Stop HS2 Evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee.

At 2.15pm today, Stop HS2 will be giving oral evidence in front of the Parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee. Below is the our written evidence.

You should be able to watch the session via these links http://www.bbc.co.uk/democracylive/ or http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Main/Player.aspx?meetingId=15119 

Executive Summary

  • The Environmental Statement (ES) accompanying the HS2 Hybrid Bill is completely unfit for purpose, is deliberately misleading, contradictory and inaccurate. We feel that like every other document which has been produced by HS2 Ltd, it has been rushed through to meet unrealistic timetables, downplays all the negative effects of the project, and exaggerates the competence of HS2 Ltd and their willingness to assess facts and engage and listen to experts and communities. 
  • That any of the very few proposed mitigations or remedies for the detrimental effects of HS2 are completely irrelevant because: 
  • The Environmental Minimum Requirements (EMRs), which will determine the primary environmental requirements of the scheme, has not been published and may not be consulted on or otherwise scrutinised; 
  • Many aspects of mitigation remain undecided and will be decided “during the detailed design”, whenever that is; 
  • Proposed compensation and mitigation measures will only be implemented “as far as reasonably practicable” and that “The EMR will also impose requirements on the nominated undertaker to use reasonable endeavours to adopt measures to reduce the adverse environmental effects reported in the ES, provided that this does not add unreasonable cost or delay to the construction or operation of the Proposed Scheme.”, which is hardly reassuring, especially given that; 
  • There is currently a political imperative to control and reduce costs of building HS2, and the obvious areas which give the only real leeway for cost-cutting are compensation and mitigation.

Route-Wide Environmental Impacts

1. There is no question that the ES is misleading. Throughout the documents there are repeated instances of inconsistent application of criteria and a systematic downplaying of the impact of HS2. It would appear that there is not meaningful consideration of the cumulative effects by HS2 Ltd on the impact it will create. There is an overly simplistic view and even places which have been deemed to be “significantly affected,” do not benefit from any mitigation recommendations.

2. The ES significantly underplays the impacts that the proposals would have on a range of wildlife species and habitats. For those impacts which it does acknowledge, the ES then proposes mitigation and compensation which fall far short of that which would be required to meet the government’s own appraisal system for assessing net loss to biodiversity.

3. Where mitigation is proposed it is often unsecured, with no guarantee of delivery, and could be undermined by other considerations that arise at a later date. Some of the most important aspects of the project pertaining to mitigation remain undecided and will be decided “during the detailed design”, which shows that this project is being rushed through to meet an unrealistic timescale and incidents such as this do little to abate that concern.

4. HS2 Ltd have claimed they will “will promote high speed rail and balance community, environmental and economic issues”, but the reality is that only economic implications of the project seem to really matter, with the importance of communities and the environment being brushed over. The key example of this is that “as far as reasonably practicable” is a phrase which is used throughout the ES in relation to proposed compensation and mitigation measures, which, given the actions of HS2 Ltd to date, it is felt that this will almost certainly be a used as a trump card to get out of any additional spending on environmental mitigation.

5. The consultation document boasts that “environmental assessment has been the foundation of route selection, design development, arrangement for construction and operation of the railway, and measures to mitigate the project’s environmental impacts” and that “since early 2012, HS2 Ltd has engaged closely with local communities along the proposed Phase One route and other stakeholders to identify and seek to resolve issues of concern”. This is simply not the case.

6. The Environmental Minimum Requirements (EMRs) are intended to set out the high level environmental and sustainability commitments that the Government will enter into through the hybrid Bill process, and as these have not yet been defined, the validity and usefulness of the ES is diminished.

7. With a political imperative to reduce and control the costs of the HS2 project, unspecified budgets for compensation and mitigation, and apparent get-out clauses to provide necessary mitigation and compensation, we believe it is clear that these areas will be the first to be dispatched in any cost-cutting measures.

Agriculture

8. Although the Proposed Scheme will clearly sever some accesses within farms and create new field layouts that will require new accesses, that this land is not be shown within the land required for construction and should be seen as additional ecological impact, leaving the ES unfit for purpose.

9. Further information is required to demonstrate how the construction of the Proposed Scheme will not adversely impact pollution or soil contamination in the area, particularly in terms of food production.

