Chiltern Society's full response to the HS2 Environmental Statement
On this page is volume 1. Follow a link below for any other part of our response.
Prelude: Response to the Non-technical Summary
Vol 1: Introduction to Environmental Statement…
Vol 2: CFA7 – Colne Valley
Vol 2: CFA8 – The Chalfonts and Amersham
Vol 2: CFA9 – Central Chilterns
Vol 2: CFA10 – Dunsmore, Wendover and Halton
Vol 3: HS2 Phase 1 Environmental Response
Vol 4: Off-route effects
Vol 5: Tech Appx – Transport Assessment part 1…
Vol 5: Tech Appx – Transport Assessment part 6…
Vol 5: Tech Appendix – Waste and material…
Vol 5: CFA7 – Colne Valley Water resources assessment
Vol 5: CFA8 – Chalfont and A'sham Water resources…
Vol 5: CFA9 – Central Chilterns Water resources…
Vol 5: CFA10 – Dunsmore, Wendover and Halton Water…
Volume 1 - Introduction to the Environmental Statement and the Proposed Scheme
The Chiltern Society
The Chiltern Society is a registered charity formed in 1965 to help maintain the uniqueness of the Chilterns in the face of growing pressures. It has grown into one of the largest environmental groups of its type in the UK, with 6,800 members, including nearly 500 active volunteers.
The Society works closely with local authorities, non-government organisations (NGOs), other registered charities and voluntary groups to:
Maintain and monitor some of the 2,300 miles of footpaths and bridleways that cross the Chilterns
Maintain and monitor the rare and fragile chalk streams that define the area as one of global environmental importance
Conserve and manage woodland, meadows, historic buildings and village ponds
Engage with schools and universities on education projects to ensure the distinctive environment and special nature of the Chilterns is recognised and appreciated
Preserve and promote the unique and historic heritage of the Chilterns, which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year
Encourage high standards of planning and building design
Organise weekly programmes of walks and cycle rides
Create a photographic archive of the Chilterns
The Chiltern Society's view on HS2
The Society is not opposed to high speed rail in principle. The development or otherwise of high speed rail services in the UK is a matter for the UK Government and we hold no view on that.
The Society does object strongly to the proposed London to Birmingham HS2 route crossing the Chilterns and its Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We do not believe the route is justified or proven and that alternative routes have not been properly considered.
The AONB is a special and legally protected landscape. The Chilterns AONB is the only AONB to be directly affected by the proposed HS2 route in either the proposed Phase 1 or Phase 2. However, if this route is chosen by Parliament, the Society believes it is vital that the AONB should be fully protected by the construction of a tunnel under the entire AONB.
The Environmental Statement
The Society wishes to point out that had the extensions to consultation time being imposed by the Standing Order Committees of the House of Commons and then the House of Lords not occurred, it would not have been possible for us to make a detailed response because of the lack of time.
The Secretary of State for Transport has defended the imposition of a tight timeframe to respond on the basis that only a small percentage of the documents need to be read. However, even if respondents are looking only at part of the proposed route, this frequently means cross referring to one, two or even three more documents which takes considerable time and some expertise.
The final Environmental Statement (ES) included significant amounts of information not included in the Draft ES. We pointed out in our response to the draft document that there were a considerable number of errors between the Community Forum Area (CFA) reports and the accompanying maps. We further pointed out there were items on the maps which were unexplained in the CFA reports, and there were many, many gaps in the draft which were to be covered in the final ES. Many of these issues remain uncovered.
There are a number omissions, basic errors and unreliable assessments in the ES. We highlight some of these inadequacies later in this response to Volume 1 and even more in our detailed responses to the Community Forum Areas (CFAs) in Volume 2.
While we accept there are bound to be some errors and omissions in a document as complex as this, and put together in an unnecessarily rushed period of time, it needs to be borne in mind that this is the last opportunity the public and organisations such as ourselves have to comment in general on the proposals. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to make meaningful comments on proposals and assessments when the subject-matter to be commented on is missing, wrong or blatantly unreliable.
The way the ES is compiled also makes it very difficult to collate all the details on a particular point as the relevant information appears in a number of different volumes making it cross referencing a very tedious and time consuming prospect.
Illustrations in the ES
Many of the photo-montages and illustrations in this volume and throughout the ES and other documents are misleading. The gantries and overhead line equipment, which will form a permanent and highly visible intrusion on open countryside, particularly on viaducts where they cannot be shielded by planting, are barely visible in most of the illustrations. Also missing in most the scenic visualisations are the large and intrusive safety barriers to be established either side of the railway and the possibly more noticeable noise barriers which are proposed in areas of openness, although, in fairness, the figure 29 on page 72 gives a more realistic impression of the visual impact of noise barriers.
Overall though, we believe the illustrations fail to give a realistic impression of the impact the proposals will have on the surrounding countryside. A visit to HS1 or the West Coast Mainline will give the public a better idea.
Hybrid Bill procedure
The Hybrid Bill procedure does not enable the Select Committee to hear petitions which seek to challenge the principle of the Bill. This is a serious flaw.
The House of Commons should, at the Second Reading of the Bill, instruct the Select Committee to consider such petitions. If it fails to do so it will result in the Bill eventually passing into law without detailed consideration of the HS2 business case, its environmental consequences or a detailed examination of whether there are better alternative routes.
These issues are fundamental to the raison d'être of the entire HS2 project. They may well be touched on at the Second Reading of the Bill but will not be subject to the rigorous examination they would receive in the committee stage if Parliament was dealing with a normal private Bill.
It is especially important that the HS2 Select Committee should be allowed to include such issues within its remit bearing in mind that previous reports by Select Committees (Transport Committee and Public Accounts Committee) have been scathing about aspects of the HS2 proposal, and that a report by the Major Project Authority (MPA) was blocked from publication by the Secretary of State for Transport, using exceptional powers and overruling the Information Commissioner. An earlier report on HS2 by the MPA categorised the project as amber/red meaning it was unachievable or in doubt.
We believe it is crucial that all MPs have the opportunity to see the full contents of the MPA report before they debate and vote on the second reading of the Bill.
