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HS2 update - March 2021

Monday 29 March 2021

**LAST UPDATED 29 MARCH**

Now that work has begun on the construction of HS2, we are monitoring a range of works in the Chilterns AONB and responding to concerns and questions brought to our attention by members of the public, local community group, parish councils and others. We are also liaising closely with key partners including Buckinghamshire Council, Natural England, the Chiltern Society and Thames Valley Police. 

Given the rapidly increasing extent of activity by HS2 and its contractors, we aim to publish monthly updates on our website to provide information on our efforts to hold HS2 Ltd and its contractors to account. Our influence is limited, in part because we have no statutory powers, but - working with our partners and local communities - we will nevertheless do all we can to try to reduce the damage being caused to the Chilterns AONB by HS2.

Below, we update for the period January 2021, to date.

Jones’ Hill Wood

On 19 February, HS2 published notification of imminent tree and vegetation clearance at Jones’ Hill Wood ancient woodland, near Wendover in Buckinghamshire. 

The work is due to be carried out in two phases – the first covering areas of the wood where HS2 ecologists have assessed there to be nil or negligible potential to support roosting bats (therefore vegetation clearance can proceed); and the second covering areas where protected species licences will be required as roosting bats may be present.

On the same day, we wrote to HS2 contractors, Fusion, with a series of questions about their protected species surveys and the basis for their decisions to fell trees.  3 weeks later, they confirmed that ecologists would be on-site and able to halt works if bats were found, however we remain unconvinced that sufficient protection is being afforded to wildlife present in the wood.  We therefore sought independent advice from an ecologist, with expertise in bats, who raised serious questions over the adequacy of surveys to date.

The Conservation Board has, therefore, asked further questions of Fusion and HS2 and encouraged them to do more to protect bats and other wildlife that depend on the wood for their survival, asking:

  • Why have bat surveys not been conducted in line with best practice and what measures does HS2 expect to put in place to remedy this failing?
  • Please share with us your bat survey results from October 2020. (A list of bat species recorded will suffice at this stage).
  • What measures will be put in place to ensure the necessary licence conditions for Barbastelle bats are met before Phase 2 work commences? Please share the timetable for this work.
  • What mitigation is in place to ensure sufficient roosting and safe foraging habitat remains for Barbastelle and other bat species?
  • Is HS2 entering into a long-term legal management agreement for remaining woodland to ensure mitigation is appropriately managed?

You can read the full list of questions and our reasonings emailed to Fusion on 25 March here

Bottom House Farm Lane and the River Misbourne

Our bulletin in January 2021 set out our detailed concerns about the damage caused to the bank of the River Misbourne by the construction of a temporary haul road bridge. Despite the HS2 minister asserting in a letter on 5 January that damage had not occurred, we visited the site, gathered evidence of the damage and set out our findings for the minister in a letter. 

Fusion, the contractor carrying out the works, responded to our concerns by convening a meeting of the Chilterns HS2 Review Group, of which we are a member, in early February. We welcomed the opportunity to hear more about their work on the temporary construction road and to challenge their assertions, though were disappointed that Fusion refused to allow one of our experts to give a presentation on our concerns. 

We remain of the view that the evidence shows that construction has damaged the riverbank, leading to loss of flow from this fragile section of chalk stream and flooding of adjacent fields. Writing on 2 March, and referring to the 3 February presentation, the HS2 minister expressed trust that:

“…this engagement, alongside input from other stakeholders, has provided reassurance on the works undertaken in this area.”

It has not.

Fusion has sought our expert’s help to explore options to repair the riverbank and we will report on progress. We also hope to secure improved monitoring of river flows to help identify any long-term damage and further mitigation that may be required. 

In addition, we are seeking answers to concerns that reported increased requirements for water during tunnelling operations may have serious impacts on our aquifers, the River Misbourne and other Chiltern chalk streams. 

Questions also remain over the construction of the Wendover cut and cover tunnel, whether this will lead to long-term disruption to the springs in Wendover that feed the Weston Turville Reservoir SSSI and the Wendover Arm of the Grand Union Canal. 

Our Chief Executive, Dr Elaine King, is one of a number of signatories to a letter from the Wendover HS2 group to local MP Rob Butler, asking him to investigate why current tunnel designs have not addressed these issues, despite the HS2 minister confirming in a letter (12 January 2021) that water flow to the springs would be intercepted, at least partially, by the tunnel.

