March 31, 2014
Please find here a copy of my own response to the latest HS2 consultation on the Environmental impacts of the project – if it should go ahead.
As you will see, I have not pulled any punches in describing the statement as “incomplete and inadequate”.
For convenience, I have extracted my conclusion:
Conclusion and way forward
I hope it is clear that my concerns are not just about the very damaging local impacts of HS2 and the lack of an effective mitigation strategy. I am also very frustrated by how this process has been conducted and the sense that big decisions have been taken in a rush. In key areas such as traffic, there is real concern that the impacts on congestion and pollution have been understated. The community can see no benefit from the soil dump strategy and reject it. Serious mitigation options have been put forward by the community and rejected, with inadequate explanation. There continues to be key information gaps in important areas such as peak noise. The result is a complete breakdown of trust between community and HS2.
The way forward
1. Tunnel extensions
The most effective way of avoiding these very damaging impacts is to extend the proposed tunnel. The preferred option is to extend to the other side of the Colne Valley. I have requested serious consideration of this in a joint letter with local MPs. It is the solution favoured by the London Borough of Hillingdon in their submission. It is even recommended in the submission from the London Assembly. The response that I received was full of technical difficulties about the length of tunnel and the clear suggestion was that it had not been looked at seriously. However as many residents have pointed out, we managed to overcome much bigger challenges with the Channel Tunnel. The fact is that almost everything is possible from an engineering point of view if there is the will and the budget. Even if this ambitious option is not possible, we should have a detailed explanation of why not. More serious consideration appears to have been given to the option of a shorter and cheaper extension that would protect Ickenham from much of the damage. However it too has been dismissed up to this point, which is disappointing.
In this context, I have written to the Chairman of HS2 asking him to review the decision to include the Heathrow Spur in the Phase 2 of HS2. This letter was co signed by local MPs who agree that no business case has ever been made and there is a strong case for discarding the option now. This would free the wider area from a second phase of blight and disruption. It would free up significant budget over the life of the project and it would reduce the complexity and cost associated with the tunnel extension that we will continue to seek.
2. Accelerate work on mitigating loss of amenity
People who use and manage community assets at risk need to know where they stand. In particular, I would urge an acceleration of the work to explore the feasibility of relocating HOAC.
I would urge HS2 to work with the London Borough of Hillingdon and other agencies to consider a mitigation strategy for loss of landscape and habitat that is more coherent and provides some solutions that will have an impact over shorter time frames. This should include high levels of ambition around the quality of design for the viaduct. It should also include the screening of new compounds and substations.
3. Re- examine the soil placement and traffic strategy
Given that this strategy was put together in a hurry and the information is incomplete, I would urge HS2 to cooperate fully with the community to explain assumptions in more detail and be challenged on them. I would also urge a more comprehensive and transparent review of options in relation to the disposal of excavated soil.
4. A more generous approach to compensation
Finally I cannot talk about the need for more effective mitigation without returning to the need for a fairer compensation offer for homeowners suffering property blight in areas that are not currently being considered for a property bond. The arguments are set out in my response to the compensation consultation.