The integrity of the Select Committee
The public inquiry into the proposal to build a fifth terminal at Heathrow in the 1990s took nearly five years to conclude. This was criticised at the time, but there was no criticism about the thoroughness of the procedure. Not a stone was left unturned: every relevant issue and potential impact was considered in detail by a truly independent, non-political panel with expertise in a number of relevant areas. The outcome may not have pleased all parties but there were no complaints or challenges to the outcome because everyone knew it had been thoroughly examined.
The HS2 proposal is much bigger than the Terminal 5 proposal. The disturbance it will cause covers a far greater area, the number of potential impacts during construction and thereafter run into tens of thousands. It would be impractical to conduct a traditional style public inquiry into such a vast proposal, but the question can be asked: will the Hybrid Bill procedure be thorough enough to leave no stone unturned; to satisfactorily consider all the potential impacts? The sensible conclusion is that it will not.
At the time of writing this response, the three main political parties, the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal-Democrats, are all in favour of HS2 in principle and of the proposed route in particular. Although the MPs that will form the Select Committee to consider the Bill will be drawn from constituencies not directly impacted by HS2, it is inevitable that many, if not the vast majority, will be members of the political parties currently in favour of the proposal and its route. This will detrimentally affect the perception of the independence of the committee.
2. Background to High Speed Two
Evolution of HS2
The ES describes the need for HS2 and the Government's vision (2.1.1 and 2.1.2 0.) The statement however does not indicate how the goalposts have moved since HS2's conception.
In 2009, when the Government first introduced the concept of a high speed rail link between London and Birmingham, one of the principle considerations regarding a route was based on the ability for trains to travel at up to 250mph. An "absolute requirement" outlined in the original terms of reference was one for a link to a Heathrow International Station.
This "absolute requirement" and a need for speed - meaning that curves and track deviations had to be to a bare minimum - are not mentioned in Volume I background statements (2.2.3). This is important because the inclusion of those two factors inevitably led to a selection of potential routes that crossed the Chilterns and the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
In recent months the Government has said the need for HS2 is not based on speed or a direct connection to Heathrow. The new priorities are to increase rail capacity and enable better economic development in parts of the north of England and the Midlands.
We would suggest that these new priorities do not necessitate a route crossing the AONB. The fact is that the ball was set rolling in 2009 on a different set of priorities and there has been neither the will nor the inclination to stop it even though the priorities have changed.
No alternatives for the HS2 route have ever been seriously considered or examined. As a result, the HS2 project has evolved in a manner that has prejudiced fully objective assessment of the environmental and national value attached to protecting and conserving AONBs, and the Chilterns AONB in particular. This is a serious flaw. (Please see our detailed response to section 10 of Volume 1, below.)
The subsequent consultations therefore have been so restrictive as to be almost meaningless.
3. Approach to consultation and engagement
The consultation and engagement, such as it is, has been undertaken in isolation and not within a wider transport context.
The Society, along with a number of other national and regional environmental groups, is a signatory to the Right Lines Charter, the first principle of which states:
'High Speed Rail proposals need to be set in the context of a long-term transport strategy stating clear objectives. The Government’s High Speed Rail proposals are at present not part of any comprehensive long term transport strategy or nationally agreed priorities. By contrast, all the other countries developing High Speed Rail are doing so within a national framework. Objectives need to be ambitious yet realistic and could include: reducing the need to travel, improving rail capacity and connectivity throughout the country, reducing regional economic disparities and ending dependence on oil."
In our view it remains a fundamental mistake to consider the development of a high speed rail network in isolation from the future development of air and road networks.
The Government has no current strategy for expanding airports. It is the Society's view that a new rail network cannot be planned or proceed until a decision is made on the location of future expansion of UK airports.
Further, as stated in our response to the background to HS2, outlined above, and in our response to the non-technical summary, there was no rigorous comparative testing of alternative routes to those proposed through the Chilterns in the consultations.
Neither here, nor in the subsequent description of high speed rail alternative options evaluated, is there any reference to HS2 Ltd identifying a ‘preferred alternative’ option, should a route across the Chilterns AONB not be acceptable to government or to parliament.
This again demonstrates the lack of recognition and importance attached to the statutory and policy provisions for the AONB. Those provisions could only properly be satisfied had HS2 Ltd conducted an in-depth rigorous comparison of their recommended cross-AONB route with a preferred option for avoiding the AONB.
No such alternative has been specifically identified, rigorously analysed and tested. The principal test of such a comparative evaluation, as set out in longstanding policy and law, would be the balancing of conflicting arguments of what was in the national interest.
Consequently the current HS2 proposals are severely undermined.
Society representatives attended many of the community forums in the Chilterns. The HS2 Ltd representatives at the forums were frequently unable to provide answers to questions either at the forum or in subsequent follow-up. Some of the meetings broke up in anger and frustration.
The ES states (3.2.9) that community forums were to ‘inform local people…consider local issues …and identify community benefits’ implying that local communities were kept fully informed and their questions answered. This was not the case. The community forums were poorly presented, inadequately minuted, inadequate and failed to resolve issues many residents and community representatives wished to raise.
5. Permanent features of the proposed scheme
The rail corridor, approximately 19m from fence to fence (5.1.1) contains potentially dangerous equipment including, of course, electricity cables and overhead line equipment. There are no details in the ES of the security and safety requirements needed to protect the public and potential passengers and rail staff.
We can find no reference to the height and nature of the security barriers, or what special measures will be needed, if any, to the sides of the bridges and footpaths that will cross the rail corridor. Will strengthened barriers will be required on bridges crossing the track, and at what height will they be? These are issues that should be addressed in the ES.
Cuttings and embankments
As previously stated the Chiltern Society believes that if the proposed route is adopted, the whole of the Chilterns should be tunnelled, especially as the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is designated of special quality because of its unique landscape. The imposition of cuttings and embankments will be an alien feature on this precious setting.
The specifications set out for the cuttings and embankments (5.2.1 to 5.2.4) take no account at all of the AONB, or of requirement to take special measures to mitigate the impact in a protected area.
