Friday 24 May 2013
Analysis of the draft Environmental Statement for High Speed 2 (published by HS2 Ltd on 16th May 2013) by the Chilterns Conservation Board shows that the irreplaceable Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) will be devastated by the 400kph high speed rail line.
The plans fly in the face of the Government’s legal responsibility to protect the AONB and David Cameron’s recorded support for the important work of AONBs across the country: "I represent a constituency …. with the most incredible countryside, beautiful forests and paths and all the rest of it. I would no more put that at risk than I'd put my own family at risk. I love our countryside.”
Despite this claim and the designation of the Chilterns as nationally protected countryside, it seems that the plan for High Speed 2 will cause enormous damage. In the Chilterns this means:
HS2 Ltd is wrongly claiming they have protected the Chilterns by putting the railway in a tunnel. According to Mike Fox, Chairman of the Conservation Board: “This is a totally false claim. This is half a tunnel - a tunnel which emerges in the heart of the Chilterns, at the top of a hill, and destroys irreplaceable ancient woodland as it does so. Over 4 miles of the railway in the Chilterns will be in the open, much of it on ugly viaducts, nothing like the grand and elegant structures our Victorian forefathers built.”
“The only way to protect the Chilterns Hills from the ravages of High Speed 2 is to put it in a tunnel all the way under the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.”
“We are perplexed that the Government has decided to build new tunnels in west London, south of Birmingham and near the East Midlands airport but leaves us with a 6 mile gash, 23 metres deep in places, across our precious countryside. Local campaigners even commissioned a firm of consulting civil engineers who have confirmed that a longer bored tunnel is feasible.” HS2 Ltd accepted it was feasible but the minister rejected the plan on costs grounds, but refused to explain why their cost estimate was so much higher than the consultants’ estimate.
Mike Fox comments: “The case for a tunnel all the way under the Chilterns is overwhelming. Once again, it is summarily dismissed by HS2 Ltd, when that is what everyone else thinks is the best solution.”
The Chilterns Conservation Board has pointed out that legislation requires the Government itself to ensure it takes care of the AONB; but the HS2 report suggests that no special care is being taken despite the advice of the Board which was set up by Parliament to do just that.
The Board was expecting the worst but even then there were unpleasant surprises in the Environmental Statement. It seems the long viaducts are to be ugly – nothing like the grand, enduring and magnificent edifices created by the Victorians. Instead we will have cheap utilitarian structures destined forever to blight the Misbourne Valley.
Another nasty surprise is that the Chilterns is about to be littered with reservoirs. “That’s the first impression you get when you look at the maps HS2 Ltd has just published”, says Mike Fox. “This is a landscape of rolling chalk hills cloaked in beech woods. So what does HS2 dump on us? 29 reservoirs – yes, 29. Some are even on the tops of the hills.”
According to Steve Rodrick, Chief Officer of the Conservation Board: “I have endured the awful, so called, Community Forum meetings convened by HS2 Ltd. In those two years the senior engineers mentioned, on only one occasion, the possibility there might be one settling pond. Imagine our surprise to discover that, all along, they have been planning to litter the Chilterns with reservoirs to capture the polluted water they pump away from their railway. No wonder they forgot to mention them.”
“I have no doubt they will look terrible - just like the settling ponds you see next to motorways. These are glorified sumps with no end of concrete culverts, security fences and warning notices. Once again it seems HS2 Ltd is not concerned to conserve this wonderful countryside and what makes it special. A well designed project respects the character of the area - this does nothing of the sort.”
The Chilterns is one of the most popular walking and cycling areas in Europe, with 55 million leisure visits a year, but this is not even recognised in HS2 Ltd’s Environmental Statement.
Mike Fox concludes: “The cost to the Chilterns, to the nation and to everybody’s pocket is immense. And the benefits are token. Even those are declining and questionable as the National Audit Office exposed last week.”
“If the Government cares about some of the finest countryside in England it has not yet shown it. If it is acceptable to do this to the Chilterns, then no part of England is safe from the ugliest forms of development.”
The only way to avoid this appalling damage to one of the finest landscapes in England is to tunnel all the way under the Chiltern Hills.
Read the draft Environmental Statement on HS2 here: http://www.hs2.org.uk/draft-environmental-statement/