Time to build your ark

In my blog Fair shares for all? (posted 16 Mar 2014) I reported how HS2 had been dragged into the argument about flood prevention funding for the Somerset Levels and in I wish I could have got here earlier (posted 24 Mar 2014) I commented that comparisons were being made between funding for transport infrastructure in the South West of England and the HS2 project. But it doesn’t stop there, because the recent inclement weather has also prompted questions about whether building HS2 will increase the risk of flooding for communities along its route.

Never slow to take up the cudgels against HS2, the Rt Hon Cheryl Gillan, MP for Chesham and Amersham, was smartly out of the blocks by tabling a written Commons question that was answered by Dan Rogerson MP, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, on 13th January. Mrs Gillan asked:

“… what places in the High Speed 2 safeguarded area or within half a mile of that safeguarded area (a) have been flooded in the past two months and (b) are considered to be at risk from flooding.”

It appeared that the Minister did not have very much information to offer Mrs Gillan by way of an answer. He told her that “it does not appear that the safeguarded area for HS2 has been significantly flooded during the last two months” but that “there could be some flooding arising from local sources that has not yet been recorded”. He promised that the information “will be captured and collated once the current emergency response has concluded”. He said nothing about instances of flooding of locations outside the safeguarded area but “within half a mile”.

In response to the part of Mrs Gillan’s question relating to the risk of flooding, Mr Rogerson made a surprising admission:

“The safeguarded area for phase one of HS2 crosses just over 100 watercourses, each of which will have a degree of flood risk associated with them. The scale of that risk will depend on the precise alignment of the route. At present this has not been fully assessed, nor has an assessment been made for the phase two routes.”

Now that no assessment has been made for Phase 2 I can understand, since the final route has not been confirmed, but for Phase 1 we have an Environmental Statement (ES), the outcome of goodness knows how many £millions spent on environmental impact assessment (EIA), shouldn’t that provide the flood risk assessment that Mrs Gillan is seeking?

She obviously thinks that it should. In an article in the Bucks Free Press published towards the end of February she is quoted as saying:

“This is totally unsatisfactory. You would have thought that was a basic part of any environmental investigation”.

You certainly would, and HS2 Ltd appears to think, despite what the Minister said, that flood risk has been covered in the EIA. A “statement on flood risk to HS2”, that HS2 Ltd appears to have issued in response to the Bucks Free Press coverage and a similar article in The Guardian, says:

“The HS2 Phase One route between London and the West Midlands has been designed to withstand even extreme flooding, taking climate change into account. HS2 Ltd worked closely with the Environment Agency when we published the Environmental Statement. This contains detailed flood risk assessments along Phase One. HS2 has been specifically designed to mitigate against flood risk both to the railway and to third parties along the route.”

The HS2 Ltd statement provides a link to an index page for the seventy-three volumes covering the topic of “water resources” in Volume 5 of the London-West Midlands Environmental Statement. One of those volumes is a “route-wide” assessment (WR-001-000) and the remainder comprise a “water resources assessment report” (WR-002-0xy) and a flood risk assessment report” (WR-003-0xy) for each of the twenty-six community forum areas, plus an assortment of water course modelling reports and technical reports.

I suggest that attempting an evaluation of just how rigorous the assessment of the flood risk from HS2 has been in the ES requires the expertise and patience to scrutinise closely at least the hundred pages or so of text in Appendix WR-001-000 and the appended tabulations of data that occupy a similar number of pages, and perhaps even the seventy odd other volumes that relate to specific locations. I’m afraid that, in this instance, I lack both of these qualities.

It is interesting though that, despite all of this work, the Minister from Defra felt the need to report that the analysis of flood risk had not been completed by HS2 Ltd. It would be helpful to learn in what respects the work is incomplete, what plans are in place to complete the task, and what the timescales are for completion.

I have to say that my own local knowledge leads me to be sceptical about the quality of the flood risk analysis that is reported in the ES. In July 2007 in excess of forty homes in my own village of Cubbington were flooded due to a local brook being unable to cope with surface water run-off from the very fields through which HS2 will run. A new flood alleviation scheme is currently under construction, and this work is referred to in paragraph 2.1.21 of ES Volume 2 Report CFA17. It is obviously important to the local community, and particularly those residents who were flooded in 2007, that the construction of HS2 does nothing to reduce the effectiveness of this new flood alleviation scheme that residents fought hard to get.

With this background, it was disturbing to read in the same Report CFA17 (in paragraph 13.3.42) that:

“The Environment Agency Mapping, Warwick SFRA and the Warwickshire PFRA indicate that there have been no historical incidents of surface water flooding within the study area.”

The lack of trust in HS2 Ltd that appears to permeate all of its dealings with local communities is very evident when it comes to flood risk. Following an incidence of flooding on an estate in his constituency, this is a matter that the Minister for Europe, the Rt Hon David Lidington MP, has felt the need to bring to the attention of the Transport Secretary in a recent letter:

“You will not be surprised therefore to hear that residents on the estate are very fearful that the construction and operation of HS2 across the floodplain close to their homes will add significantly to the flood risk on the estate. It is indisputable that both construction and operation will require farmland to be taken which for now soaks up surface water and which ought to act as natural flood protection for my constituents.”


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by chriseaglen on March 29, 2014 at 10:01 am

    The EA evidence to the ECA inquiry demonstrated with others that HS2 is fine for securing some funding and careers. The HS2 phase 1 route passes through two significant hilly areas Banbury/Brackley and Wendover/Amersham. There are the two main Rivers near Leamington Spa and Aylesbury. The flooding in the River Thame is increasing due to housing and will do from the bidirectional drainage from the higher ground along the HS2 cuttings. The down river impacts of HS2 into Thame and along the Rover Thames will be increased from HS2. The Minster tried to reverse the argument and has repeated the same theme regarding the HS1 link in the EAC inquiry that the rail routes will not flood. The reverse is a key impact that the collection from the HS2 cuttings will increase the lateral North South distribution of water and the Rivers crossed by HS2 will have faster drainage into areas known to flood.


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