If the Chilterns AONB is not to be fully tunnelled in the event of this route being accepted, the minimum required mitigation is to return the landscape to its original contours. This may mean deeper cuttings, but then, if necessary, footpaths, roads and animal migration paths could be accommodated within green bridges, notwithstanding our reservations about green tunnels (see tunnelling section), thus reducing the intrusion on the landscape.
Drainage and watercourse realignments
The imposition of balancing ponds at various intervals along the railway corridor - some up to 1.5ha - introduces another alien concept to a protected landscape. No mention is made in this section of railway drainage (5.3.1 and 5.3.2) of the impact of such ponds on the special qualities of the AONB, nor of any security or fencing arrangements that will presumably need to be added in the vicinity of the ponds, all of which adds to the visual intrusion and safety risk.
Rivers and streams will be reinstated (5.3.8) where reasonably practicable, with a natural looking appearance. A firmer commitment than this is needed, particularly in areas of high sensitivity such as AONBs, areas of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) an recreational areas, such as the Colne Valley Park.
Diverted roads and public rights of way
It is unacceptable in an AONB to state (5.4.1) that roads and public rights of way realignments will be designed to blend into their surroundings as far as possible. Where this occurs in the AONB the requirements regarding realignment should be much stricter.
There is no rigorous evaluation of tunnelling under the whole of the Chilterns AONB in the ES. This is a further serious omission.
In the absence of a non-AONB route option, a fully tunnelled option should be the next logical step to demonstrate that the objectives of policy and planning law provisions to protect AONBs in the national interest had been fully considered. No such option has been fully evaluated for ES purposes.
The advantages of a fully bored tunnel to the north of Wendover proposed by parties during consultation has not been seriously considered and evaluated. Such a tunnel would greatly reduce the environmental impact on the AONB, including wildlife. In addition it would lead to a substantial reduction in the amount of spoil. A fully bored tunnel through the Chilterns AONB would also substantially reduce the social and economic damage caused by up to seven years of construction, including the loss of visitors.
Railways are only put into tunnels when they have major physical features to cross below surface. In the case of HS2 the physical feature to be crossed is the Chilterns AONB and the tunnelling is intended to mitigate the visual impact of HS2 onto the AONB. When a railway is on the surface it does not affect the hydrogeology of the region it is passing through; as soon as it is placed below ground into a tunnel it has an immediate impact on groundwater flow and water resources. The removal of the visual impact of HS2 on the Chilterns AONB through tunnelling will inevitably have a major impact on the water resources of the region. This is a region which already imports some of its water to provide for the existing population; removal of current local water supplies due to tunnel construction will result in the major importation of water resources which otherwise might have been produced locally.
The term "green tunnel" implies an environmentally friendly construction which could be misinterpreted by the public. Although generally preferable to cuttings and proffered by the Chiltern Society as a second or third option, the green tunnel alternative has considerable drawbacks.
A green tunnel is a cut and bill excavation which totally removes the existing structured chalk prior to the emplacement of concrete tunnels, backfilled with now disaggregated, unstructured chalk. Any original natural drainage pathways, via joints and fractures in the chalk, will be completely destroyed. The final replanted ground surface may appear to be natural but the changes in the substructure will impede and alter both surface and groundwater flow.
The illustrative design of the portals in a rural location (5.7.2) show no appreciation or acknowledgement that four portals will be located within the Chilterns AONB. It is another example of the ES ignoring the Countryside and Rights of Way Act which places a statutory duty on relevant authorities "to have regard to the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the AONB when exercising or performing any functions affecting land in the AONB".
Ventilation and intervention shafts
The ventilation shafts and their accompanying headhouses need considerable mitigation, particularly in the AONB, as they will be permanent intrusions onto the landscape that neither conserve nor enhance its natural beauty. No mention is made in Volume 1 (5.7.1 and 5.7.2) of the associated access roads, security fencing and lighting, all of which will intrude aggressively onto the landscape scene. The ES refuses to acknowledge or address the special mitigation care that will be needed with these buildings in sensitive areas.
The viaducts proposed through the Chilterns are the first such structures to be built in the area of any significance. The long, sweeping viaduct across the Colne Valley Park will be significantly intrusive with untold and unknown impacts on the ecology and wildlife that thrives in the park, as well has recreational interests of the park's many visitors. The ES states that a piling method for this viaduct that will mitigate contamination of ground water has yet to be chosen. This is unsatisfactory for an important environmental area. It is unreasonable to expect people to comment - in this, their the last opportunity for public involvement - without such crucial information. It indicates yet again the undue haste and ill-preparedness of this ES.
The viaduct near Wendover, in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, will be a scar on the precious and open landscape, no matter how elegantly it is designed (although, yet again, there is no mention of any special mitigation or design measures to take account of the fact that this is AONB). Here, unless effective barriers are in place, noise will be a factor as trains cross a valley bottom on the viaduct, as will light intrusion at night. The centenary towers perched on the viaduct will be ugly, alien features, visible from a long distance. A viaduct is wholly unacceptable in this protected area, illustrating again the need for consideration of a full Chilterns tunnel.
6. Construction of the proposed scheme
The Chiltern Society believes that the impact the construction of the proposed scheme will have on the Chilterns area has been downplayed and misrepresented in the ES. We consider this in detail in our response to Volume 2 (CFA 7, 8, 9 and 10); Volume 3 (route-wide effects) and Volume 5 (appendices and map books).
There are serious errors and misunderstandings of the Chilterns area made in reaching conclusions about the construction impact. The cumulative impact on the entire Chilterns area has not been properly considered.
The estimation of the peak periods on local roads is incorrect. The "rush hours" in the area go way beyond the 8am to 9am and 5pm to 6pm times assumed. This fails to take into account the thousands of commuters who travel by road to and from this area.
In the Colne Valley, for instance, a pm peak shows six roads, including the A40, where the Baseline flow is just one vehicle in the one hour period. There are several other ridiculous anomalies throughout the CFA assessments and Volume 5.
At least 32 public rights of way will be closed or diverted for periods from six months to three years in the Chilterns.
Eighteen work camps will be established in the Chilterns, some operating for up to seven years. A workforce in the region of 1,000 people will be involved.
These are just a few examples.
