In January 2012, the Government gave the green light to a new High Speed Rail network between London and the West Midlands: HS2.
We generally support improvements to public transport. But like many other environmental groups, such as the Campaign to Protect Rural England, we believe that the Government needs to address certain issues to ensure that the line is built in accordance with environmental principles at the forefront.
Despite many negative responses to the Government’s consultation during 2011, the Secretary of State for Transport in January 2012 announced that the scheme would go ahead.
For all its effects, a railway is far preferable to a road. From some roads the noise of vehicles rarely ceases, day or night; but trains run intermittently. New roads encourage more car ownership and use, while trains are less harmful to the environment than cars. Properly managed, HS2 has the potential to encourage less car use.
But we are worried that the plans to lessen the effect on the landscape and environment may overlook the protection of footpaths and other rights of way.
We made submissions to the Secretary of State for Transport and to the Chief Executive of HS2 Ltd about our fears for the effect on the walking environment in general, and on rights of way in particular.
We were assured that most paths would be protected from severance, though sometimes this will be by diverting them rather than building bridges or underpasses.
The Ramblers continues to meet with ministers and HS2 Ltd with the aim of guaranteeing protection for most, if not all, paths. At local level, our volunteers have been making representations to highway authority officers and to HS2 Ltd staff about the value of paths likely to be affected.
In December 2013 a hybrid Bill, the High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill was presented to Parliament. This provided for the construction of the railway and for associated works. On the face of the Bill most proposals for rights of way were acceptable, but we are concerned about the treatment of about 30 (out of 150) affected paths. Some diversions are inadequate, and some will involve walking for too long beside the railway itself; and some proposals involve long-term closure (nine years or more) of paths during construction, so people will have to walk instead on roads with no footways.
A hybrid Bill has with it the right to petition for amendments. We have exercised this right to express our concerns about those particular proposals; you can read our Petition here. We hope that by negotiation, and securing assurances and undertakings from HS2 Ltd, many (or all) of our concerns can be addressed, so as to cut down on the Parliamentary required, or even to remove the need for us to attend altogether.