Yesterday, the Observer covered HS2 and the backbench rebellion that is taking off, of MPs quietly opposed to HS2.
An important issue was put into one short paragraph:
The debate will play into the increasingly bitter row over the government’s proposals to relax planning laws. “As the proposed route runs through the Chilterns, an area of outstanding natural beauty, other areas of outstanding natural beauty should no longer feel safe,” said Penny Gaines of Stop HS2.
As we reported, following Any Questions from Aylesbury in August, it is comforting to assume that the problems faced by other areas do not apply to your nearby special area with legal protection, whether it’s the New Forest or the Peak District National Park.
But the issue is not whether the Chilterns is more, or less beautiful then Suffolk, or Yorkshire, or Cornwall. The issue is whether legal protection for scenic areas is worth having. Because, once large-scale development in certain areas is allowed, in spite of legal protection, it will be much easier for developers to get round legal protection in other areas.
The objections might be different if the environment was likely to gain from HS2. It’s not: the Green party opposes HS2, as do numerous other environmental organisations.
What is clear is that by 2026, before a single train has run, there will have been massive environmental damage during construction, including to 21 ancient woods, and 160 SSSIs. But running HS2 will be merely carbon neutral (according to Philip Hammond, Secretary of State for Transport): because the majority of passengers (65% according to HS2 Ltd) will have transferred from the classic rail network, with very few (13%) from road or air travel.
If you care about the proposed changes to the planning laws, you have to care about HS2.
Because in return for the damage caused by HS2, the principle of legal protection for the environment will be gone.