The construction of HS2 in the Chilterns will have a significant and negative effect, not only in terms of traffic, but on the economic and social welfare of the communities in the area. The cost to local and regional business will be noticeable. (see our responses to Volume 3).
The construction of a full tunnel under the Chilterns AONB, facilitating the removal of waste via the tunnel as it is being built, as in the construction of the Channel Tunnel, would considerably mitigate the impact on the entire Chilterns area.
We believe a full examination of this proposal, including potential savings balanced against any potential additional expenditure, must be considered before final construction decisions are made.
Purpose of the Code of Construction Practice
There is no explanation why the CoCP remains in draft (6.3.4). There is no description of the accountability measures to be imposed on the nominated undertaker and its contractors. There is no attempt to apply different and more stringent codes of construction practice in the AONB. This is all unacceptable.
7. Environmental Impact Assessment
General assumptions and limitations
The preparation of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is, in our view, woefully inadequate. Here are three examples:
The ES states (7.7.2) that it has not been possible (for surveyors) to access all the land required to carry out fully comprehensive surveys. Nevertheless it is considered that the baseline studies are sufficiently robust to allow the assessment of the likely significant effects of the scheme. The previous section on construction, referring to advanced works (6.4) admits that further detailed site investigations and environmental surveys will be required. These include further surveys and investigation into issues such as contamination remediation, habitat creation and translocation, archaeology and built heritage.
Nowhere in the ES is the underlying geology discussed in any detail whatsoever. Yet major tunnel construction is to be carried out through this geology. Potential disruption to both surface water courses and groundwater flow will inevitably ensue. The existing geological maps along the proposed HS2 route show little or no geological faults at the surface, yet an examination of any outcrop or surface section shows the regular occurrence of such faults, joints and fractures, all of which would be major water conduits in the subsurface. The desktop studies carried out to date at totally inadequate.
The EIA compares the future transport and passenger movement patterns resulting from Phase 1 with the predicted transport and passenger movements if HS2 was not built (7.2.5), otherwise known as the 'do minimum case'. This is a further example of assumptions being made in isolation. Similar transport and passenger movement predictions have been made by consultants working for the 51M group of local authorities which deliver as much capacity as HS2 without constructing HS2. A more useful exercise would be to compare the EIA assessment against the 51M assessment.
Given the given the enormous scope of this project and the time allowed for the preparation of the EIA, it was perhaps inevitable that corners would be cut and sweeping assumptions made without proper investigation. The result is an Environmental Statement that lacks detail or rigour. Such inadequacy would be a concern if it involved any large scale development anywhere in the country. When it involves a major infrastructure project across sensitive and protected landscapes it is a major worry.
8. Scope and methodology summary for environmental topics
This section of Volume 1 covers the scope and methodology for the EIA topics. The Society's detailed responses to these topics can be found in our comments to Volume 2 and Volume 5.
Agriculture, forestry and soils
Ancient woodland is woodland that has existed continuously since 1600 or before. As a result of that lifespan most ancient woodland has developed its own unique environment: many ancient woodland provide a sole habitat for some animal and plant species. That is why they are often described as an irreplaceable resource. The assumption (8.1.8) that all displaced ancient woodland soil will be translocated to form the basis of new woodland planting should not lead to an assumption that ancient woodland can somehow be translocated (a view postulated by a former Secretary of State for Transport).
A further assumption suggests, for example that because 18 per cent of the study area in CFA 10 and 17 per cent in CFA 9 is wooded - compared to the national average of 10 per cent - the amount of woodland lost is somehow insignificant, or "a resource of low sensitivity". This is wrong and ill-thought through. The UK is under-forested compared to the rest of Europe. The country needs a greater density of forest to help with CO2 reduction. As most of the woodland on the route is ancient woodland it makes it even more sensitive as a receptor.
Similar controversial assumptions are made with regard to Best and Most Versitile (BMV) land. Here again the general assumption is that because there is a lot of BMV land on the proposed route the impact of its loss is "moderate". This would not be the view of the agricultural users of the land.
There are instances in the ES where air quality assessments need to be revisited because of inconsistencies (see our response to Volume 5).
The baseline information (8.3.5) is incomplete and insufficient to draw adequate conclusions about the impact of the project on the Chilterns community. Many communities within the Chilterns are interlinked by necessity. People living in one community visit other communities for education, leisure, health and social facilities for instance. Commuting between communities, as well as to and from larger centres for work is more prevalent in the Chilterns that the average rural/semi-rural area.
Village communities including Prestwood (population 9,000), Little Kingshill (population 800) have not been included in any community assessment. Communities near Wendover, especially to the west, such as Ellesborough, have also been omitted.
The ES considers that the Colne Valley Regional Park is large enough to absorb the construction of HS2 and retain its function, without apparently taking into account other proposed developments within its catchment and the fact it is already under stress, affected by noise and pollution from the M40/M25/A40.
We expand on these points in our response to Volume 2 (CFAs 7/8/9/10) and Volume 3 (route wide effects).
The ES states there is no specific national guidance of methodology for assessing the impact of projects on heritage assets(8.4.5) and records (8.4.6) that national planning policy requires that impacts on heritage assets are assessed in relation to the significance of the asset. The Society has responsibility for two heritage sites - England's oldest smock windmill at Lacey Green and the historic Ewelme Watercress Beds - and has others in the pipeline. We note the comments in the ES with regret.
Notwithstanding the lack of national guidance however, the importance of the Chilterns area to the nation's cultural heritage cannot be over-estimated. It is regretted, and to its detriment, that no attempt has been made in the ES to assess the importance of this heritage along the entire Phase 1 route generally, and the Chilterns AONB specifically.
The Community Forum Area 8 alone (Amersham, Chalfont St Peter and Chalfont St Giles) has four grade I listed buildings, 251 grade II listed buildings, five conservation areas, one grade II registered park and 21 areas of ancient woodland, most assessed as high value in the ES, and all of which will be impacted to various degrees by HS2 and its construction.
In addition, the project will bring about the loss of an extensive range of archaeological assets, including pre-historic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman and mediaeval remains, as well as ridge and furrow field patters. The Chilterns Grim's Ditch, a significant Iron Age earthwork and a scheduled ancient monument will be severed and partially destroyed.
