A stab in the dark, part 4

(… continued from A stab in the dark, part 3, posted on 2 Jul 2017).

I concluded the previous posting with the accusation that the HRA Screening Report for Pasturefields Salt Marsh has not attained the standard of proof required by the Waddenzee judgment, specifically that “no reasonable scientific doubt remains” that constructing HS2 on a southern route past the Pasturefields Salt Marsh SAC will have no adverse effects on the SAC. In this part I will explain my reasons for holding this view.

In the first place the authors of the HRA Screening Report were either unaware, or chose to ignore, potentially significant evidence that may indicate that the catchment area for the saline water that feeds the Pasturefields Salt Marsh extends further southwards than is envisaged in that report. This evidence is the existence of the Ingestre/Tixall Salt Marsh (also known as Lionlodge Covert), which is located just under one kilometre south of Pasturefields, as shown on the map reproduced below.

Source: Ingestre with Tixall Parish Council

The present extent of the saltmarsh, part of the Lionlodge Covert Site of Biological Importance (SBI) designated by Staffordshire County Council (see footnote 1), is indicated by the red hatching. The red star just above that is the still-active salt spring that feeds the saltmarsh, which is known as Salt Spring Pool. The yellow area is the extent of the saltmarsh before it was drained by the open ditches and culverts (known and suspected) shown by blue lines (broken lines for culverts). The near-horizontal black line that cuts through the saltmarsh is HS2 Route C. The orange area with a blue duck on it, is the Pasturefields SAC.

I don’t think that you need to be a hydrogeologist to spot that there may be a connection between the saline sources that are feeding the Ingestre/Tixall Salt Marsh and the Pasturefields Salt Marsh, and that the proposed construction of an embankment to carry HS2 across the former might just affect the health of both. Whether or not this proves to be the case, it is surely negligent to present a screening report that fails to take account of the possibility.

Fortunately, we don’t have to rely on our own instincts, because expert opinion is near to hand. The Ingestre with Tixall Parish Council has recently commissioned Envireau Water, a specialist hydrogeological consultancy, to review the hydrogeology of Pasturefields Salt Marsh SAC and Ingestre/Tixall Salt Marsh SBI.

The lead author of the Envireau Water report, James Dodds (see footnote 2), whilst noting that there “remains significant uncertainty relating to groundwater flow paths in the area due to a lack of groundwater level data” (see footnote 3) is clearly not convinced by the assertion in the HRA Screening Report for Pasturefields Salt Marsh that “there are not predicted to be any saline groundwater flows from the west or south of the site to the Pasturefields Salt Marsh SAC” (see footnote 4).

The Envireau Water report postulates a totally different mechanism for the source of the saline water that gives rise to the two salt marshes. It identifies a “fractured zone associated with the Tixall Fault” (see footnote 5) and considers it “likely that the saline groundwater seepages/springs at both Pasturefields Salt Marsh SAC and Ingestre/Tixall Salt Marsh SBI have a common source and groundwater catchment, associated with the Tixall Fault”. The report adds that “any impact to the groundwater along the trajectory of the Tixall Fault has the potential to impact groundwater seepages/springs at both Pasturefields Salt Marsh SAC and Ingestre/Tixall Salt Marsh SBI” (see footnote 6).

The report identifies two aspects of Route C that could cause such an effect: that piling associated with the HS2 railway embankment to be built across the Ingestre/Tixall Salt Marsh will “intersect high permeability fracture zones associated with the Tixall fault; and, that the proposed Brancote South cutting will have a severe adverse impact on the local water table, thus reducing the artesian pressure head which almost certainly drives the brine springs (see footnote 7).

This intervention alone should be enough to convince any independent observer that the HRA Screening Report for Pasturefields Salt Marsh does not achieve the degree of certainty that is required by the Waddenzee judgment, but the Ingestre with Tixall Parish Council has also received advice from the British Geological Survey (BGS). The Parish Council asked the BGS to review the HRA Screening Report for Pasturefields Salt Marsh. The BGS notes the lack of “baseline data” available to the authors of that report and comments that “it is hard for anyone to predict the potential impact of the proposed HS2 construction along any of the proposed alignments” and suggests that “an alternative conceptual ground model should be considered looking at the wider area from which brine has been derived” (see footnote 8).

