So what do you think now?

On the same day that the National Office of the Campaign to Protect Rural England was “welcoming” in a press release the announcement that HS2 was to go ahead and Shaun Spiers, its Chief Executive, was “congratulating” the Government “for showing commitment to the future of our railways” – a severe misjudgement which I have commented on in my two-part blog Pass me my rose-tinted specs (posted 8 Jun 2012 and 12 Jun 2012) – the Warwickshire branch of CPRE put out its own press release Justine Greening is imposing a plan on the people (here).

The view from Warwickshire is in sharp contrast to the rose-tinted vision from the London HQ:

“The Warwickshire Branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) is extremely disappointed with the announcement today that the Government is proceeding with HS2.”

The press release goes on to say:

“We very much regret that the Government has not re-thought the type of high-speed line or the route. We urge that the approval process which now begins allows consideration of the basic concept for high-speed rail, and will include consultation on alternative routes including those which follow existing transport corridors.”

So what is going on? What is the game plan of CPRE National Office?

Some clues may be found in a CPRE internal policy document of January 2012 (here), written by Ralph “Ferrari” Smyth. In that document the rationale behind the way that the Government’s announcement was received in that infamous press release is explained:

“The most conspicuous elements of the decision were the additional tunnelling and mitigation on the route in the Chilterns AONB as well as in undesignated countryside. We felt it was important to welcome these improvements in our press release that was issued on the day of the announcement. This was not just because we had been calling for them but also because we do need to be positive publicly when the Government listens and responds to concerns we have raised.”

But the policy document also says:

“Nonetheless it was important to point out that while reduced, the impacts on the countryside remain unacceptable and that further changes would be needed. There will be plenty of opportunity to continue to improve route design and mitigation during the preparation of the Environmental Impact Assessment and the Hybrid Bill. It will be necessary for the pressure to be kept up, particularly in relation to less high profile areas such as Warwickshire.”

Whilst I have to admit that the press release covered both of these “angles”, I think that it was far too strong on the former and far too weak on the latter, giving the impression that CPRE is prepared to accept the current HS2 proposals as inevitable and is seeking to “make the best of a bad job”.

Indeed, Ralph Smyth appears to view the CPRE being cast in the role of “collaborator” as being helpful to its role of countryside guardian:

“Having a positive vision gives us advantages over other groups, particularly those that exist solely to say no.”

He might think that, but I really don’t see how playing right into the hands of the Government’s public relations people did anything to help CPRE do its job better.

Mr Smyth also says, further justifying CPRE’s conciliatory approach to HS2:

“Anecdotal reports suggest that parishes that have engaged to date have secured addition mitigation whereas those that have focused solely on opposition have not. This highlights that we are at the stage where a failure to engage on mitigation is likely to cost the countryside …”

I think that is far too simplistic a view. An analysis of what HS2 Ltd has to say about the mitigation proposals that it has put forward since the public consultation in its document Review of possible refinements to the proposed HS2 London to West Midlands Route (here) reveals that cost appears to be the uppermost incentive in deciding which proposals are adopted.

Most of the mitigation proposals that the document recommends be adopted have, according to HS2 Ltd, associated cost reductions. In total, we are told, the proposals would save between £620 million and £703 million. Only three of the mitigation proposals will entail additional costs: Turweston green tunnel (£20 million to £30 million); Twyford horizontal realignment (£10 million to £15 million); and, Northolt Corridor tunnel (£40 million to £50 million). However, a number of mitigation proposals that have been rejected, despite bringing environmental improvements, incur additional cost.

Further, one of the undoubted beneficiaries of the route design review is the Chilterns AONB, where at the same time the opposition to HS2 has been, and remains, amongst the most strident.

So I don’t see why CPRE can’t adopt the same stance to HS2 as most of the action groups, which is to engage with HS2 Ltd to discuss mitigation whilst remaining in total opposition to the HS2 proposal; which is a position which HS2 Ltd appears to understand and accept. This would be a far more honest policy, in keeping with what CPRE has said in the past and in recognition that the HS2 proposal is never going to satisfy CPRE’s own five tests.

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One response to this post.

  1. Excellent I have taken part and given link to whole and posted on Stop HS2 which is running column on dissent in CPRE.

    Reply

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