The construction of HS2 and its eventual permanent placement will have impacts on these supposedly protected properties and assets which the ES fails to quantify. In section nine of Volume 1 HS2 asserts its approach to mitigation in priority order is to Avoid; Reduce; Abate; Repair and Compensate. Without full assessments on these areas, it is not possible to fully assess how the impact could be reduced, abated, repaired or compensated. Thus, the only practical solution is to avoid the area altogether.
We expand on these points in our response to Volume 2 (CFAs 7/8/9/10) and Volume 3 (route wide effects).
Significant areas have not been assessed for the potential impact on the ecology while other surveys are incomplete (see our response to Volume 2 (CFA 8, 9 and 10). References to threatened species mentioned in the draft ES are not referred to at all in this ES (the White Helleborine, a species of principal importance in the Wendover Rifle Range and North Lee grassland for instance). These surveys need to be completed before the second reading of the Bill.
There are surprising ecological conclusions in the ES. For instance, the construction area of HS2 ends within 25 metres of the Bacombe and Coombe Hill SSSI, and yet the ES concludes there will be ‘no impact’ on the SSSI.
The assessments rely on the Code of Construction Practice being properly implemented (we point out elsewhere in our response that the CoCP is still in draft). The experience during the construction of HS1 in Kent was that the CoCP was not properly implemented. There is nothing here to reassure the public that the same situation will not be repeated.
There are a considerable number of locations where HS2 ecology consultants were not permitted access to conduct a Phase 1 habitat survey. Such studies usually take many months to complete, assuming full access is completed. In view of the time constraint and the lack of access the conclusions reached are, for the most part, at best inaccurate and at worst incorrect.
The impact on bird habitats is devastating in parts and the evidence unreliable in others. More than half the Denham Country Park nature reserve is required for HS2 construction at considerable cost to bird and plant habitat. A report by the RSPB in 2012 stated that a fifth of British birds had disappeared in the last 50 years, primarily because of a lack of habitat. The Government must insist these threatened habitats are protected. Around Great Missenden the ES reports that one breeding pair of red kites were spotted on one side of the village and two pairs on the other. These figures are a gross underestimation as any regular walker of the Misbourne Valley will confirm. They undermine the credibility of the ecology report.
The Society shares the view of Mr M. Jackson the head of conservation strategy at the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust that the ES "overeggs the effectiveness of its mitigation measures" and that the proposals "do not go near what a normal planning application would propose for mitigation, let alone be an exemplar example for how to do things."
We share also the view of Dr C. Williams, director of conservation at the Bat Conservation Trust, who is concerned about the inadequate standard of surveying supporting the ES. We endorse her view that "on such a major project, with equally major potential ramifications for bats and other wildlife, it is vital that high professional standards are maintained."
Not all of the sites considered to have the greatest potential for contamination have been visited or are due to be visited. The assessment relies on a desk-top study. This is not satisfactory in an AONB. All sites should be visited and reported on to Parliament before the second reading of the Bill.
The ES states that contaminated soils will be removed or rendered inactive "wherever reasonably practicable." Presumably, where it is not deemed "reasonably practicable" contaminated soils will be left exposed and accessible. This is not acceptable and potentially dangerous.
Landscape and visual
Our full response to the landscape and visual aspects of HS2 within the AONB is contained in our comments on Volume 3, (Route-wide effects). We note that to establish the baseline landscape character of the AONB field studies were undertaken between July 2012 and July 2013. There is no breakdown of where the locations used were or how often they were visited during the winter, spring, summer and autumn seasons.
As part of our response to this vital element in Volume 1, we reiterate the views of Natural England, the government's advisor on the natural environment, on the role of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with our italics for emphasis: "AONBs are areas of high scenic quality (with) statutory protection…to conserve and enhance the natural beauty the landscape."
It adds: "AONBs are designated solely for their landscape qualities, for the purpose of conserving and enhancing their natural beauty, which includes landform …they are designated under the provisions of the National Parks and Access to Countryside Act, in order to secure their permanent protection against development that would damage their special qualities, thus conserving a number of the finest landscapes in England for the nation's benefit."
In its description of impacts on the AONB in Volume 3 (2.6.3) the ES lists the most apparent (but not all) changes to the character of the AONB. These are:
The presence of new engineered landforms cutting across the eastern side of the Misbourne Valley towards the Aylesbury Vale
The presence of two new viaducts of approximately 18m and 12m in height and 500m each in length with associated infrastructure
The presence of noise fence barriers that will create man-made linear features
The permanent severance of land
The presence of new highway infrastructure in the rural environment, including road bridges
The presence of overhead line equipment
The presence of regular high speed trains
The noticeable loss of vegetation , in particular at Mantle's Wood, Sibley's Coppice and Jones' Hill Wood, opening up the landscape and altering the vegetation pattern
The Society's view is simple. The AONB has statutory protection to preserve it for the nation's benefit. Any man-made intervention should, by law, only conserve or enhance the AONB.
HS2's own assessment of its impact on the Chilterns AONB does not conserve or enhance it. It changes landforms and introduces man-made elements that deface the natural beauty of the landscape. The ES makes no special attempt to mitigate the visual appearance of HS2 throughout the whole of the AONB. The requirements of the Act are, in the main, ignored.
There have been incursions in the AONB, against the spirit and the intention of the Act, before, most notably with the construction of the M40 through the AONB in the 1970s. As currently proposed HS2 represents the biggest disregard of the Act by far. Its approval would set a worrying precedent and represent a genuine threat to other AONBs, National Parks and protected landscapes.
The baseline information used to assess the socio-economic effects concentrates on the impacts upon business. Our detailed response to this is featured in our comments on Volume 3 (Route wide effects).
The baseline information does not consider the social impact of the line on communities in the Chilterns, particularly during the long construction period. There are potential delays for people attending Stoke Mandeville Hospital, Amersham Hospital and Wycombe Hospital who will need to cross the construction area. The construction also cuts across the catchment of the Chilterns Crematorium at Amersham. The heavier traffic flows will impact on people attending funerals.
