Can I quote you on that?

As a newcomer to environmental issues I must admit that the assessment of the sustainability of a project is the one area that I have found most difficult. It is a challenging concept. In my blog Scoring an own goal (posted 22 Sep 2011) I explain how this assessment had been approached in the Appraisal of Sustainability (AoS) by taking the four “sustainable development priorities” that are specified in the UK Sustainable Development Strategy document Securing the Future (here). Sub-division within each of these four priorities yields eighteen “key sustainability issues”, and the sustainability rating of the project for each of these sustainability issues may be assessed by two stages of further sub-division to yield sixty-six “evaluation criteria”.

The AoS rates how “supportive” the HS2 proposal is of the evaluation criterion in Section 2, which spans pages 5 to 34 of Volume 2 (here). This very detailed information has been condensed down to give a more accessible tabulation in Section 1 of AoS Volume 2 (pages 1 to 4).

The work in the AoS in incomplete, due to some information not being available at this stage, but should be comprehensive enough to allow an overall assessment of the “sustainability” of the HS2 proposal to be made. The problem is how to trade off the “plusses” and minuses” to arrive at this overall assessment.

After checking through the many pages of the AoS, I have come to the conclusion that HS2 Ltd has failed to make this assessment for us, or if it has made an overall appraisal it doesn’t want to tell us the outcome. In my blog You weren’t supposed to read that (posted 26 Sep 2011) I tried to use the AoS tabulations to make my own overall assessment, based upon the work of professional environmentalist Ian Thynne. 

My blog finds that of the eighteen key sustainability issues all save two economic objectives will be unsupportive of sustainability or neutral. It further concludes that, since the economic benefits of HS2 are really unproven, the project should be regarded as “unsustainable”.

Now faced with this level of complexity and the failure of the AoS to draw any overall conclusions about sustainability, I was surprised to learn, from paragraphs 6.3.9 and 6.3.10 on page 120 of High Speed Rail: Investing in Britain’s Future Consultation Summary Report (here), that 4,067 respondents to the public consultation ventured a view on the sustainability of the HS2 proposal.

Of these respondents 285 (7%) “believe that a high speed rail network is sustainable or that the benefits outweigh the costs”. The chief motive for taking this position appears to be that “road usage and aviation have more adverse environmental impacts than high speed rail”. To these small number of diehard high speed rail supporters I say that I agree with you that rail is a more environmentally-friendly option than road or aviation. What I am not convinced about is that HS2 represents the best environmental option for a rail alternative.

This theme seems to be agreed by 1,297 (32%) of respondents to the public consultation, who “do not think that [HS2] is the most sustainable option”. These doubters are joined by a further 2,485 (61%) who “do not think that the project is sustainable or believe that the social and environmental costs outweigh the potential economic benefits”.

So in the light of this pretty conclusive rejection of the sustainability credentials of the HS2 project, my plan was to round this blog off with the reaction by HS2 Ltd in its consultation response document Review of HS2 London to West Midlands Appraisal of Sustainability (here). Unfortunately, search as I may I can find no such response in the pages of this document.

So HS2 Ltd says, “No comment”.


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