Taking issue

At the end of my blog A rare pleasure (posted 15 Jul 2013) I said that I wanted to examine the issues raised by a couple of comments posted against my blog Trust, worthy (posted 25 Jun 2013) by a new correspondent, presumed by me to have pro-HS2 sympathies.

The first comment posted by Andrew Heenan appeared on the eve of the second national Stop HS2 Convention. Since I was rather snowed under at the time, trying to juggle the conflicting demands of drafting a response to the consultation on the Draft Environmental Statement and preparing my convention presentation, I have to confess that I did not give his contribution due consideration and posted a rather below par response. Andrew’s follow-up was, understandably, somewhat dismissive, but unfortunately he also closed the door on continuing the correspondence. I have read all three comments, his two and my one, again and would like to set the record straight.

It appears to me that Andrew is making three points, essentially. Firstly, he feels that the Woodland Trust should not be opposing HS2 and describes them as a “nimby organisation” for so doing. Secondly, he regards HS2 as less damaging to the environment than the motorway expansion that he sees as inevitable should HS2 not go ahead. Thirdly, he appears to think that local communities would have received better mitigation offers from HS2 Ltd if we had not been opposed to HS2.

I think that he is wrong on all three counts, and attribute this to a failure on his part to appreciate the facts of the matter.

In order to understand the position taken by the Woodland Trust it is necessary to appreciate what the loss of ancient woodland means. Such woodland once clothed the greater part of our country and it has been destroyed to the extent that it now only covers 2% and has become largely fragmentary. It is our richest land-based wildlife habitat, comprising a complex and diverse ecological community that has developed, and is reliant, on soil that has remained relatively undisturbed over centuries. It is irreplaceable and cannot be recreated.

The Woodland Trust has identified 21 ancient woods that it claims will be destroyed by HS2 Phase One and 12 more under threat from Phase Two. The Trust regards a further 34 as “indirectly at risk” from the two phases combined.

With this set of circumstances it is hardly surprising that the Woodland Trust, which has amongst its aims to “protect native woods, trees and their wildlife for the future”, is concerned about HS2. At the Stop HS2 Convention recently, Nikki Williams, Head of Campaigning for the Woodland Trust, explained why the Trust is campaigning against HS2 (video). She said:

“As an organisation the Woodland Trust stands for no further loss of ancient woodland. Therefore we were left with no option but to take part in this campaign. We put a proposal to our trustees and management board and it was seen as categorically correct that the Woodland Trust needed to lead a campaign around doing the best that we could to stop this loss.”

Andrew, in his initial comment, condemns the Trust for deciding “to become nothing but another nimby organisation”. Whatever he means by this, his choice of adjective is clearly inappropriate. Nikki made it clear in her presentation that the Trust’s motives do not include nimbyism:

“This route that has been chosen doesn’t go through any land that we own and we have no significant information about it damaging any of our land …”

In my view, Andrew’s only grounds for his obvious displeasure with the Woodland Trust is that the Trust does not agree with his own pro-HS2 views.

On the connection that Andrew makes between the cancellation of HS2, were it to be axed, and the “inevitable exponential motorway expansion” that he sees as a consequence, that argument appears to have been dismissed by HS2 Ltd as long ago as 2009 in paragraph 4.2.10 of the report proposing the HS2 scheme that it submitted to the Government:

“In 2033, around 11,000 long distance car trips per day would be likely to transfer to HS2. This would lead to a reduction in congestion but the net impact of this is relatively small. For example traffic flows on the southern section of the M1 would fall by around 2%.”

Now I don’t see that 2% either way is going to be significant in any decision to expand the road network, do you?

Andrew’s final point that a “constructive approach” by local communities when dealing with HS2 Ltd might have secured “more sympathy in dealing with marginal land” – whatever he means by “marginal” – is, I’m afraid, very naïve. Large organisations, such as HS2 Ltd, don’t do “sympathy”; the design process for such large projects is inevitably largely cost driven, and we have seen ample evidence of this as the HS2 Phase 1 design has evolved. Further, opponents’ general views on the merits of HS2 have not figured in the community forum process – the terms of reference for the forums prohibit any discussion about the rights and wrongs of the decision to go ahead with HS2.

Where design changes have been made in response to local community concerns these have stood the best chance of succeeding where a resulting cost reduction can be demonstrated. In my blog So what do you think now? (posted 2 Jul 2012) I presented an analysis of the mitigation proposals described in the HS2 Ltd document Review of possible refinements to the proposed HS2 London to West Midlands Route. In that blog I summarised the outcome of that HS2 Ltd review as follows:

“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.”

Since this report was published we have seen various design changes that have been made with the aim of reducing the cost of the project – or should that be reducing the increases in cost of the project? Many of these have been to the disbenefit of the environment. In my view the chances of securing design changes that benefit the environment but put up costs have always been slight. HS2 Ltd management has to see a benefit to the project; reducing the damage to the environment alone is not, in their eyes, sufficient benefit to make a change.


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by chriseaglen on July 20, 2013 at 6:51 am

    A motorway would have no greater land width but it can be weaved more practically with less cuts and covers. The motorways are not chronic on most urban accesses.
    The HS2 did no plan and design on the use of blighted corridors because of the lowest cost and highest speed criteria. Big mistakes for the nation and the woods.


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