Putting it to the test (part 1)

In January 2010, just before the HS2 proposal was announced, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) set out five tests against which it proposed that high speed rail proposals should be judged. These five tests appear to have disappeared from the CPRE website (apart from references in archived material), but I believe that they are still as relevant today as they were when they were first published.

CPRE published its document Getting Back on Track: Why new thinking is needed about High Speed Rail (here) in February 2011, just before the public consultation on HS2 was launched. This document includes, as Appendix 1, a brief analysis of whether the HS2 proposal satisfied each of the five of the CPRE tests. No such test by test analysis was included in the response that CPRE made to the HS2 public consultation (here), but that response did contain information that was relevant to the five tests. However, the equivalent response by the Warwickshire branch of the CPRE (here) did cover the five tests, and how HS2 matched up, in section 4.

So what I thought that I would do in this blog and the two that follow is collect together the relevant comments from each of these sources, chip in some of my own comments, and bring the comparison of the HS2 proposals with the CPRE’s “five tests” up to date.

The first test is “protect the environment”, to which CPRE Warwickshire has added “by for example using existing transport corridors”. In Getting Back on Track the verdict given against test 1 is:

“The very high speeds proposed would have an unacceptable impact on tranquillity even with mitigation, while the proposed route from Brackley to Lichfield carves through open countryside.”

Since these words were written, the high design speed has been “justified” (without any change) by HS2 Ltd and the use of the Route 3 corridor, which “carves through open countryside”, has been confirmed by the Transport Secretary. On the positive side, some changes have been made to the design since the consultation, reducing its impacts in a small number of areas.

These improvements encompass a new bored tunnel in West London; an extension to and realignment of the bored tunnel under the Chilterns and Bascote Heath; new green tunnels at Greatworth and Turweston; extensions to the green tunnels at Wendover, South Heath, Chipping Warden/Aston le Walls, and Burton Green; modifying cuttings at Stoneleigh (NEC), Cubbington and Aylesbury/Stoke Mandeville; and changing the horizontal alignment at Middleton, Kenilworth (Golf Club), Edgcote and Twyford. These changes are described in Review of possible refinements to the proposed HS2 London to West Midlands Route (here).

Against these improvements to some areas, the environmental impact in many sections of the route has been exacerbated by the general increase in trackbed height that I reported in my blog The ups and downs of route engineering (posted 9 Feb 2012).

So we have seen route design changes that have brought about improvements and deteriorations in the environmental impacts of HS2, but the quote from Getting Back on Track earlier in this blog remains essentially true. Also still relevant is the observation that Ralph Smyth, CPRE’s Senior Transport Campaigner, made back in November 2010:

“The plans currently on the table would give the UK the fastest rail line in the world but at huge cost to the tranquillity and beauty of the countryside. It’s as if Ministers have gone out to buy a family car and come back with a Ferrari – it may impress the neighbours but it’s just not practical.”  (see here)

In a CPRE internal policy document of January 2012 (here) the same gentleman makes the less colourful assessment that “while reduced, the impacts on the countryside remain unacceptable” and that “further changes would be needed”.

This point is made even more forcibly by Warwickshire CPRE in its own press release in response to Justine Greening’s announcement in January 2012, Justine Greening is imposing a plan on the people (here):

“… the harm to the countryside of the HS2 route now announced would far outweigh economic and social benefits. The ‘mitigation’ proposed is an attempt to mask a basically unacceptable plan.”

So, to sum up, the HS2 proposal has always failed CPRE test 1, and continues to do so. It is difficult to see how changes to route design, whilst maintaining the current design speed and route corridor, can change this overall assessment.

(To be continued …)


4 responses to this post.

  1. I don’t know for sure, but I think the HS2 scenario has been quite devisive in CPRE. Because local CPRE it is run by volunteers it is very difficult to sustain. Bucks CPRE had faded to a small group of supporters They found someone to try and pull it back on track, but they have now gone. N Bucks CPRE closed pre HS2. This leaves a huge chunk of the the proposed line with no CPRE to represent them. I have no doubt some members in Bucks have left.
    CPRE policy is a ‘National ‘ policy and where other branches are not affected, they believe rail is best and believe the lies and rhetoric HMG have pushed but have not taken on board the reality of HS2. They will have had difficulty getting consensus and support from unaffected groups across the country. I’m not sure but I heard they had some funding from Central Government.
    I feel they have sold out their idealism. If so it’s a very sad state of affairs.


    • Thank you Rae, Graham and Vincent for your contributions, which have all usefully expanded on my theme.

      On your point Rae, judging by what has been published I have to agree that there do appear to be differences within CPRE on HS2. As I am not a member of CPRE I don’t have any inside information on this, but it is evident from the extracts from documents published by the national office and Warwickshire branch that I have included in this blog (with more to come in the next three). There is a distinct difference in tone between the London and the Warwickshire voices.


  2. I believe the CPRE AGM is on 28th June – does anyone know where ? Or why CPRE members are not notified of the AGM, in advance ?
    ( & see http://www.hs2amersham.org.uk/News/WrongLines.htm )


    • Thanks Jim. Sorry that I can’t help you and the CPRE website doesn’t seem to be any help either, but I guess that you have already looked there. Perhaps CPRE is a “secret society”.

      On the subject of websites may I recommend the excellent Beleben blog and in particular the rather amusingly titled “David Begg’s winkle” at http://beleben.wordpress.com/2012/06/19/spin-to-winkle. It appears that David Begg and I have similar views on the environmentalist lobby on HS2. In addition there is a very illuminating comment from Myles Thornton of Warwickshire CPRE.


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