Not necessarily a good thing, part 1

As a result of finding my last posting down the back of the sofa, as it were, I have gone back over the evidence that the Woodland Trust gave to the House of Commons HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee last February, which examines some of the matters referred to in Shallow planting (posted 7 Jul 2016) in a little more detail, as well as raising some associated concerns (see footnote 1).

At the hearing, the Trust was represented by barrister Reuben Taylor QC with the Promoter’s legal team putting up James Strachan QC. Mr Taylor called Richard Barnes, Senior Conservation Adviser at the Woodland Trust, as his witness. In this blog I will rely on the evidence given verbally at the hearing, although any of my readers wishing to delve deeper should note that Mr Barnes also submitted a full written evidence statement.

In his presentation of evidence, Mr Barnes set out the contradiction that lies at the heart of the position taken by the Trust on HS2. He referred to the Promoter having made the commitment that HS2 would be “an exemplar project”, which he concurred was “appropriate for a major infrastructure project of large scale that’s promoted by the government”. In line with this, the Promoter had claimed to have “adopted a no net loss to biodiversity approach”. However, according to Mr Barnes, the “irreplaceable” nature of ancient woodland implies that “best practice is to assess the options and ensure no net loss or impact through avoidance of harm” (see footnote 2).

However, Mr Barnes told the Committee that, far from avoiding causing harm to ancient woodland, HS2 Phase 1 will result in “a loss of over 30 hectares of ancient woodland which is comprised of direct effects on 34 ancient woodland[s]”. He added that “some of these woodlands are actually severed to create small disconnected woods”, meaning that “the actual impact on the biodiversity is greater”. If this were not bad enough, Mr Barnes claimed that “a further 29 ancient woodlands” would suffer “indirect effects”, which he explained were “things like noise, dust, construction traffic, artificial lighting causing disturbance and collateral damage” (see footnote 3).

Mr Barnes accused HS2 Ltd of failing to “avoid ancient woodland when assessing their route” and of refusing to reduce the consequential toll on ancient woodland by adopting tunnelling alternatives that had been identified and “by moving haul routes” (see footnote 4).

Mr Barnes underlined the point that, irrespective of the Promoter’s stated aim for HS2 to result in no net loss to biodiversity, “a loss of ancient woodland will be a net loss to biodiversity” and that “you cannot offset [this] loss”. He advised that, where ancient woodlands and veteran trees are involved, Natural England regarded compensation as “always a last resort” and that such new tree planting “can only partially compensate for damage”. In such circumstances, he ventured, “compensation needs to be at a large scale” (see footnote 5): he told the Committee that Natural England had suggested to HS2 Ltd that a ratio of 24:1, by area, should be employed. However, due to what he described as “a lot of uncertainty” in the time that would be required for the newly-planted woodland to establish, he said that the Trust was recommending increasing this to 30:1 to apply “a precautionary principle” (see footnote 6).

It appears that HS2 Ltd’s proposals are a long way short of meeting even the Natural England suggestion, let alone what the Woodland Trust considers an appropriate level of compensation planting. In his evidence paper, Mr Barnes advises that Natural England has estimated the planting ratio offered by HS2 Ltd at between 3:1 and 4:1: the Trust’s own estimate is 3.4:1 (see footnote 7).

Committee Member, Mark Hendrick MP tried to get confirmation of the compensation ratio that HS2 Ltd was providing from the Promoter’s Counsel, James Strachan QC, and the MP had to work very hard to gain any enlightenment (see footnote 8). The silk did confirm that the Promoter did not accept a replacement ratio of 30:1, but appeared very guarded about what was on offer in way of a ratio, claiming that his client hadn’t “calculated it as a figure”. Mr Hendrick told the barrister that it was “clear” that the replacement ratio that had been used was “nothing like the scale” and that he “wouldn’t say [the Promoter was] in double figures”. Mr Strachan’s retort that he hadn’t got a calculator was, to my mind, tending towards the mildly insolent.

(To be continued …)

Footnotes:

  1. The Woodland Trust’s hearing made be viewed from 11:45hrs in the video and is reported from paragraph 306 in the transcript of the morning session of the Commons HS2 Select Committee held on Tuesday 3rdFebruary 2016.
  2. See paragraph 329 of the transcript of the morning session of the Commons HS2 Select Committee held on Tuesday 3rdFebruary 2016.
  3. See paragraph 330 of the transcript of the morning session of the Commons HS2 Select Committee held on Tuesday 3rdFebruary 2016.
  4. See paragraphs 332 and 385 of the transcript of the morning session of the Commons HS2 Select Committee held on Tuesday 3rdFebruary 2016.
  5. See paragraph 334 of the transcript of the morning session of the Commons HS2 Select Committee held on Tuesday 3rdFebruary 2016.
  6. See paragraph 338 of the transcript of the morning session of the Commons HS2 Select Committee held on Tuesday 3rdFebruary 2016. So the Trust is saying that for every hectare of ancient woodland that is lost 30 hectares of new woodland should be created.
  7. See paragraph 87 of Mr Barnes’ paper Proof of Evidence on Nature Conservation & Ecology pertaining to Ancient Woodland and Ancient Trees affected by HS2 Phase 1.
  8. See paragraphs 405 to 440 of the transcript of the morning session of the Commons HS2 Select Committee held on Tuesday 3rdFebruary 2016.

Important Note: The record of the proceedings of the Commons HS2 Select Committee from which the quotes reproduced in this blog have been taken is an uncorrected transcript of evidence, which is 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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