HS2 in Hansard 03/07/2013

[SANDRA OSBORNE in the Chair]
High Speed 2 (Ancient Woodlands)
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting
be now adjourned.—(Mr Syms.)
9.30 am
Michael Fabricant (Lichfield) (Con): I am grateful to
have secured this important debate, which addresses the
environmental impact of High Speed 2’s present route.
Later I will specifically address the damage that will be
wrought on our ancient woodland heritage—damage
that will take literally hundreds of years to repair, if it
can be repaired at all.
My constituents face being the unique recipients of
both phase 1 and phase 2 of the HS2 project—a double
whammy indeed. Its construction will cut through unspoiled
countryside right across southern Staffordshire. There,
and elsewhere along the route, HS2 will destroy our
natural heritage, including some of the UK’s most
precious natural assets, such as our ancient woodland,
impacting, sadly, on wildlife and on the communities
that cherish living in such a beautiful environment.
As I said in the Queen’s Speech debate earlier this
year, HS2, as currently formulated, is causing an unnatural
disaster in Staffordshire and huge problems in many
other constituencies, not least those of Mr Speaker and
my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and
Amersham (Mrs Gillan), who is sitting beside me.
As my right hon. Friend the Minister and Members
of the House might be aware, I fully support the principle
of an additional north-south line to relieve congestion
on the west coast main line. The congestion on that line
can only get worse in the years to come, as petrol and
diesel pricesmove inexorably upwards, driving commuters
off the roads and on to trains. I also anticipate and
hope that the spare capacity freed up by HS2 will
eventually enable more direct fast train services from
Lichfield Trent Valley down to London and up to the
north-west. However, despite those benefits, I cannot
bring myself to support a project whose route causes
such environmental degradation and blight, particularly
when other options could be explored—an issue to
which I will return.
I do not, therefore, oppose HS2 on principle, but as I
said in the Queen’s Speech debate, it feels as if the route
has been almost deliberately designed to be as damaging
as possible to rural England.We have chosen the Labour
route instead of the one we favoured in opposition,
which used existing transport corridors, as is the norm
in continental Europe. The route also fails to link with
HS1 or adequately with Heathrow airport, and nor
does it provide a direct link to Birmingham New Street,
relying instead on a footway. It is seriously flawed.
Thousands of homes are being blighted by the present
route. The Government must be swift and generous
with compensation, and I hope they will adopt the property
bond referred to by the Secretary of State during the
Second Reading of the High Speed Rail (Preparation)
Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con):
My hon. Friend has touched a nerve by referring to
the property bond. As he knows, my constituents, and
particularly Hilary Wharf, who leads the HS2 Action
Alliance, are really set on getting a property bond, as
the fairest and most reasonable way of compensating
people whose lives, businesses and houses are being
destroyed by the project. Does he hope the Government
will adapt the paving Bill in Committee to include a
property bond?
Michael Fabricant: I have discussed this with the
Secretary of State, and he says he is open to the idea,
although a number of practical difficulties need to be
overcome. Providing that they are, however, I hope, as I
said just now, that the Government will adopt the
property bond, because it will give comfort to my right
hon. Friend’s constituents and mine.
The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr Simon
Burns): May I give my hon. Friend the reassurance
that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and
I gave during the Second Reading of the paving Bill? As
a result of the 10th judicial review—we won the other
nine—we will reconsult on the compensation schemes.
Let me say categorically that consideration of, and
consultation on, a property bond will be one of the
Sandra Osborne (in the Chair): Order. May I remind
hon. Members that the debate is about High Speed 2
and ancient woodlands, not the project as a whole?
Michael Fabricant: I thank you, Mrs Osborne. That
is, indeed, what I am getting on to.
Christopher Pincher (Tamworth) (Con): I am sure my
hon.Friend agrees that it is good news that theGovernment
will reconsider the property bond, as we just heard from
the Minister. However, does he agree that they must
deal with blight now—because homes and, indeed, ancient
woodlands are being blighted now—rather than in the
future, when the line is built.
Michael Fabricant: That is absolutely right. My hon.
Friend and I are affected by phase 1 of the route. We
have been living with this issue since before 2010, and
my constituents have been living with it too. The issue
is, therefore, urgent, and it needs to be dealt with sooner
rather than later. However, let me get on to the main
subject of the debate.