Similarly, as expressed in the section on communities, no account of the impact on people living in one community and visiting other communities for education, leisure, health and social facilities. Nor is any account taken of the impact of the scheme on people visiting the area.
No account is taken of the potential losses to property owners near HS2 who will suffer a loss of valuation on their property because of blight.
Sound, noise and vibration
Although people respond differently to noise - some finding it more disruptive than others - there is no avoiding the fact that HS2 will bring noise to some areas which are currently quiet. The baseline estimates that the average noise levels will be in the region of 45 to 50 decibels. Government research into aircraft noise accepts that 57 dBA marks the onset of "significant community annoyance." Like aircraft noise, the noise nuisance created by HS2 will not be consistent, but hitting regular peaks due to the passing of up to 36 trains per hour.
Volume 1 agrees there are tranquil areas in the Chilterns. This tranquillity in the hidden valleys affected will be lost, with a potential effect not only on people but on wildlife. All this signifies why the entire AONB should be avoided or, at the very least, tunnelled throughout.
The ES states that the majority of receptors along the proposed route are not currently subject to vibration. That is almost certainly the case.
Traffic and Transport
The Society's detailed response to traffic and transport issues appears in Volume 2 (CFAs 7/8/9/10), Volume 3 (route wide effects) and Volume 5 (technical appendices). We believe there are considerable weaknesses in the scope and methodology used. For instance:
The rush hours are incorrectly claimed to be between 8am and 9am and 5pm and 6pm. In the Chilterns area the rush hours are extended far beyond these times.
The assumptions fail to take into account the frequent and long distance school bus trips which criss cross the area or the extensive commuter traffic
The ES fails to identify the routes likely to be taken by traffic to avoid congestion during the construction period.
The ES fails to appreciate how local lanes will suffer, particularly near construction sites, from increased traffic flow
The ES fails to recognise that the majority of the roads to be used during the construction period are already or near to full capacity
The assumptions appear to take no account of incidents like accidents, poor weather or local road works which often add to further delays on major and minor roads
The language used in assessing traffic and transport impact in the Approach to Mitigation Section is invariably vague and flabby. For instance "in general the assessment has been based…(8.10.10): Traffic management mitigation may include …(9.13.2): PRoW's…will usually be substituted (9.13.4): Access will be maintained…where reasonably practicable (9.13.4). These are just a few examples, but illustrate how difficult, if not impossible, it is for the public to make meaningful judgements and pass appropriate comments on the ES.
Water resources and flood risk
The Society's detailed response to water resources and flood risk issues appears in our comments to Volume 2 (CFAs 7/8/9/10) and Volume 5 (Technical appendices). We believe there are serious inadequacies in the scope and methodology involved in this topic:
Nowhere in the ES is the underlying geology discussed in any detail whatsoever. Yet major tunnel construction is going to be carried out through this geology and potential disruption to both surface water courses and groundwater flow will inevitably ensue. The existing geological maps along the HS2 route show little or no structure (e.g. faults) at surface and yet examination of any outcrop or surface section shows the regular occurrence of such faults, joints and fractures, all of which would be major water conduits in the subsurface. The desk top studies carried out to date are totally inadequate.
An experienced geological and environmental expert has advised the Society that there is a real risk of the disappearance of the River Misbourne at ground level and that it is difficult to envisage Shardeloes Lake surviving under current proposals. Any damage to the Misbourne aquifer during and after tunnelling will impact onto the regional water supply (see Society response to Volume 2, CFA 8, section 13)
No new boreholes have been drilled and logged, no new geological information appears to have been considered and groundwater flow is stated to be based on assumptions.
Little, if any, regard has been paid to the risk of polluting the water supply through tunnelling.
The potential risk to London's water supply (the Colne catchment supplies 22 per cent of London's drinking water) has not been properly assessed.
Green tunnels sound environmentally friendly but from a water resources perspective they will impede and alter surface and groundwater flow. The ES seems not to clarify this.
The removal of the visual impact of HS2 on the Chiltern AONB through tunnelling will inevitably have a major impact on the water resources of the region. This is a region which already imports some of its water to provide for the existing population; removal of current local water supplies due to tunnel construction will result in the major importation of water resources which otherwise might have been produced locally.
9. Approach to mitigation
The ES states that the first step in the approach to mitigation is to Avoid. The Society believes this is the appropriate mitigation for the Chilterns AONB.
Throughout the ES there are examples of finding a problem first and then trying to mitigate it. An example (CFA 9, section 13) talks of monitoring to determine the potential impact to the public water supply. The relevant section (13.4.18) states:
"The monitoring schedule will include monitoring before, during and after construction until the groundwater quality has stabilised within acceptable limits…the data will be assessed and used to define appropriate mitigation, should it be required."
In other words, if we find a problem we will try to mitigate it. The best method of mitigation is avoidance.
10. Strategic and route-wide alternatives
The Society believes a fundamental failure has run through the development and technical assessment of the HS2 proposals since 2009, namely the failure to identify and comparatively evaluate a preferred alternative route which did not cross the Chilterns AONB.
Without such a fully evaluated alternative to HS2’s recommended route right across the widest part of the Chilterns AONB the current HS2 proposals are fundamentally flawed. They:
Fail to meet the underlying objective of the Environmental Impact Assessment regulations requiring the identification and justification of the proposer’s choice of main alternatives ‘taking into account the environmental effects’.
Seriously undermine and devalue to ridicule the Non-technical Summary section statement that ‘Environmental assessment has been the foundation of route selection’.
Fail to satisfy the purpose of UK planning law of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of AONBs and the well-established thrust of planning policy that major developments should only take place in AONBs in exceptional circumstances following the most rigorous examination of options for avoiding development in an AONB.
Ignore accepted industry best practice to thoroughly investigate and compare the best environmental option against options preferred in order to satisfy other criteria.
Fundamentally ignore and frustrate the role of Parliament, through the hybrid bill process, to thoroughly assess conflicting aspects of what is deemed to be in the national interest.
This fundamental error can be traced back to the narrowly constrained remit given to HS2 Ltd in 2009. This was not fit for the purpose and weight subsequently placed on the HS2 proposal by the Coalition Government.
