Expect fireworks on Halloween this year

Originally published on the Woodland Trust blog. Views expressed are the Woodland Trust’s.

As the High Speed Rail Preparation Bill, the legislation that paves the way for the controversial HS2 scheme, passes to Report Stage in the Commons this week, Government Affairs Officer Steve Mulligan provides our take on the Bill’s passage and what it means for the Trust as we head towards the petitioning stage of the HS2 Hybrid Bill.    

“Rather appropriately, given the absolute horror facing 67 ancient woods along the proposed route, the legislation that paves the way for the controversial HS2 scheme, passes to Report Stage in the Commons on Halloween (this Thursday, October 31st).

Could HS2 end up being a “Ghost” Train?

Could HS2 end up being a “Ghost” Train?

The High Speed Rail Preparation Bill, aims to “provide the secretary of state with parliamentary approval to incur essential expenditure on preparatory works in advance of the proposed Hybrid Bill achieving Royal Assent” –  or in simple terms, it will provide the Department of Transport with authority to spend money on preparations before the HS2 Hybrid Bill becomes law – in approximately 2.5 years.

So far, the Bill has sailed through Parliament with little controversy, as many opponents of the scheme are keen to have this legislation in place to secure compensation for constituents who are already being blighted by the scheme. However, given Labour’s recent softening on support for the scheme, and the suggestion that between 30 and 60 Conservative MPs are expected to rebel against the Government on Thursday, this session may provide much more fireworks than earlier sessions. As a minimum, we expect that the debate will re-open concerns about the rationale for the HS2 and hopefully remind MPs of the severe environmental costs of the scheme.

High Capacity Two?
Over the summer months we have seen a change in the Government’s central justification for the project, with the focus now on improving capacity, rather than delivering speed.  We welcome this change in direction, as we feel this provides an excellent opportunity to refine and revise the route, making it much more sensitive to the natural environment and towards the needs of communities along the lines. Slowing down the service would negate the need for the rigidity of a design which blights the countryside and destroys irreplaceable habitats, such as Ancient Woodland.  To justify the £42.6 billion of public investment in the scheme, we believe that HS2 should demonstrate the very best practice when it comes to environmental protection. We have urged Government to take this golden opportunity to revise the route and deliver a scheme we can all support, and that still delivers the 143% capacity gains and improved connectivity that it claims the network requires.

Showcasing World Class Mitigation

Parliament is being asked this week to endorse a scheme which, in following the present route, will leave environmental destruction in its wake. We firmly believe that world class project receiving such high levels of public funding needs to showcase world class mitigation and compensation.  We have therefore asked Members of Parliament to support amendment 11, proposed by Caroline Spelman MP, Frank Dobson MP and Jeremy Corbyn MP.  This states:

Clause 1, page 2, line 1, at end add—

‘(d) in ensuring (which shall be a statutory duty of the Secretary of State) that construction of the network and related infrastructure does not result in any net loss of biodiversity, through steps such as avoidance, mitigation and offsetting.’.

Whilst Ancient Woodland can never be replaced, this amendment puts down an appropriate marker at the outset of the scheme around facing up to the environmental damage caused in the construction of the line.

Our core position is to continue to fight to prevent any Ancient Woodland loss from the scheme and we have committed to challenging Government by petitioning the Hybrid Bill process.  Alongside this broad position, we are seeking a clear commitment from Government for a comprehensive and proportionate environmental response to compensate for any ancient woodland lost or damaged as a result of the project.  We have asked that this should be based on the Lawton Principles on habitat networks and landscape scale impact already enshrined in the Government’s Natural Environment White Paper.

Whilst securing this commitment on compensation and mitigation is important, it is a last resort for us. Readers can be assured that we will continue our fight to protect the 67 Ancient Woods along the proposed route as we head through the Hybrid Bill process, which is expected to have it’s first reading in December.”

Steve Mulligan, Government Affairs Officer.

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