The Ramblers is disappointed by the government’s announcement that HS2 is proceeding as planned, without further action to protect the environment, nature and our precious landscapes. We are in a climate emergency and the Ramblers recognises that it is vital to have an efficient, sustainable transport system, to support our well-being and prosperity. Properly handled—for example if it were to comply with the principles set out in the CPRE’s ‘Right Lines’ Charter—High Speed Rail could be a viable means of increasing rail capacity and connectivity and reducing reliance on cars. However, we agree with recent commentators that HS2 still does not appear to be part of any clear long-term transport strategy which would improve rail connectivity throughout the country and we are concerned that public transport benefits of HS2 have not been shown clearly to outweigh its environmental effects.
The government’s environmental policies and ambitions have moved on considerably since HS2 was initially approved, including publication of the 25 Year Environment Plan; consultations on biodiversity net gain, conservation covenants; and adoption of an ambitious urban tree planting target. It would seem wholly sensible to take this opportunity to ensure that the project reflects current ambitions. We are disappointed that the decision to proceed with HS2 did not take full account of its environment impact, as called for by the Time to Rethink HS2 campaign. This impact includes carbon and air pollution emissions from its construction, potential facilitation of airport expansion and destruction of habitats including ancient woodlands) alongside the planned review of the economic case.
We have collaborated at national and local level with the DfT and HS2 Ltd to protect rights of way and the safety of pedestrians as far as possible. While we are happy with what HS2 have said they will do to ensure the connectivity of rights of way and to minimise and mitigate the severance of communities, we can’t agree that HS2 is fully addressing the environmental issues. It will still scar attractive areas of countryside, and walkers and others near the line will still hear a blast of noise every 20 minutes. A railway is better than a road, whose noise can be constant: but it is by no means clear that the benefits of HS2 will outweigh its disadvantages or environmental disbenefits.