The compensation packagesmust be the same for both
phases, because it would be totally wrong for people
living south of Lichfield, who are affected by phase 1,
to be treated differently from those in the north of my
constituency, who are affected by phase 2.
The Woodland Trust has indicated that the preferred
routes for both phases will cause loss or damage to at
least 67 irreplaceable ancient woods, which are home to
256 species that are of conservation concern. Some
lessons have been learned in the design of the phase 2
route, because the most devastating environmental impact
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[Michael Fabricant]
occurs in the construction of the London-to-Lichfield
route, or phase 1. However, that alone will damage
21 ancient woods, while noise and vibration will affect
the delicate balance of a further 48woods within 100 metres
of the line.
Ancient woods are lands that have been continuously
wooded since 1600. They form only about 2% of our
land. Their unique, undisturbed soils form the UK’s
richest habitats forwildlife. They just cannot be translocated,
and, once destroyed, they are lost—in effect, for ever.
We cannot credibly lecture other countries on
deforestation while taking a cavalier approach to the
loss of our own equivalent of the rain forest Ironically,
given their support for such a destructive route, the
Government fully recognise the unique place ancient
woodlands hold in our society. The forestry policy
statement published earlier this year notes:
“England’s 340,000 hectares of ancientwoodlands are exceptionally
rich in wildlife, including many rare species and habitats. They are
an integral part of England’s cultural heritage and act as reservoirs
from which wildlife can spread into new woodlands.”
I agree.
As I indicated, my constituency is unique in that it
will suffer the double whammy of construction during
both phases of HS2. Phase 1 passes between Lichfield
and Whittington below Fradley junction. Phase 2 joins
the phase 1 route just below Fradley junction and
travels through the constituency towards Stafford, passing
Colton and the villages knows as the Ridwares. The
phase 1 route will continue beyond the junction with
phase 2 to join the west coast main line. The damage it
will do is heartbreaking.
As a result of such extensive construction, three
ancient woods in the constituency would be severely
damaged. The line will pass directly through Ravenshaw
wood, Slaish wood and Black Slough wood, while Vicar’s
coppice, being only 62 metres from the line, would be
damaged by noise and vibration during its construction—
damage that, as I said, is irreparable.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I congratulate the
hon. Gentleman on bringing the matter to the House.
HS2 does not have any direct impact onmy constituency,
because I am a Northern Ireland Member, but none
the less as a parliamentarian I have an interest in the
environment, includingwhat happens to ancientwoodlands.
I understand from the background information that
four wildlife trust reserves, 10 sites of special scientific
interest, 50 ancient woodlands and 84 local wildlife sites
will be affected. Does the hon. Gentleman feel that it is
not yet too late to give full consideration to the retention
of habitat for wildlife including flora and mammals?
Michael Fabricant: I have pleasure in agreeing with
the hon. Gentleman, and I hope indeed that theMinister
will deal with that issue. The simple answer is no, it is
not too late. I hope that the Government will rethink
the route, because in my view it should not carve its way
through previously unspoiled countryside, cherished by
the communities who live in harmony with it. If it does,
it will cause environmental damage not only to southern
Staffordshire, as I have described, but to other sensitive
areas such as the Chilterns area of outstanding natural
beauty. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice,my hon.
Friend the Member forKenilworth and Southam (Jeremy
Wright), wanted me to point out, as, being a Minister,
he cannot do so today, that South Cubbington wood in
his constituency will be damaged too.
Not only does the plan fly in the face of common
sense and environmental progress; it transgresses the
Government’s own policies on protection of ancient
woodland. Indeed, the forestry policy statement of the
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
states categorically:
“Protection of our trees, woods and forests, especially our
ancient woodland, is our top priority.”
Christopher Pincher: I am obliged again to my hon.
Friend; he is very kind. He rightly mentioned that south
Staffordshire and its ancient woodland are affected by
the proposals. He mentioned Kenilworth and Southam,
and between there and Lichfield is the Bourne valley in
the Tamworth constituency, where ancient woodland
will also be affected by the proposed route. The effect
on the midlands, coming on top of the toll road and the
extension to the A5, is damage tomuch ancientwoodland.
The Government must recognise that.