10. There is a lack of detail relating to the ‘appropriate level of agricultural productivity’, as there is no target condition assessments from the current baseline or what the ‘appropriate level of agricultural productivity’ would have been in 2026 should the scheme not have commenced and if this has been taken into consideration. This evaluation will have a significant economically impact on the landowner and future land values. There has been no assessment as to how the loss of agricultural land, both during construction and operation of HS2 will impact on UK food security, and potentially retail food prices.

Forestry and Soils

11. Volume 5, Annex B, Ecology Technical Note Section 14 clearly states that loss of ancient woodland cannot be mitigated for, however in many instances individual CFA reports repeatedly state that proposed planting will act as mitigation for ancient woodland loss. Ancient woodland is irreplaceable and as such any loss of it cannot be mitigated, only compensated. Many of the CFA reports are misleading consultees and ultimately the decision makers by incorrectly referring to mitigation.

12. Any loss of ancient woodland should clearly be recorded as a significant permanent residual effect in accordance with the Scope and Methodology Addendum (Volume 5). Unfortunately this is not always the case and loss is sometimes referred to as a moderate or even a low adverse effect. This is misleading.

13. The ES is inadequate in providing detail on how much material is likely to be “beneficially incorporated” within each CFA area. Given the volumes of excavated material arising across the scheme, there will be an inevitable environmental impact of managing such material. The ES has not adequately quantified these amounts, or identified specific end uses and locations of the material so the inevitable environmental impacts that would arise have not been adequately considered.

14. Without accurate details of proposed contours and cross-sections it is quite impossible to envisage the impact of any earthworks. There is no evidence if any desk or land surveys to determine geological sensitive areas that may contain significant geological interest that could be impacted upon by the Proposed Scheme.

Air Quality

15. Many areas affected by HS2 already have air quality problems due to heavy traffic flows.  If there is significant stationary traffic, or extensive dust due to construction, there is the possibility of affecting large numbers of people. Further information is required to demonstrate how the construction of the Proposed Scheme will not adversely impact on air quality.

16. Air pollution, particularly dust from construction, could exacerbate existing respiratory or cardiovascular conditions leading to an increase in GP and acute hospital use. A health impact assessment of the workers on site and their living accommodation, as well as of the local community and affected properties is recommended. Continuous monitoring of pollution levels at the site during construction is also recommended, with the implementation of further measures to mitigate any pollution exceeding minimum permitted levels.

17. People experiencing dust deposition at their home may lead to mental health stresses. It is hoped that any resident experiencing dust deposition from construction on their properties will be fully compensated for any expenses occurred e.g. window cleaning, ground and building washing, replacement of plants etc.

18. When looking at the construction phase, HS2 Ltd have looked solely at air pollution caused by their lorries, whilst ignoring the knock on effects of congestion and traffic queues.

Climate

19. Despite assurances in the AoS (published to support the 2011 consultation) that a greenhouse gas assessment of the project would be completed. It is no surprise that HS2 Ltd have failed to provide even an initial appraisal of climate aspects.

20. We believe that the lack of these assessments is because it is clear that HS2 will result in a net contribution in greenhouse gasses, meaning the project is incompatible with the Climate Change Act 2008. Previous statements from HS2 Ltd have stated that ‘HS2 will be broadly carbon neutral’, but these statements have completely ignored embedded and emitted carbon associated with construction. HS2 Ltds projections for modal shift show only 1% of travellers will transfer from more polluting alternatives (air travel). The reason that car travel would be responsible for fewer carbon emissions that HS2 is the arbitrary 225/250mph speed which HS2 is being designed for, which requires considerably more energy than convention trains.

Ecology

21. The evidence clearly shows that the scheme as proposed in the ES will cause unacceptable fragmentation of the ecological landscape. The ES significantly underplays the impacts that the proposals would have on a range of wildlife species and habitats. For those impacts which it does acknowledge, the ES then proposes mitigation and compensation which fall far short of that which would be required to meet the government’s own appraisal system for assessing net loss to biodiversity.

22. Where mitigation is proposed it is often unsecured, with no guarantee of delivery and could be undermined by other considerations that arise at a later date. For example, the ES acknowledges that the proposals for phase 1 of HS2 alone would lead to the loss of 1% of the UK’s Barn Owl population, but the proposed mitigation amounts to no more than a promise to talk to landowners about providing alternative nesting sites, and does not address habitat impacts at all.