Armed with this formidable evidence that the HRA Screening Report for Pasturefields Salt Marsh is deficient, the Ingestre with Tixall Parish Council has sought, through correspondence and meetings with HS2 Ltd to seek a recasting of the document, but have encountered a stonewall. Statute limits what a local council can spend in the furtherance of such disputes (see footnote 9), but the Council’s webpage indicates the intention to launch an independent fund-raising campaign to allow the matter to be pursued through the courts, if necessary (see footnote 10).

In this respect, it should be noted that Article 9 of the Aarhus Convention requires that “members of the public have access to administrative or judicial procedures to challenge acts and omissions by private persons and public authorities which contravene provisions of its national law relating to the environment” and that the employment of such procedures should be “not prohibitively expensive” (see footnote 11), although the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee has recently determined that the European Union, and some of its member states (including the United Kingdom), fail to comply with their Article 9 obligations (see footnote 12).

(To be concluded …)

Footnotes:

  1. Site of Biological Importance is a non-statutory designation used locally by the Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Staffordshire County Councils to protect locally valued sites of biological diversity, which are described generally as Local Wildlife Sites by the UK Government. The designation for the Ingestre site covers two sub-sites: the woodland area of Lionlodge Covert, and the inland saltmarsh area referred to above as the Ingestre/Tixall Salt Marsh.
  2. James Dodds MSc CGeol FGS is Managing Director of Envireau Water and is a Chartered Geologist with some thirty years’ experience of hydrogeological consulting.
  3. See Section 7 in the report Hydrogeological Conceptualisation of Pasturefields Salt Marsh SAC & Ingestre/Tixall Salt Marsh SBI Great Haywood Staffordshire, Envireau Water for Ingestre with Tixall Parish Council, June 2017. The text of this report is reproduced on the Ingestre with Tixall Parish Council website under the heading Hydrogeological Assessment by Envireau Water (but the original pagination has not been retained).
  4. See paragraph 3.6.2 in the unpublished HS2 Phase 2 HRA Screening Report for Pasturefields Salt Marsh.
  5. According to the Envireau Water report, the Tixall fault runs “alongside Ingestre/Tixall Salt Marsh” and “may extend a further 2km to the northeast beyond the village of Hixon … and therefore also runs alongside Pasturefields Salt Marsh SAC”. See Section 3 on page 4 of the report Hydrogeological Conceptualisation of Pasturefields Salt Marsh SAC & Ingestre/Tixall Salt Marsh SBI Great Haywood Staffordshire.
  6. See Section 3 on page 5 of the report Hydrogeological Conceptualisation of Pasturefields Salt Marsh SAC & Ingestre/Tixall Salt Marsh SBI Great Haywood Staffordshire.
  7. See Sections 4.1 and 4.2 on pages 5 and 6 of the report Hydrogeological Conceptualisation of Pasturefields Salt Marsh SAC & Ingestre/Tixall Salt Marsh SBI Great Haywood Staffordshire.
  8. The quotes are taken from the Conclusions section of private correspondence dated 29th January 2014 between the BGS (Dr Vanessa Banks) and Ingestre with Tixall Parish Council (Cllr Michael Woodhouse).
  9. Section 137 of the Local Government Act 1972 allows a local council to “incur expenditure which in their opinion is in the interests of, and will bring direct benefit to, their area or any part of it or all or some of its inhabitants” for purposes for which they do not have specific statutory powers. The total sum that may be spent under Section 137 in the year 2017-18 is limited to £7.57 per head of population of the administrative area of the council.
  10. See the section 4 What if HS2 Ltd resist? On the HS2 webpage of the Ingestre with Tixall Parish Council.
  11. See paragraphs 3 and 4 of Article 9 of the document Convention on access to information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice in environmental matters, United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, Aarhus Denmark, 25thJune 1998.
  12. See the document Findings and recommendations of the Compliance Committee with regard to communication ACCC/C/2008/32 (Part II) concerning compliance by the European Union, Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee. 17thMarch 2017.

Acknowledgements:

I am very grateful to Cllr Michael Woodhouse of Ingestre with Tixall Parish Council for hosting and guiding my fact-finding visit to Ingestre, providing background information and copies of unpublished documents, checking the factual content of this blog, and for his helpful suggestions for improvements.

The Ordinance Survey mapping upon which the HS2 Ltd route design and details of the saltmarsh have been overlaid has been reproduced in accordance with the principles of fair dealing as set out in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.  On this basis, this mapping is:

Reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO.

© Crown Copyright. All rights reserved.

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