A lesson in environmentalism, part 1

As promised in my blog No shortage of empty seats here (posted 21 Sep 2013), I will use this posting, and the four that will follow it, to report on the speeches delivered by the four main participants in the adjournment debate High Speed 2 (Ancient Woodlands), which was held in Westminster Hall on Wednesday 3 July 2013.

Michael Fabricant (Conservative, Lichfield) as the Member who had secured the debate spoke first. He used a prepared script, but his delivery was animated sufficiently to overcome this encumbrance, and his content was well-researched and well-argued.

Early on in his contribution he declared that he fully supported “the principle of an additional north-south line to relieve congestion on the west coast main line”, but made clear that this support did not extend to the current HS2 proposals:

“… despite those benefits, I cannot bring myself to support a project whose route causes such environmental degradation and blight, particularly when other options could be explored.”

He noted wryly that his government had “chosen the Labour route instead of the one we favoured in opposition, which used existing transport corridors, as is the norm in continental Europe”, and that “it feels as if the route has been almost deliberately designed to be as damaging as possible to rural England”.

After a brief interlude of drifting, with the help of interventions from other Members present, into territory outside of the scope of the debate by discussing property compensation – a breach which was gently rebuked by Sandra Osborne MP sitting in the Chair – Mr Fabricant returned to the topic of the damage that HS2 would cause to ancient woodlands. He recited some of the figures published by the Woodland Trust that identify the impacts that HS2 will have on our ancient woodlands. He conceded that “some lessons have been learned in the design of the Phase 2 route” and that the resulting damage was not as “devastating” as Phase 1, but he noted that Phase 2 “alone will damage 21 ancient woods, while noise and vibration will affect the delicate balance of a further 48 woods within 100 metres of the line”. In the light of these numbers, he made a very telling point:

“We cannot credibly lecture other countries on deforestation while taking a cavalier approach to the loss of our own equivalent of the rain forest.”

Mr Fabricant pointed out that Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs “states categorically” that:

“Protection of our trees, woods and forests, especially our ancient woodland, is our top priority.” (see footnote)

He also recalled the answer that he had received to a Commons written question “asking my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for his own assessment of the impact of the proposed HS2 route on ancient woodland” (number 158299 reported in Hansard for 6th June 2013, column 1224W). He said that this answer “seemed, sadly, to indicate a belief in Government that such destruction is a price worth paying”. He further complained that the examples of mitigation measures that the Transport Minister had cited in his reply, which included my own local retained cutting at South Cubbington Wood, were “simply not good enough”. He summed up his own attitude to mitigation with another telling observation:

“If, as it is claimed, HS2 is meant to be a world-class transport project, it should demonstrate world-class practice when it comes to the avoidance of damage and the showcasing of the very best practice in mitigation.”

Mr Fabricant, in common with many individuals and organisations that have expressed an opinion, is clearly not very impressed by the draft Environmental Statement (dES) that was published in May this year, which he condemned as adding “further insult” to the injury that will be caused by HS2. He described it as “poorly written”, “half-finished” and “neglecting to include crucial ecological surveys and assessments that are required for communities to respond effectively”. He also made the accusation that the dES “sadly misunderstands the complexity and national significance of the habitats being damaged”, quoting the view expressed in the document that “at present there are no route-wide significant effects on habitats” – an assertion that he described as “extraordinary”. He summarised the dES as “a statement that pays mere lip service to environmental protection”.

Mr Fabricant concluded his thoughtful contribution with a plea to the Transport Minister to avoid “cutting a destructive swathe through previously unblemished countryside” and “to think again and deliver a route that better respects the environment we all treasure”.

He also listed six questions, of which he had given the Minister prior notice, and to which he was seeking an answer during the Minister’s speech in reply, but I will leave consideration of these questions and answers until I report on that speech.

(To be continued …)

Footnote: The statement is taken from the document Government Forestry and Woodlands Policy Statement Incorporating the Government’s Response to the Independent Panel on Forestry’s Final Report, published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in January 2013. Mr Fabricant is somewhat guilty of using the quote out of context as Chapter 5, in which it appears, is about the protection of our trees, woods and forests from natural, rather than man-made, disasters.

PS: To read Mr Fabricant’s speech in full consult columns 241WH to 246WH in the Hansard record.


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by chriseaglen on September 28, 2013 at 9:02 am

    Hopefully the Supreme Court case can use this to illustrate the area where SEA is applied to consider the range of current transport corridors for sections. The HS2 primary exploration simply did not extend to the East side and Middle of England from Stevenage to Milton Keynes was not explored in detail. Also there is a difference between one transport corridor and sections of different corridors which provides a possible routing. In the previous centuries this was river and valley routes. This weaving worked but a straight ruler produes your devistation.


    • My understanding Chris is that the Supreme Court will concern itself only with whether the Law requires that a SEA be carried out for HS2. If it does decide that SEA is required, it will not seek, I belive, to determine what that SEA should contain.


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