Belated subsequent attempts by the Department for Transport to place the HS2 proposal into a national rail strategy context were not sufficiently independent or thorough. They were equally flawed through undue weight being placed on consistency with HS2 Ltd’s specific remit, preceding work and recommendation, as witnessed by the following statements (our italics)
‘… at the same time as the Government has been considering and comparing the emerging HS2 scheme with the strategic alternatives’. (10.1.3)
‘In parallel with HS2 Ltd’s work … DfT explored the strategic options … between London and the West Midlands …’. (10.3.1).
Strategic high speed route options
The ES states (10.3.6) ‘Though the Proposed Scheme is a discrete project that can be justified on its own merits, it has been conceived as part of a long term strategy for a network of high speed lines connecting the major conurbations.’
This again highlights the inappropriateness of the original very narrow and premature remit for HS2 Ltd which has in practice prejudged a properly comprehensive strategic assessment of inter alia how best to connect London with the North of England. It is clear that a comprehensive national strategy for high speed rail has not yet been formulated.
The original remit for HS2 Ltd did however, as part of its ‘future proofing’ requirements, identify that the company should ‘provide a costed option for passive provision for four tracks’. HS2 Ltd directors admitted in early bilateral discussions with the Chiltern Conservation Board and this Society that topography and cost ruled out any possibility of meeting that requirement on a cross-AONB route.
This begs the question as to whether there will be a future need for a second North- South HSR route to London in due course. This again highlights the basic error of promoting a ‘discrete [HSR] project’ in advance of a comprehensive national strategy.
These points reinforce the basic criticism of the HS2 Ltd approach, repeatedly stressed by this Society, the Right Lines Charter Group and many other respondents since the first round of HS2 public consultations, about the lack of a National Transportation Strategy context against which to judge the HS2 Ltd proposals.
It is claimed that the aim of the 2009/10 high level sustainability study was ‘ to ensure that the options were appraised on a consistent basis to identify whether there were any distinguishing environmental considerations that should be taken into account before any decision on the strategic route’ (10.3.9).
It is apparent that this process failed to place proper weight on the ‘distinguishing environmental considerations’ and national importance of the Chilterns AONB as required by policy and law, particularly by ignoring to consider comprehensively an alternative option that did not cross the AONB, should Parliament decide that was not in the national interest.
Higher or lower design speeds
HS2 Ltd’s preoccupation with designing a very high speed line (400kph) introduced a strong bias towards its recommended cross-AONB direct route. Paragraphs 10.3.12 – 10.3.14 only describe why even higher design line speeds and a new line at conventional line speeds were not considered further.
Volume 1 contains no attempt to justify the rejection of any scheme designs that might have utilised lower HSR design speeds to enable inter alia the Chilterns AONB to be avoided. The statement (10.3.18) that the Government concluded ‘… that 400kph is the appropriate maximum design speed for the line’ is not justified on the basis of the work referred to.
Options for upgrading existing main lines
Other respondents, such as the 51M Group and HS2AA, with access to greater professional railways expertise than this Society are better placed to argue the technical aspects of the alternatives discussed in this section. However, the Society has the following observations:
Paragraph 10.3.26 confirms Government acceptance of a range of benefits from the 51m ‘Optimised Alternative’ and that ‘some options may offer good value for money’, but rejects it on the ‘key consideration’ that an extensive package of upgrades would not address demand, capacity and overcrowding in the long-term.
This conclusion is particularly influenced by the Government’s perceived concerns about upgrades resulting in ‘disruption to services over a long period’ and its view that it this strategic approach would not end up ‘avoiding the need for new lines’.
There are a number of worrying concerns about this Government line of thought:
In the absence of a comprehensive national rail strategy, it is unclear whether some of the upgrading projects will in any case be required to meet other necessary future developments of the classic rail network.
Throughout all the various consultation processes conducted by HS2 Ltd since 2009, it has been very evident that HS2 Ltd and DfT management thinking remains seriously influenced by the well-publicised and costly sad saga of the previous major WCML upgrade programme. One can understand this attitude to some extent, especially by those closely involved, but to allow such thinking to unduly influence the choice of alternative options for a project that will take 20 years to deliver is tantamount to admitting nothing has been learnt from previous bad experiences that would avoid previous mistakes in project managing future major rail projects. It hardly reflects the urgency for addressing the serious weaknesses in transport planning and project management addressed by the Eddington and McNaulty reports
HS2 Ltd and the Government have not seriously considered a strategy of providing capacity upgrades on the classic rail lines between London and Birmingham to allow greater time to more comprehensively evaluate longer term alternative HSR options which were not subjected to the narrow constraints of the HS2 Ltd remit. Such options should include alternative HSR routes that did not involve crossing the Chilterns AONB.
The previous paragraphs note that, whilst apparently accepting the range of benefits arising from the upgrades proposed by the 51m Group in their ‘Optimised Alternative’, HS2 Ltd and the Government have consistently rejected any consideration of an upgrade based strategy on the belief that only a new line will satisfy future need in the long term.
This rigid position was no doubt reinforced by the Government’s original objective to complete the HS2 approval process by the end of the current Parliament (now almost certainly unachievable).
The 51m upgrade proposals have clearly demonstrated that the presumed urgency to build HS2 that led the previous Government to launch its HS2 project on such a strategically limited remit was unnecessary and unjustified. However, the Government has steadfastly refused to consider all calls to delay further work on the current HS2 proposal in order to re-examine comprehensively alternatives not, or only superficially, assessed previously.
Such a strategy would enable the impact of other proposals that could have an important bearing on the timing, capacity and need for any future North-South HSR route to be properly evaluated. Such proposals would include, for example:
The extension of Crossrail from Old Oak Common onto the WCML to provide commuters from Milton Keynes and other WCML points with through services to the City and other stations along the Crossrail route. (HS2 Ltd admits (10.4.2) that, even with an interchange from HS2, access to Crossrail at Old Oak Common offers ‘a faster alternative to Euston for passengers to the West End, the City, Canary Wharf and destinations in East London and Essex’). This Crossrail extension project would ease congestion at Euston as well as provide a connection from WCML to Heathrow and GWML via Old Oak Common.
