It’s a shame NPPF principles don’t apply to HS2

On Tuesday, the Government announced the National Planning Policy Framework, which sadly like the Communities Act will not apply to projects such as HS2 which has been automatically deemed to be in the ‘National Interests’. The planning framework, gives primacy to local plans but insists on ‘sustainable development’, leaving the interpretation of what is ‘sustainable’ very open. However, before it’s abolition in the cuts, the last statement which came from the Sustainable Development Commission was that not only is HS2 ‘Completely Unsustainable’, but it ‘Would require a massive ongoing subsidy for something which only benefits the richest in society’.

The 2005 UK Sustainable Development Strategy, sets out the five guiding principles for sustainability: living within the planet’s environmental limits; ensuring a strong, healthy and just society; achieving a sustainable economy; promoting good governance; and using sound science responsibly. It can be easily argued, as the SDC maintained that HS2 does not fulfil these requirements.

In the section on promoting sustainable transport, the document states;

“Smarter use of technologies can reduce the need to travel. The transport system needs to be balanced in favour of sustainable transport modes, giving people a real choice about how they travel.”


Stop HS2 Campaign Coordinator Joe Rukin said;

“Just like the Communities Act which was supposed to give people more power in terms of developments taking place in their communities, HS2 completely bypasses the NPPF, because it has been deemed to be in the ‘national interests’. Those touting those claims should take a long hard look at the National Audit Office report into how HS1 has completely failed to live up to forecast which were pure fantasy and poor planning which has been completely repeated with HS2.”

“The NPPF has lots of nice words about protecting the green belt, but in his response to Greg Clark, the opposition spokesman Hilary Benn asked if the local planning authorities had been told about the plans for a new city between Coventry & Birmingham. Clark replied that he was ‘bemused’ by this story, but are we really to believe that these massive out of town stations, which are also planned for the East Midlands and South Yorkshire, won’t lead to massive green belt developments nearby? Of course they will, but it’s the last thing the Government want to admit.”


Penny Gaines, chair of Stop HS2,  said

“On top of a massive growth in demand for travel which HS2 Ltd are predicted, the business case for the proposed railway relies on a quarter of the passengers only travelling because the railway has been built.  This is already in clear conflict with other Department for Transport policies on reducing demand for travel, such as the Anywhere Working initiative. However, now, the National Planning Policy Framework makes explicit reference to ‘Smarter use of technologies can reduce the need to travel’.”

“HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport have stated that they expect the £33 billion HS2 project to be carbon neutral.  The National Planning Policy Framework says that transport development should ‘support reductions in greenhouse gas emissions’.  HS2 clearly does not meet this criterion, and should be cancelled as soon as possible.”


Steve Rodrick, Chief Officer of the Chilterns Conservation Board said,

“The best transport policies are those which reduce the need to travel, reduce the impact on the environment and boost economic activity. If the government was to apply its own policies to its own investment, rather than investing over £36 billion on a high speed railway it would invest serious money on very high capacity broadband. That is exactly what is happening in Australia, where they may even be a case for high speed rail. Instead, they are investing over 37 billion Australian dollars on a very high speed national broadband network. That surely is not just better for business, but better for the environment and you don’t have to wait 20 years for the benefits. It is a model that the UK should be adopting.”


12 comments to “It’s a shame NPPF principles don’t apply to HS2”
  1. ‘Sustainable’ is an interesting word. It is frequently used, but it’s very difficult to define what it actually means. That’s why a lot of commentators are saying that references to sustainability in planning will lead to a lawyers’ charter.

    In economic terms the country’s level of debt and borrowing are not sustainable. With the national debt at over £1trn and rising by £350m every day it’s only a matter of time before the country runs out of credit. When that happens we’ll all have a lot more to worry about than HS2!

    Our energy regime is not sustainable. Fossil fuels account for 75% of our electricity generation. There are serious questions regarding the future supplies of these fuels—which are being consumed more quickly than they are being found, and are increasingly concentrated in only a few countries. Sooner or later, at some point during the next two decades, we will be facing an energy crunch. Why are we even thinking about running trains at 250mph which use 4 times more energy at 125mph?

    To say that something is unsustainable means that it cannot continue and must either be replaced with something else or abandoned altogether. With its weak economic case, rising government debt and increasing energy costs HS2 is destined for the scrap heap but like the Nimrods, we have to waste a lot of time and money first.