23. We believe that survey information is either missing, or hasn’t been provided with the ES, which leads to the ES underrepresenting the impacts significantly. The majority of the route has not been surveyed, meaning the “precautionary” results are in fact complete guesswork, where much of the concrete data which has been supplied by Environmental Record Centres has been ignored.  Using the current DEFRA process for biodiversity offsetting, it is clear that mitigation proposals are inadequate.

24. Despite these concerns, including the impacts acknowledged by the authors of the ES themselves, the non-technical summary of the ES would lead a reader to conclude that the project would indeed achieve no net loss of biodiversity. For example, the non-technical summary states “HS2 has included mitigation and compensation measures to reduce effects on species and habitats” and “In line with Government policy, HS2 Ltd is seeking to achieve no net loss in biodiversity”. Additionally: the ES significantly undervalues non-statutory sites; there has been a gross misrepresentation of known and potential biodiversity as illustrated on the ES maps in Volume 5. The Proposed Scheme will cause unacceptable fragmentation of the ecological landscape. And will result in a net loss to biodiversity.

25. Not only is it not true that mitigation and compensation has been provided for all effects, but it is stated that mitigation will only be provided “where practicable”. It is clear that environmental mitigation will be the first thing to be cut in any cost-cutting exercise, as it is stated: “The EMR will also impose requirements on the nominated undertaker to use reasonable endeavours to adopt measures to reduce the adverse environmental effects reported in the ES, provided that this does not add unreasonable cost or delay to the construction or operation of the Proposed Scheme.”.

26. The lack of an ecology section in a number of the Community Forum Areas (CFAs) summaries where the scheme clearly has a significant adverse impact on the ecology of the area also means that a complete summary of the likely significant effects of the proposals has not been provided. For example, the ES fails to mention even the presence of both Bechstein’s and Barbastelle bats in the relevant CFA reports, let alone the potential impact of the scheme on them. This is one of many example with demonstrate that the ES is deliberately misleading and unfit for purpose.

27. The ES frequently assumes that a lack of information on the impact of noise from high speed rail on the natural environment equates to it having minimal impact.

28. The ES states that the project aims to result in no net loss in biodiversity. However, it is not possible to achieve this target because irreplaceable habitat is being removed.

Water Resources and Flood Risk

29. One of the design aims of HS2 is stated to be “The project shall seek to avoid direct or indirect harm to valued landscape, water and ecological resources, to mitigate adverse impacts and to enhance such resources where practicable. Measures to achieve this would be commensurate with the sensitivity of the resources and the level of their protection.” It is clear that this design aim has not been met.

30. The comments on Flood Risk in Volume 3 are very generic and not at all reassuring in view of the risks.  The assumption that planning is based on a 1 in 100 year flood is of great concern as this level has been reached several times in living memory in many different places along the route. The way in which HS2 Ltd seem to have underplayed or ignored flood risk is symptomatic of the cavalier attitude displayed toward any negative impacts of the scheme.

31. There are many places near the HS2 route which are vulnerable to fluvial flooding from watercourses and surface water flooding near to Canley Brook, several of which have been flooded in recent weeks. It is absolutely clear that proposed river and flood plain crossing works could cause an increased risk of flooding, either during construction or after completion.

32. Watercourse diversions are complex by nature, but because of the lack of consideration and detailed design at this stage we are unable to reconcile various aspects of the scheme.  The radical realignment of any water course is known in civil engineering circles to be a high risk project because of the difficulty of anticipating all the consequences, even with the latest modelling techniques, which do not seem to have been employed

33. There is no mention throughout any of the documents of where responsibility lies for ongoing maintenance of new drainage infrastructure, sustainable or otherwise, that is constructed by HS2. This is an unacceptable oversight and must be addressed.

34. There is no commitment in the documents for HS2 to submit drainage strategies for all parts of the route to the EA. From a flood risk perspective, HS2 must attend to surface water and sub-surface / groundwater hydrological regimes throughout the route. The only way to adequately do this is to undertake site-specific groundwater investigations – boreholes – to identify the risk of disturbing groundwater or subsurface flow routes, and to be able to mitigate these accordingly.

35. Without any evidence, paragraph 8.3.1 states that ‘The proposed Scheme within this study area overlies multiple aquifers however the works proposed are not expected to increase groundwater flood risk’. HS2 must undertake groundwater investigations in areas of high risk to ascertain water levels and therefore ensure that existing groundwater flow routes will not be interrupted, or if they are interrupted that an adequate mitigation is put in place and maintained.

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One comment on “Stop HS2 Evidence to the Environmental Audit Committee.
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