The Chilterns Conservation Board and the High Speed 2 Rail Project
The Chilterns Conservation Board has been involved in the High Speed 2 (HS2) project extensively since it was first announced in 2010 and together with many other local groups and individuals, argued that the route should not pass right through the middle of the protected landscape of the Chilterns AONB.
Over the past ten years we have worked hard to reduce the impact of HS2 on the landscape. Just some of our work includes:
Influencing design and work on projects to maintain green corridors, and provide wildlife biodiversity and connectivity through the HS2 Review Group
In August 2019 the Chilterns Conservation Board welcomed the Governments independent review of the HS2 programme and wrote to Douglas Oakervee, Chair of the HS2 Review setting out our deep concerns for the irrevocable damage to the natural beauty and tranquillity of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). You can read our letter here.
The Oakervee review of HS2 concluded in February 2020 and we were deeply saddened to discover the recommendation that HS2 should go ahead and subsequent decision to that effect by the Government. We believe that the context of HS2 has changed considerably since Parliament approved the project and take the view that, to continue with HS2, would not only be damaging to the environment and people’s wellbeing but also be directly contradictory to key Government policies and ambitions. You can read our full statement here.
HS2 – Notice to Proceed and Full Business Case for Phase One
On Wednesday 15 April, the Government gave approval to HS2 Ltd to issue Notice to Proceed for the Phase One route of HS2 from Birmingham to London. It did this in order to give the construction industry certainty while the country is suffering from the Covid-19 pandemic. At the same time, the Department for Transport published its HS2 Phase One full business case.
Regular visitors to our website will know that, along with many other organisations, we continue to have grave concerns, and unanswered questions, regarding the irrevocable damage that HS2 will cause to the natural beauty and tranquillity of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
The Chilterns Conservation Board is therefore extremely disappointed that this notice to proceed has been issued. We are also particularly concerned at the Government’s admission in the Full Business Case that “Rapid developments and the uncertain outcome of the COVID-19 outbreak mean it has not been possible within the FBC to undertake specific analysis to determine the outbreak’s potential longer-term impacts to transport passenger demand.” 
The Government also acknowledges that “…until new information is available on the potential longer-term impact of COVID-19 on long-term demand and economic growth it is not possible to say whether this will materially impact the Value for Money of HS2.” 
Given the uncertainties created by Covid-19, we urge the Government to revisit its assumptions on passenger demand and economic growth, and to rethink HS2.
Now that plans are developed, we know the heavy environmental cost of HS2 on the Chilterns, including:
Dramatic changes in landform and the construction of vast concrete structures including two squat viaducts, tunnel portals, together with a new wirescape of overhead line electrification equipment, noise barriers and high fencing – all at odds with the natural beauty of a protected landscape
Constant assault on tranquillity, from both the noise and visual disturbance of trains passing at high speed every few minutes through the Misbourne valley
Physical interruption of many rights of way – including the internationally significant Ridgeway National Trail and the Chilterns Cycle Way – both used annually by thousands of people for relaxation and recreation, with recognised benefits to health and wellbeing
The permanent loss of irreplaceable ancient woodland
Loss of key elements of the Chilterns’ cultural heritage - including ancient sunken greenways and one of the remaining sections of the Grim’s Ditch scheduled monument
Loss of historic hedgerows and field patterns and fragmentation of habitats and wildlife corridors – directly contrary to the Lawton principles of ‘bigger, better and more joined up’ habitats
Concerns that HS2 tunnels beneath the River Misbourne will impact on water draining through the fragile chalk and affect the flow of the Misbourne, and other rivers, in addition to water quality. The Chilterns chalk aquifer not only supplies fresh drinking water to many people in the south east of England, but it is also the source of nine of the UK’s internationally important chalk streams
Direct loss of protected wildlife species. For example, HS2 Ltd has acknowledged that all barn owls living and hunting within a 6km wide corridor of the HS2 route will be killed
What happens next?
Although the Chilterns Conservation Board remains steadfast in its view that HS2 will have a significant and lasting negative impact on the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it continues to work with the HS2 Review Group and relevant partners to secure the best possible outcome for the environment despite the decision.
18 November 2020: The Commons Public Accounts Committee has written to the Department for Transport seeking an update on its activities, including their concerns over uncertainties regarding HS2: its environmental impacts, the effect of Covid-19 on its business case & 'not taking concerns over transparency seriously'. Read the letter here.
30 October 2020: Chilterns Conservation Board writes to HS2's CEO to set out concerns regarding activities at Jones' Hill Wood. Read the letter and subsequent correspondence here.
13 July 2020: High Speed 2 (HS2) has been classified as “unachievable” by the government’s Infrastructure & Project’s Authority (IPA). Click here to read more.
Read the Public Accounts Committee report, published 17 May 2020, which says the High Speed 2 rail project has gone “badly off course”, and demands that Government gives regular, accurate and open updates on the problems the project is facing and progress on developing the appropriate skills and capabilities.
The above video, filmed and edited by local resident, Karl Neilson, shows the devastation HS2 has caused to Grim’s Ditch, a linear earthworks, ancient woodland and scheduled monument dating back to at least the Iron Age.