  2. I you dont have extra capacity for more electrified trains that hs2 will provide, which are the most efficient and least polluting form of transport, you wont be able to reduce the carbon emissions from transport and move people from cars and short haul flights (ie birmingham paris or manchester brussels) Unless we force people to stay at home. you also need the north of england and scotland to have much faster rail journeys so that rail becomes a true alternative to short haul flights ie edinburgh / newcastle /london.

    to reduce the average road traffic by 5% you will need to double the amount of passengers that railways need to carry based on the 95/05 % current modal shift of roads vs rail. Much more freight could then also be moved by rail. broadband will not help here nor will it help to reduce leisure and other non-business travel.

    i totally agree that we must try to resist widespread development on greenfield sites. HS2 will only be 25 metres max width railway and that is the most development that should be allowed. the m25 is a classic example where the bypass of london encouraged development which generated it own traffic. there are acres of brownfield site throughout the country which need to be used first.

    the only way you can get the required capacity and desired modal shift and hence lower overall transport emissions is by hs2. note that the very worst scenario for hs2 is that it wont increase overall emissions. you have to balance this against the emissions levels we will experience from transport if hs2 is NOT built !!

  3. Hs2 will be wider than a country road and tunnel entrances much larger due to need for a decent space between lines because of the speed.
    Peter Davidson,yes it may take longer here but they have ignored the huge number who wrote against hs2 in the consultation and that shows that it was a farce and undemocratic.The petitions still grow and more people actually state they are against it,more will be when the northern route is set out .You just want us to fade away but it will not happen so get used to it.

  4. What you say Gloria was evident before they changed the planning laws.It has become like China,the program i watched recently.They just sweep people aside and build cities.

    • @Elaine: It has become like China,the program i watched recently.They just sweep people aside and build cities.


      It’s difficult to express just how ridiculous your claim is – it is precisely because the UK is NOTjust like China that we have a timescale to build HS2, measured in decades rather than a few years. Due process takes time – the Hybrid Bill alone (you remember a process whereby the enabling legislation is subject to challenge and scrutiny (it’s called Democracy!) will take eighteen months alone, rather than a simple meeting of the politburo and an edict handed down.

      Is it just me or has the tone of articles (and subsequent comments from those inhabiting this fantasy world of rabid hostility to HS2) become increasingly bitter and deluded as the project becomes more and more tangible? Get used to it – HS2 is coming down the line and the best way to adapt is to engage constructively and press for the best mitigation measures possible – not stick your fingers in your ears whilst pretending the problem will go away if you shout loudly enough!

  5. As our property is up for compusary purchase we asked for a definition of National Interest and were told by HS2 that it is what ever they say it is. Very democratic

    • The national interest is to increase our debt from bad science, fallacy and fundamental flaws on the political system obviously.

      Appeal all the way to the ECJ

  6. The NPPF may not control the Department for Transport plans for HS2, but I hope it will hold fast for the Department for the Environment to prevent building developments from randomly and uncontrolably sprouting up alongside the new railway line. Once countryside is countryside no more, it seems to become acceptable to fill it with buildings and roads. If stretches of our open countryside are to be saved from spreading development, then there will need to be a very firm hand on the reigns of the National Planning Policy and any wider plans resulting from HS2.

    • Gloria, I think you will find that the kind of development you rightly fear-“ribbon development” as it was styled in the 1920s and ’30s, -has tended to run alongside roads.

      Town and country planning legislation ,introduced round about the end of World War 2 attempted to limit this form of blight.

      The view from a railway carriage is often that of trees and open countryside- countryside which remains countryside, regardless of a railway running through it! ( the width of a country road)

      • Yes, ribbon development happens on roads too. With all those extra people on the HS2 trains they’ll be wanting extra roads built for their onward journeys across the north of England and Scotland. As I intimated, I hope the NPPF leads to wise planning along all routes, which will preserve vast areas of our countryside for future generations to enjoy. The countryside is a valuable asset to our country – and it is open to future abuse if strict rules are no adhered to.

        It depends on where you are standing, what you see. Of course there is currently lots of countryside to be seen from a train – but it is rapidly getting less as the years, and more trains, rush by.

        • why will we need to build extra roads in the north and scotland for ongoing journeys ? passengers will remain on the same trains and or be able to make connections. doesnt make sense

          • When people get off the HS2 train most of them will be heading somewhere well away from the train terminus. Some, I admit, may walk or take another regional train, aircraft or boat; but most foot passengers will need to travel by car or bus, along a road, to get to their final destinations – offices, homes, customers, universities, hotels, etc.; as I said “across the north of England and Scotland”. Take a look at a road map and compare the rail and road networks of the south and the north, then you will see what I mean.

            I still don’t believe that HS2 will carry all these extra people in full carriages – but by aiming to do so it will increase the drip feed of more people to the north, who will need roads to get them to where they want to go to (and come from, as they head for the south).

            People really need to consider their travel needs more carefully. I love to travel, but I do it more selectively these days as I have grown to understand the impact that increasing journeys are having on our environment. I work with children and want them and their children to have a pleasant future. Their healthy existence comes first, then their healthy employment, using means of travel that doesn’t jeopardise the atmosphere or the landscape, comes closely second in my mind.

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