Giving due consideration, part 3

(… continued from Giving due consideration, part 2, posted on 6 Aug 2015).

I have reached the penultimate part of my discussion of Tim Mould’s cross-examination of Ray Payne on the topic of where HS2 stands in respect of the requirements of paragraph 116 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) document and its impacts on the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (see footnote 1).

The third bullet point of NPPF paragraph 116 requires those charged with granting or refusing planning permission within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) to take account of “any detrimental effect on the environment, the landscape and recreational opportunities, and the extent to which that could be moderated”. Mr Mould explained to the Members of the HS2 Select Committee that the approach that had been taken by HS2 Ltd in respect of this requirement was “to direct an assessment of those matters – that is to say detrimental effect on the environment and so forth, and the extent to which that could be moderated – to direct attention to that through the process of environmental impact assessment”.

In practice, what this appears to mean is that the route through the Chilterns AONB has been designed to meet the operational requirements and satisfy the budgetary constraints of the railway and that the “moderation” to which Mr Mould referred is largely sought by “bolt-on” measures such as screening earthworks and planting. So despite the assurance that Transport Minister, Robert Goodwill MP, gave the Commons that HS2 would be “tunnelling under rather than travelling through the Chilterns” and that the Government was “integrating the railway into the landscape, hiding much of it from view” (see footnote 2), the design in the hybrid Bill relies on what is essentially a surface route for nearly a half of its transit of the AONB. Whilst this surface route includes some below-grade sections, in cuttings and two green tunnels, it still involves, as Sue Yeomans of the Chiltern Countryside Group told the Select Committee (see footnote 3), “two 500-metre long viaducts, a 900-metre long, up to 16-metre high, embankment and a tunnel portal emerging in ancient woodland”; Ms Yeomans described these as “alien and permanent features” that were “insensitive to the particular character” of the AONB.

Further evidence that the HS2 Ltd approach may not be sufficient was provided by Timothy Straker QC, Counsel for the four statutory bodies responsible for the Chilterns AONB. He referred the Committee to the view of the bodies, as set out in the management plan for the AONB that these bodies have a statutory obligation to prepare, that the HS2 section crossing the Misbourne Valley “cannot be adequately mitigated” (see footnote 4).

In contrast Peter Miller, Head of Environment and Planning at HS2 Ltd, told the Committee (see footnote 5):

“I believe that what we’ve done over the years means that the environmental response is inherent within the design and that the residual effects are minimal. There are effects but they tend to be localised.”

So how can the views of two government-sponsored organisations be so diametrically opposed?

(To be concluded …)

Footnotes:

  1. Tim Mould QC is Lead Counsel for the Promoter and Mr Ray Payne is a member of the Chilterns Conservation Board who gave evidence of behalf of the Board’s petition. The cross-examination took place during the public session held by the HS2 Select Committee on the afternoon of Monday 13thJuly 2015. The relevant passage is recorded from paragraph 228 of the transcript, and may be viewed from 15:15 hrs in the video of the session. I have reproduced the full text of NPPF paragraph 116 in part 1 of this blog.
  2. Refer to column 659 in the House of Commons Official Report for Monday, 28thApril 2014.
  3. See paragraph 50 in the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Monday, 20thJuly 2015.
  4. See paragraphs 74 to 76 in the transcript of the afternoon session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday, 15thJuly 2015. The origin of the comment that Mr Straker attributes to an Arup document is actually paragraph 31 on page 23 of the Chilterns Conservation Board document Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Management Plan 2014-2019, which says:
    “The impact of High Speed 2 on the Misbourne Valley will be severe and permanent. At the time of writing the impact of the current design with a long section on the surface crossing two viaducts cannot be adequately mitigated. The proposal to provide screening by using spoil from cuttings to create line-side embankments is not an appropriate design solution in an AONB.”
  5. See paragraph 314 in the transcript of the morning session of the HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday, 15thJuly 2015.

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

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