What next?

Environmental aspects of the 51m consultation response, part 5

In my previous blog (You weren’t supposed to read that, posted 26 Sep) I examined the case supporting Ian Thynne’s staggering conclusion that the Appraisal of Sustainability (AoS) demonstrates that HS2 is “effectively an ‘unsustainable’ project” and found that he was correct.

So where does this leave the Government’s aspirations for promoting sustainable growth through HS2 that are frequently expressed in the High Speed Rail: Investing in Britain’s Future consultation document (available here)? The following, from paragraph 1.17 on page 30 of that document, is typical:

“The Government’s proposed high speed rail strategy must be seen within the context of its broader plans for creating a more balanced economy and restoring sustainable growth.”

So what should the Government do now? In his Appendix 13 to the consultation response made by the 51m alliance (available here), Ian Thynne offers the following advice:

“In standard appraisal methodologies, if a high level plan or project scores as poorly as HS2 has done, then either an alternative should be selected or considerable high level work should be undertaken to seek to turn the negatives into positives. This would include committing to the types of mitigations and policies necessary to ensure future implementation stages are sustainable. This approach provides the link and control between high level appraisals and ensuring the more detailed development stages can deliver sustainable outcomes. Indeed, the Government requires local authorities to take this approach when considering their own Local Development Frameworks.”

Taking this advice on board, my own view is that three things should happen before the final decision on HS2 is taken.

Firstly, politicians and other supporters of HS2 should refrain from calling it a sustainable project.

Secondly, a viable and credible alternative proposal to HS2, based upon using the existing rail infrastructure rather than building a new route, should be prepared to a similar level as the HS2 proposal and the tables in Volume 2 of the AoS completed for this alternative proposal. I venture that the alternative will show significant improvements in sustainability over HS2.

Thirdly, if the Government still wishes to proceed with HS2 it must address the negative outcome of the current version of the AoS in a revised version. In Ian Thynne’s words:

 “… the key to an appraisal is not to arrive at a negative outcome. The main aim should be appraise the project and put forward mitigation to offset any negative impacts.

“The AoS should not only set out the assessment of the environmental, social and environmental impacts but demonstrate what is required to ensure HS2 is a sustainable project. This provides the links and controls necessary to ensure that the design stages will not deliver an unsustainable project. The HS2 Consultation documentation fails to set out how the final scheme can be made sustainable.”

Unless and until the AoS is revised, the following accusation made by Ian Thynne will hold true:

“The AoS also highlights the Government’s failure to follow its own political agenda if it were to proceed to the next stage of HS2. For example, the carbon impacts are considered unsupportive of HS2 Ltd’s climate change objectives. This undermines the Government’s assertions that all transport decisions will consider growth and carbon in equal measures …”

In the next blog I will look at how mitigation could be used to offset the negative impacts of HS2.


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