The Trees of Leather Lane: updated 15 March 2021

Leather Lane, just off the A413 between Great Missenden and Wendover, is one of the historic lanes linking the Misbourne valley to communities that sit on the plateau above. The route has been used for centuries and exhibits the holloway features of a sunken lane, with steep sides flanked by mature trees. The lane has significant cultural and ecological significance and, once the HS2 route was approved, protecting the sunken lane features became a priority for the Chilterns Conservation Board (CCB).

The HS2 rail route cuts across Leather Lane in a shallow cutting. This means that part of the lane requires diverting from its current route, with a new section of lane being created on new embankments and an overbridge over the rail line. 

From the start, the CCB was concerned that planning approval of this section of the route would lead to three sections of mature trees being removed – for the cutting for the HS2 line and the two points where Leather Lane is diverted – and we have always argued that as much as possible of the sunken lane should be retained and tree felling kept to a minimum. This recommendation was endorsed by the Chilterns AONB Review Group and included in its Detailed Design Principles [section 3.5].

Last week, it became clear that revised designs for the new road embankment to the west of the rail route, and balancing ponds to the east, will lead to significant numbers of mature trees being felled along the length of the existing Leather Lane. Alongside local parish councils, Buckinghamshire Council, local MP Dame Cheryl Gillan and others, we therefore highlighted the negative impacts of widespread tree loss on both the wildlife and the beauty of the Chilterns AONB landscape and challenged HS2’s designers – EKFB – to review and modify their plans. 

On Friday 12 March, EKFB responded to our concerns by releasing a statement confirming the position regarding trees beside Leather Lane:

  • 40% trees will need to be removed to construct the permanent works (the railway cutting and the points where the new road alignment diverts from the existing carriageway),
  • 30% trees will not need to be removed
  • the need to remove the remaining 30% of trees will be reviewed 

EKFB said in its statement:

"Recognising the important feature of the holloways has been part of our team’s approach to developing the design, where we are aiming to recreate the sunken lane feature in the new Leather Lane road alignment, and retain the existing lane where possible. ……The landscape team and highways team are working to see how these ‘amber’ areas (trees to be reviewed) can be reduced, so there will be a compromise to this design approach if it can reduce unnecessary felling of trees. Our arboriculturist will do further assessments of the trees in these areas to inform the finalisation of the clearance needed, which we hope to resolve in the next few weeks.

We …… have challenged the construction team and design team to ensure that efforts are made to reduce the loss of these important landscape and ecological features." ~ Simon Matthews, EKFB Interface and Stakeholder Director, 12 March 2021

You can view EKFBs presentation highlighting its plans for site clearance at Leather Lane here

The CCB’s Chief Executive, Dr Elaine King, met with members of the newly formed Buckinghamshire HS2 Environment Group today (15 March). Simon Matthews, EKFB’s Interface and Stakeholder Director, was invited to update the group and answer questions on work at Leather Lane. 

Mr Matthews confirmed that, as a result of scrutiny of their operations, the EKFB designers and construction team are now exploring opportunities to re-engineer the plans to reduce the number of trees needing to be felled. The necessary surveys are taking place this week and EKFB hopes to confirm the trees to be felled in the week commencing 22 March. 

Regrettably, Mr Matthews also confirmed that the first section of trees (to accommodate the diversion of Leather Lane to the east of the route) may be felled as early as Tuesday 16 March once ecological surveys – being undertaken today – have been completed and provided that nesting birds or roosting bats requiring protected species licences are not identified.

In conclusion, we welcome EKFB’s commitment to review plans for the trees at Leather Lane, though we will continue to closely scrutinise their plans. While we hope that some trees will be saved as a result of collective efforts to raise concerns, we remain deeply saddened that the decision to approve HS2 scheme will mean that mature oak trees along a historic Chilterns lane will be lost in the next few days. We also remain disappointed and frustrated that HS2 and its contractors are clearly not communicating with each other and not planning sufficiently far ahead to ensure they properly engage with the local communities that are being impacted on by HS2. 

This is a fast-moving situation and we will update this page with further information as soon as we are able to.

Read more about our views on HS2 and our work to mitigate the damage caused by HS2 here.

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