Donald Macintyre's Sketch: The final word on HS2 (plus about 20 million others, too)
Donald Macintyre writes political sketches for The Independent, having been Jerusalem correspondent since 2004, covering Israel and the Occupied Territories, as well as travelling for the paper to Iraq, Turkey, Jordan, Libya and Egypt.
Tuesday 26 November 2013
It makes Gibbon’s six-volume Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire look like a postcard. The weight of the printed version is likely to be equivalent to that of a Toyota Aygo car.
This is the Department of Transport’s official Environmental Impact Assessment of the High-Speed 2 (HS2) rail link. And it’s a monster! A massive, Brobdingnagian colossus of a document, the like of which has never emerged from Her Majesty’s Stationery Office before and you can only hope never will again.
The Woodland Trust, which will be scouring its 50,000 pages for threats to ancient trees and wildlife habitats, has calculated that to absorb it within a consultation period of just 60 days is about the same as reading the whole of War And Peace 30 times, or once every two days (a task which would presumably make it possible to recite large chunks of Tolstoy’s great novel by heart).
Hard copies needed by affected communities will have to be delivered by truck. The digital version is an awe-inspiring eight gigabytes.
Burrowing into the labyrinthine entrails of this behemoth of a Department of Transport document yesterday, when it was published, shortly after the formal first reading in the Commons of the High Speed Rail (London to West Midlands) Bill (a process that by contrast took about 45 secwonds), it was possible to see why.
It used to be said that the London telephone directory had no plot but some great characters. This has little in the way of characters but a lot of plot – namely the Government’s determination to drive through the first phase of HS2 in the face of widespread angst – and lot of landscape.
A kind of Domesday Book of the chosen route, a mind-bendingly detailed survey of fields, hedgerows, dwellings and ancient heritage, natural and man-made, likely to be affected by the initial phase of modernising Britain’s railway system.
Take this random extract from the Waddesdon-Quainton section of the line in Buckinghamshire, locus of some of the fiercest opposition to the project: “A small element of the ridge and furrow earthworks, to the north of the Cranwell Farm driveway, will be removed. The best-preserved examples of ridge and furrow earthworks, and the evidence of tofts and crofts, will not, however, be impacted.”
Tofts and crofts? You can’t help worrying that reading this will be made an even longer process by the need to consult a dictionary. (Toft, it turns out, was the medieval land used for building; croft was for pasture or arable land).
That passage was 40 words. Given that the total is around 20 million words, you can understand why the Woodland Trust – which has employed someone full time for the purpose – believes there may not be time to read the thing.
- 1 What marriage would look like if we actually followed the Bible
- 3 The Chinese city where men have 'three girlfriends because there are so many women'
- 4 'Heartbreaking' Syria orphan photo wasn't taken in Syria and not of orphan
- 5 Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Britain to take more refugees as Cameron bows to pressure after more than 250,000 back our campaign
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Make your voice heard: Sign The Independent's petition to welcome refugees
£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...
£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...
£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...
£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...