What environmental damage?

 Sustainable development (part 3)

The responsibility for carrying out the Appraisal of Sustainability (AoS) for the HS2 project lies with High Speed Two Limited (HS2 Ltd), a company set up by the previous Transport Secretary Lord Adonis “to look at the feasibility of, and business case for, a new high speed rail line between London and the West Midlands; and to consider the case for high speed rail services linking London, northern England and Scotland”. In drafting his remit to HS2 Ltd Lord Adonis ensured that HS2 Ltd was not required to look at any options other than a new high speed link. The present Secretary of State has done nothing to change this situation.

For the actual work of carrying out the AoS, HS2 Ltd appointed two firms of consultants to work jointly: Booz and Company and Temple Group Ltd. A document with the title Appraisal of Sustainability: Non Technical Summary was first published in December 2009. Paradoxically, the full report which this first document purports to summarise was not published until February 2011, as a part of the mountain of paperwork issued by HS2 Ltd for the public consultation. As may be expected when the summary preceded the actual report by over a year, HS2 Ltd also found it necessary substantially to rewrite the Non Technical Summary and reissue it stamped with a February 2011 date. This revised document may be found here.

The full Appraisal of Sustainability Main Report, published at the end of February 2011, runs to two volumes plus six appendices and comprises over eight hundred pages in total; goodness knows how much it must have cost! It may be accessed, in sections, here. At the time of writing this blog I have not got very far with ploughing through the full report, and so I am basing these initial comments largely upon the contents of the Non Technical Summary.

The first thing to say is that the Appraisal of Sustainability Main Report starts from the assumption that a new high speed railway, supporting operating speeds up to 400 kph, will be built between London and Birmingham.

There is a separate document called Strategic Alternatives to the Proposed ‘Y’ Network (available here) which has been produced by consultants Atkins for the Department for Transport and this considers some alternatives to HS2, based upon the conventional rail services. The appraisal is restricted to economic considerations and so cannot be regarded as a sustainability appraisal.

The approach that has been used for the sustainability appraisal by the consultants to HS2 Ltd is to consider the four priorities that are set out in the document Securing the Future that I referred to in my blog posted on 14 Mar; these priorities are listed in section 5 of chapter 1 of that document. The HS2 Ltd sustainability appraisal has employed these priorities and has identified eighteen key issues within these four priorities. Sustainability objectives have been defined for each of the key issues; these number thirty-three in total. The four priorities are:

Sustainable Consumption and Production – interpreted in the HS2 Ltd sustainability appraisal as making efficient use of resources, minimising waste and encouraging the use of brownfield sites.

Climate Change and Energy – which HS2 Ltd interprets as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and ensuring that the railway is resilient to extreme weather events.

Natural Resource Protection and Environmental Enhancement – which HS2 Ltd interprets as protecting landscape, townscape, cultural heritage, biodiversity and water resources and reducing flood risk.

Sustainable Communities – which HS2 Ltd interprets as covering a large range of topics concerned with quality of environment, public health and safety, economic factors and local amenities.

The impact of the preferred route, previously identified as “route 3”, has been examined against each of the thirty-three key issues and reassuring noises have been made in case the reader might have the impression that HS2 may damage the environment or adversely affect communities. Job done!

If you get right to the end of the Appraisal of Sustainability Main Report you will find Appendix 6, which contains a similar evaluation of sustainability, using the thirty-three key issues, for the two alternative routes that were identified as “route 2.5” and “route 4”, the original alignment of the consultation route before it was modified and a number of variations to the route design that have been considered (e.g. a station at Iver, serving Heathrow). The purpose of the appendix is to demonstrate that the consultation route is the most sustainable solution. Thanks very much Mr Consultant, that’s another hurdle safely negotiated.

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