Examination of the importance for the Crossrail 2 proposal to be delivered ‘no later than the completion’ of HS2 Phase 2, which Lord Adonis and others claim HS2 makes ‘essential’ in order to alleviate ‘unmanageable levels of’ passenger congestion at Euston ‘by the late 2020s’.
Now that it is proposed to tunnel HS2 between Old Oak Common and Northolt, the potential for operating some Chiltern Mainline services on the existing classic rail alignment to the proposed conventional rail station at Old Oak Common, with onward services to Paddington.
Thorough examination of alternative options for providing a multi-track HSR link between HS1 and any eventual HSR route to the Midlands and North to meet future demands for international and cross-London HSR services, thus avoiding the currently proposed highly capacity restricted HS2-HS1 link proposed by HS2 Ltd.
It is evident that the commissioning of HS2 Ltd in 2009, with its highly restrictive objectives and remit, effectively pre-empted the systematic assessment and development of a national rail strategy that would have considered such issues in a more logical and coherent manner. Such a holistic approach would also have enabled the proper weight to have been placed on protecting designated national assets such as the Chilterns AONB.
Direct access to Heathrow
The politically perceived notion that it was an ‘absolute requirement’ and priority to route the UK’s North-South HSR route to the west of London to serve Heathrow introduced a major distortion into the strategic assessment of what was essentially an inter-city HSR proposal.
At that time (2009), it was firm Government policy to develop a third runway at Heathrow (subsequently rejected by the Coalition Government). Faced with a host of uncertainties, the Coalition Government delayed any decision on directly linking HS2 to Heathrow until HS2 Phase 2 had been evaluated. It also decided to delay progressing additional runway proposals in the south east of England pending a thorough review by the newly established Davies Commission. At the same time the Government and HS2 have both recently placed less emphasis on the need for high speed as a key driver for HS2.
There is, therefore, a very strong case for ceasing work on the current HS2 Phase 1 project and instigating a proper comprehensive strategic review of alternatives for improving rail capacity and connectivity, including HSR options, between the north and south of the country. That would enable the opportunity for comprehensive evaluation of a non-AONB alignment to be fully assessed – the absence of which should be a central factor in the proper assessment of the HS2 Environmental Statement.
The logic of conducting such a comprehensive review on a timescale that enables the outcome of the Davies Commission’s remit to be taken into account is, in our view, incontestable.
Routes from London to the West Midlands
This section of Volume1 starts with two totally misleading statements.
First, the assertion (10.4.26) that ‘Consideration of the effects on the Chilterns AONB was particularly important in this [options assessment] process’ is a gross exaggeration. HS2 Ltd failed to give proper consideration to the Chilterns AONB. They basically compared the relative environmental issues for each route examined against the perceived impact on the overall project cost.
Second, the statement (10.4.25) that the option routes selected, where possible, ‘… followed the main transport corridors whilst avoiding … environmentally sensible locations’. The A413 is hardly a main transport corridor across the Chilterns (compared to the M40 or the A41), even when account is taken also of the nearby lightly trafficked Chiltern railway line. None of these are in the same league as the M20 corridor adjacent to HS1, and the multi-mode M1 transport corridor.
The introductory paragraph to 10.4.26 describes how six main route option corridors were considered for routes ‘to the North of Old Oak Common’. This reveals that at this very early stage of the process HS2 Ltd had already decided that a west London terminus at Old Oak Common was a fixed requirement. It was their chosen solution for meeting the ‘absolute requirement’ for a link to Heathrow, albeit that that did not fully meet their remit requirement for a ‘Heathrow international station’.
The section further describes why Routes 4, 5 and 6 (respectively WCML corridor, M1 corridor and MML corridor) were ruled out at a very early stage in 2009. It is revealing to note that in each case the perceived difficulties and cost of connecting to Heathrow was clearly a critical factor in rejecting those options.
A further critical factor was the considerably greater extent of tunnelling that would be required for these options than for HS2 Ltd’s recommended route, as it was conceived at that time.
However, these summaries totally ignore the fact that the extent of tunnelling on the currently proposed route was subsequently substantially increased by the additional tunnelling of the proposed the HS1/HS2 link and the tunnelling of the route section from Old Oak Common to Northolt. This factor alone suggests that the costs and benefits of these options, and variations on them (particularly route schemes that would avoid the Chilterns AONB), should now be comprehensively reassessed.
For the collective arguments set out in this response, the Chiltern Society has to conclude that the summary of the Government’s conclusion (10.4 31) that ‘The proposed route corridor … is the best option for a new high speed line between London and the West Midlands ’ is not only highly premature but also fundamentally flawed.
In the Key Points set out in our response to the non-technical summary we point out that the ‘absolute requirement’ for HS2 to serve a Heathrow international station on a new line between West London and the West Midlands, not only effectively precluded options that did not cross the Chilterns AONB, but also precluded a full unrestricted strategic assessment of the best means to provide a multi-track HSR link between HS1 and the Midlands/North.
These initial highly constraining restrictions resulted in a recommended scheme that includes only a single track, very low capacity/low speed HS2/HS1 link that is partly shared with conventional suburban rail services.
Surely, had a comprehensive national rail strategy been conducted prior to the premature launching of the HS2 project in 2009, an ‘absolute requirement’ for future proofing purposes would have been to require the provision of a multi-track HSR link from HS1 to the North/Midlands capable of meeting future demands for passenger and light parcels HSR services between the continent and points north of London?
Such a route would also be expected to meet the demand for domestic HSR services from the south of London (e.g. Kent Gateway towns) to conurbations north of London.
In contrast, ‘the proposed scheme includes a rail link with a capacity of up to [only] three trains an hour’ (10.4.52), compared to the total capacity of up to 18 trains an hour in each direction between West London and the West Midlands (but without any intermediate stations). This does not seem to match up very well with the Government’s view (10.4.53) that ‘Connecting any UK high speed line to this rapidly growing [European HSR] network will be vital if the UK is not to become isolated from what is already a key mode of travel between major European cities’. (Our italics).
This concludes the Chiltern Society's response to Volume 1 of the Environmental Statement.