Chilterns Conservation Board highlights the increase in concerns over HS2 activities
Wednesday 27 January 2021
The signs of HS2 and its contractors’ activities have become more obvious since the Notice to Proceed was issued by the Prime Minister in February 2020. This has led the Chilterns Conservation Board, together with a wide range of our partner organisations and many others, to become increasingly concerned about the impacts of HS2 on the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
We are not statutory consultees, so have no formal role in decision making, but we do uphold our right to question, challenge and call out HS2 and its contractors when we have concerns about impacts that could, and should, have been avoided. Over the past 12 months we have dealt with a large number of issues – some examples are listed below:
- In early 2020 we raised strong objections to the removal of 1km of ancient hedgerow beside Bottom House Farm Lane, Chalfont St. Giles, which we felt could have been avoided with some simple alterations to the plans. In the event, the hedge was removed in prime bird nesting season.
- The following December, we became aware of damage to the River Misbourne caused by bridge foundations for the temporary haul road crossing of the river. We have repeatedly raised our concerns over the fragility of the River Misbourne at this site – when the Draft Environmental Statement was first issued and subsequently discussed within the Chilterns AONB Review Group. Crossing the Misbourne adjacent to Bottom House Farm Lane was also specifically mentioned in the Detailed Design Principles (section 3.10.12).
- When our Chalk Streams Officer, Allen Beechey, drew our attention last month to photos posted on the Chiltern Society HS2 Photo Diary – in particular, images 04_231 and 04_229 (see below) – we raised these concerns through the Review Group.
- HS2 responded with a ‘factual report’ claiming foundations were 5m away from the river and caused no damage. With one of the photos showing water flowing from the river into the foundation excavation less than 1m from the riverbank top, this was clearly inaccurate. We have therefore written to Andrew Stephenson, Minister at the Department for Transport, and shared our concerns with our partners, local MPs and Rebecca Pow, Defra Minister, who has previously highlighted the importance of protecting our chalk streams
- The Wendover HS2 Mitigation Action Group has worked hard to highlight potentially disastrous impacts caused by HS2’s cut and cover tunnel on the aquifer and springs feeding the Wendover arm of the Grand Union Canal and the Weston Turville Reservoir SSSI. We share these concerns and will press for the group’s solutions to be fully explored by HS2.
- Having shared our views with the Oakervee Review of HS2 at the end of 2019, we expressed our huge disappointment when the government gave the project the green light in February 2020, setting out 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.
- In September 2020, we published a position statement on the Amersham vent shaft design, after HS2 contractors repeatedly gave the impression in public webinars that the CCB supported the current ‘crown of thorns’ design. We do not, and believe the design fails to meet the standards set out in the Detailed Design Principles. HS2 has yet to respond to the views of people that responded to its consultation.
- Pressure from the Chilterns Conservation Board and others has secured a temporary halt to felling of ancient woodland at Jones’ Hill Wood while bat surveys are carried out. Temporary lighting has also been adjusted to cause less disturbance to local communities and wildlife. At this site, and others, we are urging HS2 and its contractors to make far greater efforts to meet the high standards of community engagement and environmental mitigation they have set for themselves. Read our open letter to Mark Thurston, Chief Executive at HS2 Ltd, setting out our concerns, and subsequent correspondence here.
- We have recently contributed to a report written by Dr Jim Conboys of the Chiltern Society, cataloguing the numerous failings of HS2 and their contractors during 2020. The report can be read here. This report was subsequently the subject of a parliamentary question in which the government accepted that "...communities are mostly experiencing negative impacts from the project, such as road closures and other visible changes in their areas, like the removal of trees" and "...it is inevitable that problems will arise and that contractors will sometimes get things wrong. Where this is the case, the Government expects HS2 Ltd to resolve matters swiftly."
We are very grateful to all the local people, parish councils, the Chiltern Society and other groups who provide invaluable information concerning what is happening on the ground – particularly in these times of lockdown.
We will continue to work with and support our local communities, alongside providing technical comments on emerging HS2 designs, landscape and ecological mitigation and working constructively with all the relevant authorities. In so doing, we hope to reduce some of HS2’s harmful impacts and hold HS2 Ltd to account, especially ensuring that HS2 fulfils its own aspirations of being a good neighbour to local communities and meets the high environmental standards it has set itself.
The Chilterns Conservation Board has been extensively involved in the High Speed 2 (HS2) project over the last ten years, and together with many local groups and individuals, has argued that the route should not pass through the middle of the Chilterns AONB. You can read more about the work we have done and continue to do here: https://www.chilternsaonb.org/hs2