Some Sites Seem Irreplaceable, part 2

(… continued from Some Sites Seem Irreplaceable, part 1, posted on 7 Jan 2017).

In the oral submission that he gave to the House of Lords HS2 Phase 1 Select Committee on behalf of the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts (RSWT), Matthew Jackson (see footnote 1) provided some welcomed – well welcomed by me, at any rate – clarification of why Natural England (NE) had recommended that sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs) should be removed from the HS2 no net loss (NNL) calculation (see footnote 2).

He stressed that removing these protected sites did not mean that “there will be no compensation or no redress for the impacts on those sites”, merely that “they’re not included in a calculation which is given the label of no net loss”. He told the Committee that this point was “absolutely fundamental”: developers should not be able to make the claim that, “I’ve had this impact on a site of special scientific interest, but overall there’s no net loss, so we don’t need to worry about it” (see footnote 3).

Mr Jackson said that implying that SSSIs can be destroyed without a loss to the natural environment “raises a grave threat to the statutory protection for these sites, across the UK” and that this was not just an issue for HS2, but was “about the implications going forwards” (see footnote 4).

Mr Jackson expanded on this theme in response to questions from the Committee (see footnote 5):

“Now, we’re not saying that those loses can’t be mitigated or in some cases, compensated for, and nor are we saying that all the habitats are irreplaceable. The issue is around the designation of those sites. As I said earlier, sites of special scientific interests (sic) are a sort of sample of important sites. Now, if you diminish that sample, the network of sites no longer fulfils the purpose for which they were designated, which was about ensuring the preservation of a sample of our most important sites.”

He added that, when damage is done to a SSSI, you can’t “designate more SSSIs as a result” (see footnote 6).

Lest the Committee had failed to get the point, Mr Jackson spelled out, in the simplest of terms, the principle that the RSWT was “concerned about” (see footnote 7):

“The principle that I was endeavouring to get across was exactly that one that what you lose is part of the designated suite of SSSIs and if you wrap it up in the no net loss calculations, you are presenting it to other developers elsewhere as saying, you can have an impact on one of these sites, but so long as you create some grass and/or plant some woodland elsewhere, you can clam (sic) you’ve having no net loss.”

He added, in equally straightforward terms, that what the RSWT was seeking, and regarded as important, was that “nobody else can bring that sort of presentation to a decision maker, be that a local authority, be that the planning inspectorate, and say, ‘We’re having no net loss on here. We’re affecting this site of special scientific interest, but the net result is no loss to the natural environment’” (see footnote 8).

In order to make her response to Mr Jackson, the Promoter’s Counsel called upon the services of the Environment Director of HS2 Ltd, Peter Miller, as her witness. Mr Miller confirmed that he understood that the “fundamental concern” that the RSWT had expressed was that “by putting SSSIs into that ‘no net loss’ calculation it suggests that biodiversity is tradable” (see footnote 9). He also said that he “can see that people outside of this process may say that it is simply a case of crashing through a SSSI on any occasion, and we’ve come up with a biodiversity response that equals – I don’t know – 10 times the amount of woodland or other ecological response, and that’s good enough” (see footnote 10).

Mr Miller referred to the inevitability that “a [long] linear infrastructure project will, in one way or another, affect some of these [SSSI] sites”, but claimed that HS2 Ltd had “done a good job on that and only three [SSSIs] are directly affected” by HS2 Phase 1 (see footnote 11).

Mr Miller confirmed the rejection by HS2 Ltd of the NE recommendation on SSSIs, stating that he and his employers “still think there are aspects of the SSSIs that could reasonably be accounted for in a biodiversity calculation” (see footnote 12). He signally failed, however, to offer a shred of evidence to support the inclusion of SSSIs in the no net loss calculation. The only conciliatory gesture that he was prepared to make to the RSWT was that the Promoter hasn’t “closed this down by any means” and will “continue that discussion with Natural England” (see footnote 13).

On the face of it Mr Miller’s agreement that the Promoter has “got to get this right going forward”, and his view that “in every case in our response that leads to a further discussion with Natural England; it does not shut this down” (see footnote 14) should be cause for optimism. Nevertheless, any hope that this might give of a move towards following the NE recommendation on SSSIs must be tempered by the outright rejection of that recommendation in the Promoter’s written submissions; a rejection that appears to be supported by the Lords Select Committee (see footnote 15).

Which leaves Mr Jackson – and me, for what it’s worth – still concerned that HS2 is “setting the precedent that you can have an impact on a SSSI and claim you are having no net loss” (see footnote 16).

Footnotes:

  1. Mr Jackson is Head of Conservation Policy and Strategy at the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT). He told the Select Committee that he was representing the Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts in view of his expertise in the matters of concern.
  2. The Royal Society of Wildlife Trust’s hearing may be viewed from 10:34hrs in the video and is reported from paragraph 80 in the transcript of the morning session of the Lords HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.
  3. See paragraph 105 in the transcript of the morning session of the Lords HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.
  4. See paragraph 106 in the transcript of the morning session of the Lords HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.
  5. See paragraph 119 in the transcript of the morning session of the Lords HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.
  6. See paragraph 120 in the transcript of the morning session of the Lords HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.
  7. See paragraph 121 in the transcript of the morning session of the Lords HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.
  8. See paragraph 122 in the transcript of the morning session of the Lords HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.
  9. See paragraph 211 in the transcript of the morning session of the Lords HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.
  10. See paragraph 226 in the transcript of the morning session of the Lords HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.
  11. See paragraph 210 in the transcript of the morning session of the Lords HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016. I have corrected “non-linear infrastructure project”, as recorded in the transcript, as this is clearly an error when compared with the video record, and conveys a meaning opposite to that intended.
  12. See paragraph 212 in the transcript of the morning session of the Lords HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.
  13. See paragraph 213 in the transcript of the morning session of the Lords HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.
  14. See paragraph 227 in the transcript of the morning session of the Lords HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.
  15. See paragraphs 291 and 292 of the publication Special Report of Session 2016-17 High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill, House of Lords Select committee on the High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill, 15thDecember 2016.
  16. See paragraph 165 in the transcript of the morning session of the Lords HS2 Select Committee held on Wednesday 23rdNovember 2016.

Important Note: The record of the proceedings of the Lords 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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