In response to the Transport Secretary, Justine Greening’s, Ministerial Statement approving the High Speed Rail Project (HS2); Sarah Lee, Head of Policy for the Countryside Alliance, said:
“The Countryside Alliance remains gravely concerned that no significant evaluation of the impact of High Speed Rail 2 on the countryside, its communities and wildlife has been properly undertaken or acknowledged.
“While we welcome some of the concessions that have been made by the Government - including noise reduction measures and longer tunnels - we are dubious as to whether this will make any overall difference to the environmental impact of the rail line, which will still consume huge amounts of energy and damage many important sites for wildlife. Equally these last-minute changes, as with the route north of Birmingham, have also not been put forward for public consultation and therefore risk huge public and stakeholder backlash.
“The Alliance calls on the Government to undertake these assessments and consultations as a matter of urgency, before any further progression is made on this project.”
The Countryside Alliance has set out its opposition to High Speed 2 as follows:
§ High speed rail projects are hugely expensive and therefore must offer significant benefits to justify investing public money.
§ The Countryside Alliance believes the economic and environmental costs of the proposed HS2 project have not been properly evaluated and the Government has so far failed to make a sound business case.
§ In context, the Government is proposing to spend upwards of £17 billion on a high speed rail project with a weak business case at a time when most departmental budgets are being cut by at least 20 per cent because of the deficit.
§ The countryside, its communities and important wildlife habitats must be a factor in any evaluation of major projects that affects them and should be protected if a sound business case is not made.
§ The proposed route from London to Birmingham will cut through areas that are currently untouched by the transport system. The route will damage some of the most picturesque countryside in Britain, including the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
§ If and when HS2 stretches to Leeds and Manchester forming a “Y-shaped network”, the implications for these residents and sites of natural beauty will also be significant.
§ Despite people living along the planned route being the most affected they will gain little or no local benefits. There are no proposed stations outside London and Birmingham. Therefore high speed rail travel will be more accessible for people living in urban areas but not for people living in the countryside.
§ Regrettably the impacts that cannot be monetised – damage to landscape and biodiversity – have yet to be seriously addressed by the Government and people who will feel these impacts most acutely are not being given a fair hearing.