We are supporting Time to Rethink HS2’s call for the reassessment of environmental impact (including 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. 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.
In January 2012, the Government gave the green light to a new High Speed Rail network between London and the West Midlands: HS2. More phases have been announced in recent years, to take the high speed route on to Manchester, Sheffield and Leeds.
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.
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.
We were worried that the plans to lessen the effect on the landscape and environment may overlook the protection of footpaths and other rights of way, and 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 and, since then, have continued to meet with ministers and HS2 Ltd with the aim of guaranteeing protection for most, if not all, paths. The Bills which usher in Phases 1, 2a and 2b generally make reasonable provision for paths, and avoid severance. 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. We remain concerned that the public transport benefits of HS2 have not been shown clearly to outweigh its environmental effects.