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HS2: keeping track of the runaway train

HS2 Phase 1 was granted Royal Assent on 23 February 2017. What this means in plain English is that, short of the Government cancelling the HS2 project, work can commence on the construction of the section from London to Birmingham.

I started work on the Trust’s input to the High Speed 2 project in 2013 so this is something that has very much become part of my life. Phase 1 will destroy just over 30 hectares of ancient woodland from 34 individual woodlands along the 240km corridor between Euston and Lichfield. It will have indirect impacts from noise, lighting and dust on another 29. This is not the outcome I or my colleagues wanted.

Ancient woods saved

However, despite the headline figures it isn’t all bad news. The time span that we have been dealing with this project means it is sometimes easy to forget the wins we have had along the way. At its very worst the project threatened to destroy around 45 hectares of ancient woodland. Therefore, as a direct result of our campaigning with the assistance of our supporters, just over 14 hectares of ancient woodland will not be facing the chop. The biggest single win for ancient woodland was the extension of the Chilterns tunnel which saved 10 hectares of woodland from three separate woods. This is proof that huge engineering changes to the proposal are possible and this should be borne in mind when the Hybrid Bills for Phases 2a and 2b begin their passage through Parliament.

Lasting changes

Our campaigning on Phase 1 has already had knock on effects on subsequent phases. Phase 1 originally proposed ancient woodland loss in multiple locations as a result of temporary activities, such as stockpiles, construction compounds and haul routes. As a result of our campaigning HS2 Ltd agreed to remove all temporary activities from ancient woodland and this will apply to subsequent phases of the project.

We also saw Natural England agree with the Woodland Trust that ancient woodland cannot be offset, forcing HS2 Ltd to back down on their claims that the project could be completed with no net loss to biodiversity.

How you can help

Royal Assent is not the end of the Woodland Trust’s involvement in Phase 1. HS2 Ltd will need to submit hundreds of planning applications for the detailed parts of the scheme as the Hybrid Bill only covers the outline. This is where our supporters can continue to help us ensure that the absolutely best deal is obtained for ancient woodland along the route. The Trust is not a statutory consultee for planning applications that affect ancient woodland. Therefore we need people to let us know about applications they have seen on Council websites that may affect ancient woodland.

The Woodland Trust continues to work on the proposals for Phase 2a and Phase 2b. Our experience of the Hybrid Bill process on Phase 1 means we are well prepared for campaigning on the subsequent phases. The Environmental Impact Assessment for Phase 2a (Birmingham to Crewe) is expected July 2017 and we will be keeping supporters up to date with progress on the protection of ancient woodland along this section.