Michael Fabricant: As ever, my hon. Friend makes his
point powerfully and well. I hope that the Minister has
listened to what he said. He is right to say that the west
midlands has suffered, and I think that it has suffered in
a way that has not been replicated in other parts of the
United Kingdom.
In May, I tabled a question asking my right hon.
Friend the Secretary of State for his own assessment of
the impact of the proposedHS2route on ancientwoodland.
The response that I received in the Official Report on
6 June at column 1224W seemed, sadly, to indicate a
belief in Government that such destruction is a price
worth paying. It also noted that certain mitigation
measureswere being proposed, including the construction
of a tunnel to avoid one ancient wood and movement of
a line to minimise land take within another. That is
simply not good enough. When we consider the vast
sums of public money being committed we realise that
the damage is inordinately large.As a minimum, mitigation
should be proportionate and applied comprehensively
for any ancient woodland lost or damaged as a result of
the project. That should be based on the Lawton principles
on habitat networks and landscape scale impact already
enshrined in the Government’s widely welcomed natural
environment White Paper of 2011. If, as it is claimed,
HS2 is meant to be a world-class transport project, it
should demonstrate world-class practice when it comes
to the avoidance of damage and the showcasing of the
very best practice in mitigation.
Further insult has been added to injury by the publication
of a poorly written, half-finished environmental statement,
which neglected to include crucial ecological surveys
and assessments that are required for communities to
respond effectively. The environmental statement sadly
misunderstands the complexity and national significance
of the habitats being damaged. For example, the summary
states that
“at present there are no route-wide significant effects on habitats”.
Extraordinary. That is clearly not the case, given
the national significance of ancient woodland, which
is recognised in the national planning policy framework.
I tabled another question in May—it appears at
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column 1224W in the Official Report of 6 June—about
what discussions were taking place with the Department
for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on minimising
the impact of construction on ancient woodland. The
evidence of the environmental statement is that there
has been far too little such discussion, and the result is a
statement that pays mere lip service to environmental
It does not need to be this way. Done properly, HS2
would provide theGovernment with a golden opportunity
to showcase the very best of British construction.However,
if it is to be the world-class and truly green transport
solution that it purports to be, far greater respect for the
natural environment needs to be demonstrated, or the
opportunity will sadly be lost.
In the light of the impacts that I have highlighted, I
call on my right hon. Friend the Minister, and the
Government, with whom I have had the honour of
serving, to look again at the proposed route for HS2. In
opposition, as I have said, my party championed a
route that followed existing transport corridors, a tried
and tested method used across Europe, which minimises
environmental damage. I know that phase 2 of the route
is an attempt to do that, but of course in southern
Staffordshire it is not possible, because of the need to
link to the existing and most environmentally damaging
route: phase 1. That policy position is now, ironically,
receiving favour from the current Opposition party,
whose route the coalition Government have nowadopted.
It is incredible.
I call on my right hon. Friend, rather than cutting a
destructive swathe through previously unblemished
countryside, to think again and deliver a route that
better respects the environment we all treasure. I hope
that in his answer he will address the following six
questions of which, Mrs Osborne, I have given him
prior notice—so he has no excuse not to answer. He
is waving his speech, so I hope he will answer these
questions in detail: first, will he look further at how the
loss of ancient woodland can be minimised? Secondly,
what assessment has been made of how many hectares
of ancient woodland will be lost? Thirdly, how much of
the £33 billion—of course, that sum has now gone
up—will be spent on seeking to avoid loss of woodland
and on the creation of new woodland as part of the
mitigation process? Of course, I pointed out earlier that
ancient woodland cannot be replaced overnight. Ancient
woodland is woodland formed in 1600 and before.
Mr Burns: And after.
Michael Fabricant: No, it is not; ancient woodland is
described as existing from 1600.
Mr Burns rose—
Michael Fabricant: I will not give way to my right
hon. Friend, simply because I think others want to take
part in the debate. He can answer that point, if he
wishes, in his speech.
My fourth question is whether my right hon. Friend
will undertake to involve DEFRA and environmental
organisations more fully. Fifthly,what say and involvement
will communities have in any mitigation planting? Finally,
will he ensure that the full environmental impact assessment,
when it is published alongside the Bill, will be a major
improvement on the somewhat inadequate work that
was released earlier in the spring? I thank you for your
indulgence, Mrs Osborne, and look forward to hearing
from others in the debate.
