Pass me my rose-tinted specs (part 2)

(… continued from Pass me my rose-tinted specs, part 1, posted on 4 May 2012).

In part one of this two-part blog I examined the press release (here) issued by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) on the day of the announcement by the Transport Secretary that HS2 was to go ahead and, in particular, the views of Chief Executive Shaun Spiers as quoted in that press release. As covering all that I wanted to say would have made that blog far too long, I propose to complete my comments in this current blog.

After gushing out his enthusiastic response to Justine Greening’s announcement that she proposed to let loose the bulldozers on the very English countryside that he was appointed to champion, Mr Spiers (at last) introduced a note of caution:

“Today’s announcement is just one step in a very long process. There is still much more work to be done.  The route proposed today requires detailed study and it is likely that further changes will need to be made.  In particular, CPRE would like to see flexibility on the maximum design speed to allow more sensitive routing with greater curvature of the track. This will allow for necessary alterations following further local consultation.”

But these more cautious and more measured words cannot undo the damage done by the first couple of paragraphs in the press release that are attributed to him. He really should be wise enough to appreciate that he has given the Government a real gift; a leading environmental spokesman apparently giving the “thumbs up” to HS2.

Justine Greening was not slow to accept this gift and to put it to good effect. In a speech at the Transport Times Conference on 26th January 2012 (transcript), she said:

“And I welcome the comments of Shaun Spiers, Chief Executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, who said the Government had been sensitive to the impact that HS2 would have on communities and the countryside; and that their legitimate concerns about the effects of high speed on the landscape had been heard.”

As for Mr Spiers’ saying that the CPRE “would like to see flexibility on the maximum design speed to allow more sensitive routing with greater curvature of the track” he obviously hadn’t read the HS2 Ltd document Review of HS2 London to West Midlands Route Selection and Speed (here). Paragraph 8 of the Executive Summary of that document appears to shut the door on any reductions in maximum design speed:

“The only environmental improvements delivered by a lower maximum design speed would be a marginal reduction in noise impacts, which would be outweighed by a substantial reduction in economic benefits. We consider that mitigation of the consultation route, the approach we have taken, is a more appropriate way of reducing environmental impacts, particularly noise.”

Unfortunately after his few cautious words Mr Spiers returns to fulsome praise for the Government and its project:

“But the Government deserves congratulation for showing commitment to the future of our railways and to addressing regional economic imbalances, rather than concentrating development in the south east.  We are particularly pleased that this appears to have been a genuine consultation and that legitimate concerns about the likely impact of HS2 on the landscape have been heard.”

Contrast this with what fellow Right Lines Charter signatory the Woodland Trust has to say in its own press release on the HS2 announcement (here):

“The way the Government has dealt with its proposal for High Speed Two is extremely disappointing. The consultation lacked sufficient information to make it a credible process. Even now, the environmental impacts of the proposed route have not been properly assessed and there are no plans to assess them until late 2012. The lack of information on alternative routes has made it impossible to establish whether the route chosen was due to anything other than reducing costs and increasing speed.”

Unfortunately this is not the first time that I have felt compelled to criticise the CPRE in my blogs. In It beggars belief (posted 27 Dec 2011) I expressed my disbelief that the CPRE was involved in the commissioning of a report from the pro-HS2 organisation Greengauge 21. I wish to stress that I have no axe to grind regarding the CPRE. I agree one hundred per cent with its aims, as stated on its website:

“We campaign for a beautiful and living countryside. We work to influence how we plan our towns and cities to make them better places to live and work, to ensure the countryside is protected for all to enjoy for now and future generations.”

Where I do take issue with the CPRE is that I do not think that the support given by Mr Spiers to HS2 will in any way contribute to achieving these aims; indeed, I think it will have quite the opposite effect!

PS: The Right Lines Charter (here), which sets out four principles “for doing High Speed Rail well”, is supported by thirteen national environmental organisations, including the CPRE. The stated purpose of the Charter is “to challenge the way the HS2 proposals have been developed and the context they have been developed in”. For my comments on this initiative please refer to my blog Wheeling out the big guns (posted 1 Aug 2011).

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