Up the garden path

Aside from an unhealthy preoccupation with all matters HS2, I have a number of faults that I am prepared to confess within the confines of my own consciousness. In general I would not be willing to discuss these in a public arena such as this blog site, but I feel that I should make one exception by way of an explanation of what follows. You see I do have a tendency towards parochialism in some of my blogs; I expect that you have noticed. Sometimes I cannot resist the temptation to blog about HS2 and my environment, rather than HS2 and the environment. Still, what would you expect from a nimby?

All of which serves as an admission that I am about to do it again, and blog about an issue that has arisen in my own Offchurch and Cubbington Community Forum area. However, this time I am hoping to use my own experience to highlight an issue that I understand has also occurred elsewhere along the Phase 1 route; this is the lack of genuine consideration that HS2 Ltd has given to mitigation proposals arising from the local communities that will be affected by HS2.

In Cubbington our particular mitigation proposal was a shortish bored tunnel under South Cubbington Wood, which we suggested would also allow the trackbed height across the Leam Valley to be minimised with consequent reduced visual and noise impacts. I have given some background to this proposal in my blog Thinking three-dimensionally (posted 29 Feb 2012). Our neighbours in Offchurch also submitted a mitigation proposal, which relied on trackbed lowering and a section of “cut and cover” tunnel; this submission has followed a parallel course to the Cubbington proposal.

Both written submissions were deposited with HS2 Ltd in early May 2012, and I set out the early history of the treatment that they received from the company in my blog “Words, words, words” (posted 4 Aug 2012). In a nutshell we were told that HS2 Ltd would consider our proposals and provide a considered response, but that this would have to wait until sometime between November 2012 and March 2013 as they were busy designing the “real” route (my terminology).

In August 2012 HS2 Ltd produced a double-sided printed sheet (recto and verso) which we were told was the basis of a “sift” process to which all local community proposals would be submitted to ensure a uniformity of treatment. The promise was one of a clear, rigorous and open process, based upon a list of criteria encompassing engineering, environmental, economic and financial factors.  We have continually been promised since that we would have the opportunity to see and discuss all of the comparative data related to the different options prior to decisions taking place.

Despite these assurances, at a meeting in April 2013 local community representatives were advised that the tunnel had been estimated to add £500 million to the cost of the scheme and had been ruled out on the grounds that it did not “provide value for money”. No evidence to back this cost estimate was provided, and it was clear that no attempt had been made to subject the proposal to the promised “clear, rigorous and open sift process”.

Even worse it became apparent in response to questioning that the cost estimate given did not relate to the 1.2 km long tunnel that the Cubbington group had proposed, but to a 7.8 km tunnel running all the way from the northern part of Cubbington to the tunnel planned under Long Itchington Wood. This longer tunnel, the result of an unsolicited exercise by HS2 Ltd engineers, explains the ten-fold increase in cost over the original estimate of £50-60 million made in the submission by the Cubbington Action Group.

The HS2 Ltd representatives at the meeting were unable to provide a cost estimate for the original tunnel proposal at the April meeting, and have failed to rectify this omission since.

My group’s submission was quite clear about what we were requesting, and there can be no excuse for HS2 Ltd misinterpreting our proposal. It is clear that HS2 Ltd has treated us to a twelve month trip along the garden path. What has happened is at best incompetence on the part of HS2 Ltd and, at worst, amounts to blatant duplicity; I’m very much afraid that I incline to the latter interpretation. We have tried very hard over the past twelve months to work with HS2 Ltd in the interests of achieving a design that will minimise the environmental impacts in Cubbington. It has been clear for some time that HS2 Ltd is not interested in working with local community representatives in this way – a view which is amply illustrated by this tunnel fiasco.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by chriseaglen on May 28, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    Your not alone with HS2 letters about wait a little and this may be refined from the CEO and others. The decision about the track to pantograph height and speed created the requirement for the height and width and two bores, or four if the track number increase.

    There is an approximate squared relationship for diameter of bore or cut and cover depth and a doubling for one train per bore or side of a dual sided box. This resulted in a dramatic increase in tunnel costs per kilometer and areas such as Chetwode, Twyford, Aylesbury and Stoke Mandeville as well as part of the Chilterns being untunnelled. A mitigation plan would have included these characteristics as well as the laser straight maximum speed approach for duplex trains.

    The simplicity of the approach as resulted in an unattractive railway and financial plan.
    HS2 has not managed the number of statements of wait for improvements in the CEO letter that has been received some months ago.

    Reply

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