Can I trust you on this?

In my blog Fly-tipping on a major scale (posted 4 Feb 2014), I likened the policy of an “integrated earthworks design approach” that has led to HS2 Ltd proposing large “environmental mitigation earthworks” as the Company intending to throw “its garden rubbish over the fence into its neighbour’s garden, rather than having the bother of taking it to the local tip”. Now I’m prepared to accept that my statement might be regarded as being a trifle extreme – I can see that there are two sides to this matter – but it is, nevertheless, a policy that I have reservations about.

As I said there is another side to consider. Many communities, for example, are worried about the visual impacts of HS2 and the noise from trains when – sorry, that should be if – they start running. These communities are relying on HS2 Ltd to do the best that they can to reduce these impacts, and may be reluctant to look a gift horse in the mouth when HS2 Ltd proposes earthworks as shielding. But, on the subject of horses, it is well to remember the adage, “beware of Greeks bearing gifts”, particularly when those “Greeks” happen to work on the second floor of Eland House.

It is also obviously of benefit to the environment if the need to haul large quantities of excavated spoil by road to other construction sites or to landfill can be avoided, providing – and this is a big proviso – the environmental impacts of disposing of it close to the excavation source are not greater. My point is that local communities need to make sure that what is on offer represents genuine mitigation, and is not just a convenient spoil tip that is proposed as the result of inappropriate application of the integrated earthworks design approach. There is a danger surely that a design approach based on giving priority to reusing as much excavated material as possible is likely, in some cases, to lead to unnecessarily large earthworks, whilst in some places the predisposition to using earthworks for screening may not be the most appropriate mitigation approach anyway. Local communities need to be reassured that what is on offer represents the best, not just the most convenient, mitigation proposal.

Take my own neck of the woods as an example. The report for Community Forum Area 17 in Volume 2 of the Environmental Statement reveals that excavation in my area is estimated to generate close to 6.5 million tonnes of material, mostly coming from two large cuttings (see Table 2 on page 25). That same table confirms the success of the integrated earthworks design approach in my area; the amount of this material that will require “off-site disposal to landfill” is zero tonnes. It would appear that virtually all of the six million tonnes is destined for two areas in my patch: the Ufton Vale Farmlands, and the Leam valley. Both of these areas are acknowledged in the Environmental Statement as having a “rural character”; this is typical HS2 Ltd understatement for “English countryside at its best”.

If I was a developer with six million tonnes of surplus excavated material and approached my local planning authority for permission to dump it in these two areas, I venture that I would be shown the door without very much ceremony. Of course if the hybrid Bill receives Royal Assent, HS2 Ltd will not have to suffer this indignity; the Company will have the legal power to do that dumping without the need to trouble the local planners.

So it is important that local communities trust HS2 Ltd on this, and, in the wake of a thoroughly sham community forum engagement process, I am sure that I am not the only local community representative who finds it difficult to trust HS2 Ltd on anything. Even if I could find it in my heart to think that HS2 Ltd just might be putting the interests of local communities before its own cost and convenience considerations, when I look at the proposals for Community Forum Area 17 I find insufficient reassurance that they are appropriate.

In my next posting, which will be in three parts, I will explain what I mean by considering the proposals for the Leam valley, which – with apologies to my neighbours in Offchurch – is the area in CFA 17 that I am most concerned about.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by chriseaglen on February 8, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    The use of the word design or design approach and acceptance of HS2 prior to detailed ground survey statements overlooks the uncertainty of the type of ground in practice, its location variability and the belief it provides structural back fill. No one including HS2 has any idea what such volumes are and how useful or impacting the materials will be.
    The danger is of reading sense into ES sentence and inadequate pre-studies devoid of boreholes and of hydrology and near surface ground. This is not metal or plastic but natural or previously moved ground.

    Reply

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