Usel ES s, part 2

(… continued from Usel ES s, part 1, posted on 19 Nov 2014).

In this second part of this short series I will report on the response by Peter Miller, Head of Environment and Planning for HS2 Ltd, and counsel, Tim Mould QC, to the criticisms about HS2 Ltd’s approach to environmental impact assessment (EIA) and alleviation, both carried out to date and planned in future, that had been made by Staffordshire Wildlife Trust in front of the HS2 Phase 1 Commons Select Committee at its session held on the morning of Wednesday 22nd October (see footnote).

In the previous part of this series I identified ten points of issue raised by the Trust.

The first concerned the incompleteness of the data used for the EIA, where it was pointed out in response that the Trust had been “involved by the project in the preparation of the scheme” – hopefully “involvement” indicates that HS2 Ltd took some notice of the input from the Trust, unlike the “engagement” with the rest of us where our input was ignored. Mr Miller said that he felt the data that had been used was “pretty good”, but he did accept that there was “other information around” that had not been used. The olive branch offered here was that HS2 Ltd “recognised that there are some gaps” in the survey information and that HS2 Ltd was seeking “to redress” these and would be bringing forward supplementary environmental information to the Committee in due course. He also assured the Committee that HS2 Ltd would “continue to seek” the help of the Trust as the scheme develops.

On the matter of the missing mammal species, the second point in my list of issues raised by the Trust, Mr Miller was not very forthcoming. He attributed the omission of pine marten as due to the data assessment being confined to a five-kilometre corridor and deer were dismissed as “common mammals” upon which HS2 was “unlikely to give rise to significant effects”, but that was about it – not much in the way of an olive branch for this issue then, but Mr Miller did offer to “come back with a note on that”.

There wasn’t much give on improving on the “no net loss” policy either. Mr Miller reaffirmed that the “objective is to seek no net loss to biodiversity” and cited the reason for this as there being “no known policy for going to a net gain”, presumably referring to the Government’s position. He did concede however that Natural England and Defra are considering a change to this policy and ventured that “it may well be the case that, in the fullness of time, the Government policy will change in that light and the project would need to consider its position at that point”. He did offer, in a particularly incoherent – even by Mr Miller’s standards – few sentences to look to do better in the detailed design, citing the “quality of biodiversity” as something that could be addressed. In the contrast to this slight, albeit very slight, glimmer of hope of doing better than no net loss, he gave no ground at all on doing anything other than determining the no net loss on a route-wide basis.

Mr Miller didn’t address Ms Dewey’s observation that there should be a “mechanism” to address any biodiversity deficit that may emerge as the project progresses, and he had to be reminded of this under cross-examination. More vague words were mouthed by Mr Miller, thankfully though he did also offer what he described as a “short answer”, which was “yes, we can talk about that and see how that can actually operate, so that we get to that no-net-loss balance”.

Mr Miller was totally silent on four important points that Ms Dewey had raised: that there was the potential for improving the efficiency of offsetting by using land off-route; that offsetting should include the restoration of ancient woodland and local wildlife sites; that HS2 Ltd had apparently failed to employ green infrastructure principles; and that HS2 Ltd had not employed connectivity mapping to determine the best mitigation solutions.

On the matter of ensuring that arrangements are put in place to manage and monitor habitat created or altered due to HS2, Mr Miller offered some hope. He reported that discussions were taking place with Warwickshire County Council, as lead authority, that were “particularly looking at biodiversity issues”. He said that HS2 Ltd was “setting out plans or giving more detail and understanding of the monitoring and management regime, which will come forward”, that these plans will “bring in ecological groups” and that Staffordshire Wildlife Trust will “be involved in that particular process”.

Finally, Mr Miller confirmed that HS2 Ltd accepted in principle the need for an independent body to monitor progress against biodiversity aims, but did not accept that any such body should have the power of enforcement. He was not able to offer any details of a proposal in this respect, as the “details have got to be worked through”, but he expected that HS2 Ltd will have got its “plan in order” before the proceedings of the Select Committee are completed.

Summarising the position on the ten points that I have identified:

  • Four were ignored by Mr Miller.
  • Two were, to all intents and purposes, rejected.
  • One may be resolved by the supplementary Environmental Statement due to be published next year.
  • One is something that HS2 Ltd is prepared to discuss further.
  • Two are matters that are being discussed at the moment, and for which proposals are expected to follow at some time.

On the basis of that analysis you may think that the Chairman of the Select Committee, Robert Syms MP, was perhaps a little optimistic in his summing up:

  1. CHAIR: Although you had a big ask, I think some of the questions can at least be partly answered and it seems you don’t seem that far apart. We need more of an exchange of information, and I’m sure that the discussions will take place. Order, order. Thank you.

(To be concluded …)

Footnote: The promoter’s response to the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust begins at paragraph 341 in the transcript and at about 11.24am in the video.

Important Note: The document from which the quotes reproduced in this blog are taken is an uncorrected transcript of evidence, which is not yet an approved formal record of the proceedings of the HS2 Select Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record, and it may therefore be subject to changes being made in the light of any such corrections being requested.

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