and on our wildlife and this is another nail in the coffin of the countryside.

There are lots of people that will benefit from this and are very excited about it, I’m afraid I’m not one of them and I think it’s very damaging for my constituents and my constituency.”

Angela Smith MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Conservation and Wildlife

“I support HS2 and always have done but clearly as the chair of the conservation and wildlife group, we are going to have to work very hard to ensure that we try and deal with any potential conflict as far as precious habitats are concerned.  What we need is a constructive dialogue with the government on the impacts on habitats and wildlife more generally.

As things stand right now, one of the biggest concerns is ancient woodland - even in my own area in Sheffield two of our ancient woodlands are going to be impacted on potentially by the route. This is why we need the dialogue because I think it’s really important that we try as hard as we can to deal with that rather than just throwing our hands up in the air and saying ‘this is all a bad thing and it needs stopping’.

The much bigger picture on this is the promise of reductions in carbon emissions because you will get more people on the trains, that’s why I support HS2 because we do need more capacity. But that shouldn’t come at a disproportionate paid by wildlife. There’s a balance here to be found. Ancient woodlands are a good example - the permanent loss of something that just can’t be replaced. In some cases you can replace habitat but ancient woodland once it’s gone it’s gone forever so we do need to think very carefully about what we are doing.”

Alister Hayes, living landscapes manager, London Wildlife Trust

“HS2 will directly and indirectly impact on eighteen of the capital’s key wildlife sites. London’s species are already under threat. Further landscape fragmentation, as a result of HS2, will isolate species leading to their decline. We are looking at significant environmental damage here when the economic benefits for HS2 have not yet been proven satisfactorily. The Wildlife Trusts Living Landscapes programme is all about creating connectivity between landscapes to allow wildlife – rare and more typical - to move freely and cope with the challenges of a changing climate.”

Tim Hill, conservation manager, Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust

“Broadwater Lake Nature Reserve is part of the Mid-Colne Valley Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), which attracts one of the most important wetland breeding bird communities in Greater London. Over 70 breeding and 80 wintering species of bird are regularly recorded. Its SSSI status has not helped to protect it in the face of the government’s plans, though. Important habitats and the wildlife they support will be lost from the local area as the high speed rail line rips straight through the nature reserve.

We recognise the need for an efficient and sustainable transport system and support moves to a low carbon economy, but nature has great value, both to the economy and the well-being of society. It must not be overlooked in major infrastructure projects. To do so contradicts the government’s own Natural Environment White Paper and the UK National Ecosystem Assessment.”

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