MPs’ environment fears over HS2

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BUILDING the HS2 line could lead to some plant species becoming endangered while emission savings from the high-speed rail scheme are likely to be “relatively small at best”, according to a report by MPs.

Better safeguards needed to be implemented if harmful environmental impacts of HS2 are to be minimised, the report from the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee said today.

The MPs said that Parliament should ensure that everything possible was done to minimise damage to ancient woodlands and Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

The committee also said that consideration should be given to reducing the maximum 225mph speed of the HS2 trains until electricity generation had been sufficiently carbonised.

The committee’s chairman Joan Walley said: “So far the consultation process on HS2 has not fully addressed the many environmental concerns we have.

“The Government needs to show real commitment to dealing with the impact that HS2 will have on our countryside and wildlife. Ancient woodlands and other hard-to-replace sites of natural value should not be subordinated to crude economic calculations of cost and benefit. “

She added: “It is imperative that an infrastructure project on such a large scale implements proper environmental safeguards and ensures that impacts are minimised.

“This means adopting stringent, enforceable standards and setting aside adequate funding.

“That won’t happen if HS2 Ltd can avoid implementing safeguards if they consider them to be ‘impracticable’ or ‘unreasonable’.

“There needs to be a separate ring-fenced budget for these safeguards and for compensation, separate from the rest of the HS2 budget, to prevent the environment being squeezed if HS2 costs grow.”

The report also said: “There is some debate about whether HS2 will deliver a reduction in emissions by taking travellers off the roads and planes. But, at best, the savings are likely to be relatively small.”

It has been welcomed by green groups and those opposed to the development. Ralph Smyth, the Campaign to Protect Rural England’s (CPRE) senior transport campaigner, said: “We have been calling for environmental funding to be ring-fenced in HS2’s budget since 2011 and it’s disappointing that the Government has been unwilling to take this forward. We are pleased that MPs are supporting our call. With Parliament set to vote on HS2 later this month, the Department for Transport will need to come up with an adequate response quickly if it wants to keep the project on track.”

Richard Houghton, of the opposition group HS2 Action Alliance, said: “The ‘HS2 and the environment’ report makes a number of crystal-clear statements, but primarily that costs will escalate even further beyond the current budget to address the issues of environmental damage and carbon impact. Green report - red faces.”

An HS2 Ltd spokesman said: “The levels of environmental protection set out in the environmental statement are higher than for any other project of such a significant scale. This includes a commitment to plant more than two million trees along the route of phase one. The committee has acknowledged that the aim of ‘no net biodiversity loss’ is a challenging one. There may be opportunities to achieve a net gain as the project develops and these will be considered fully.”

He added: “”HS2 Ltd acknowledges the need to complete the outstanding protected species surveys as soon as possible and this work continues. We share the committee’s regret than some landowners have refused access for environmental surveys and hope they will now grant this access.

“We will contribute to the Government’s response to the committee once the entire detail of the report has been given due consideration”.