Doing it on the cheap

In my blog Thinking three-dimensionally (posted 29 Feb 2012) I described the new design for the Cubbington cutting that HS2 Ltd apparently regards as sufficient to overcome the concerns that have been expressed about the damage that HS2 will inflict on the ancient woodland of South Cubbington Wood. I also said that I will consider the question “will this be enough?” in this current blog.

Well will it, or is it just a token gesture and another example of HS2 Ltd doing things on the cheap rather than properly fulfilling its environmental responsibilities?

In paragraph 3.2.3 on page 22 of Review of possible refinements to the proposed HS2 London to West Midlands Route (here), that I cited in Thinking three-dimensionally, the relevant phrase is “we have sought to minimise the impacts”. I don’t think that HS2 Ltd has really “minimised the impacts” because the proposal to tunnel under the Wood, that HS2 Ltd ignored, would clearly present a lower-impact solution. What this paragraph should have gone on to say is “consistent with our brief to reduce the cost of the northern part of the route”.

Now you may think that I am drawing one conclusion too many here, but if proof were needed that cost reduction has been an important motivation in the latest design review you need look no further than paragraph 3.2.5 of the above-cited document, which says:

“These revisions [on the Kenilworth to Offchurch section] would have no impact on journey times and would result in an overall reduction in cost of around £10 million to £20 million compared to the consultation route.”

If cost was not a main motivator, then why would the cost savings have been highlighted in this way? Clearly in this cost-cutting scenario the tunnel proposal was a non-starter.

So what does HS2 Ltd think that it has achieved with its “on the cheap” proposal to “minimise the impacts” on South Cubbington Wood? Paragraph 3.2.4 of its document includes the following sentence:

“The route refinements and introduction of retaining walls at the cutting through South Cubbington Wood would reduce land take of the ancient woodland, though would still result in some fragmentation.”

As regards fragmentation, I don’t see that the situation has really improved at all from the previous proposal. The cutting still goes on the same path through the section of South Cubbington Wood that lies below the Shakespeare’s Avon Way footpath. So this section will still be cut into two parts in the ratio of about one-third and two-thirds. All that the new proposal means is that the two parts will each be slightly bigger, but of course they will both be considerable smaller than the undivided woodland before HS2.

Regarding land take we need to bear in mind what is said about the “rail corridor” in paragraph 3.1.1 on pages 8 and 9 of Volume 1 of the Appraisal of Sustainability Main Report (here):

“Consideration has been given at this stage for using up to 25m clearance on each side of the route for landscaping, vegetation plantings, etc.”

It is clear from what is said further on in the paragraph that the reason for this “clearance” is “the impact of ‘leaf fall’ on the operation of the railway”. In other words, HS2 Ltd will need to keep deciduous trees, of which South Cubbington Wood has many, a minimum of 25 metres from the edge of the cutting. So perhaps we really need to add 50 metres to the 35 metres of the cutting and think of the scar through the Wood that HS2 will cause as being 85 metres wide. This width would accommodate one dual four-lane motorway and leave enough space to build another dual three-lane one right alongside it; just imagine a strip that wide being driven through a piece of ancient woodland!

This is bad enough, but I don’t think that it is the end of it. Take a look at the photograph below of construction work in progress on HS1 in Kent.

HS1 under construction

This appears to be the construction of a cutting through woodland. Just look at the extent of the workings and the size of the machinery. Can you imagine telling those earth-mover drivers to be careful of the trees? It’s a bit like carrying out brain surgery with an axe; I doubt that the patient would survive and neither, I think, will our wood.

Reference: The width of motorways has been calculated using Figure 4-1a in Volume 6, Section 1, Part 2 of Highways Agency publication Design Manual for Roads and Bridges (here).

Acknowledgement: I have been unable to identify the copyright owner of the photograph of HS1 under construction. I will be pleased to add an acknowledgement to this blog if I am advised of this information.


One response to this post.

  1. An 85 metre swathe makes the 17 metre,s for a double deck covered trench my sugestion leaves, look like a mere scratch,
    Is there a minimum width below which the woodland will self repair?


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