9.48 am
Mrs Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con):
It is a pleasure to speak inWestminster Hall under your
chairmanship, Mrs Osborne, and I welcome you to the
Chair. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member
for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant) on initiating the debate
and speaking so well in opening it. I amglad to welcome
theTransport Minister; however, perhaps he will understand
my disappointment, because although I am sure he
will show that he has great expertise and has been
briefed perfectly, it would have been nice to have an
Environment Minister present to engage with a subject
that is specifically environmental. Much more crossdepartmental
co-operation is needed on the project,
because it is not only the Department for Transport that
should be putting its head on the block over HS2.
I want to take up a point that my hon. Friend the
Member for Lichfield made. I just happen to have
looked, on my hand-held device, at the definition of
“ancient woodland”. It is a term used in the United
Kingdom to refer specifically to woodland that has
existed continuously since 1600 or before, in England
and Wales, or 1750 in Scotland. Before those dates,
planting of new woodland was uncommon, so a wood
present in 1600 is likely to have developed naturally.
Mr Burns: I am extremely grateful to my right hon.
Friend for giving me the opportunity to make a point
that I would have made to my hon. Friend the Member
for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), which is that 1600 is
an arbitrary date; it does not mean that every woodland
created in 1601 or 1602 is not necessarily an ancient
woodland. That is the simple point that I was making.
Mrs Gillan: I know my right hon. Friend the Minister
is getting on, but none of us were around in 1600 to see
when those woods were planted. I would be interested
to know when he last walked in ancient woodland.
Mr Burns: My right hon. Friend might be interested
to know that I walked both in her constituency and in
the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for
Lichfield in a private visit by car all the way from the
M25 up to Warwickshire along the line of route.
Mrs Gillan: Which of my ancient woods was it?
Mr Burns: I was talking in particular about the
constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield.
I went through the whole route from the M25, so I saw
not only ancientwoodlands but other areas of outstanding
natural beauty. I also sawsomewater features, particularly
near the proposed elevated sections near the M25.
Mrs Gillan: I would be delighted if the Minister had
walked in Farthings wood or Mantle’s wood, if he
had looked at the River Chess or the River Misbourne,
our famous chalk streams, or even if he were uniquely
familiar with all the details of the area of outstanding
natural beauty. I am glad that he paid a private visit,
and I invite him to make a public visit and come to meet
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[Mrs Gillan]
some of our excellent conservation people who spend a
lot of time maintaining one of the most beautiful parts
of the United Kingdom.
I was first elected to the House 21 years ago, and
20 years ago I found myself involved in the most
amazing campaign to save Penn wood at Penn street. I
believe that Penn wood was the first wood saved by the
Woodland Trust. We collected donations from across
the country to save the wood, which is still there to this
day. I pay tribute to theWoodland Trust, which, among
other conservation organisations, has briefed me for
today’s debate. Saving Penn wood 20 years ago brought
me much more closely in touch with our natural habitat
in the Chilterns.
The Woodland Trust has analysed the number of
woods threatened by the HS2 project—33 ancient woods
are under threat and 34 ancient woods are at risk within
200 metres of the proposed line. Given the threat posed
by, say, climate change to the natural environment, not
least to ancient woodland, the Woodland Trust also
supports the move to develop a low-carbon economy.
However, a transport solution that inflicts such serious
damage on our natural heritage, as the current route
does, can never really be described as green. The
Government’s preferred routes for the phases of the
scheme will cause loss or damage to at least 67 irreplaceable
ancient woods. As the Woodland Trust has said to me,
that is too high an environmental price to pay, and the
route should be reconsidered in light of those facts alone.
Why is ancient woodland important, and why does it
matter?We have already established that ancientwoodland
is land that has been continuously wooded since 1600.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield rightly says
that ancient woodland forms only 2% of our country.
We are considering the largest infrastructure project
since time immemorial, and it will damage that precious,
small percentage that comprises our ancient woodland
that still exists. Ancientwoodlands have unique, undisturbed
soils, and they form the UK’s richest wildlife habitats.
They support at least 256 species of conservation concern.
According to Natural England, nearly 50% of the ancient
woodland that survived beyond the 1930s has already
been lost. We should not threaten that small, precious
piece of our environment in 2013.
There appears to be a huge conflict in Government
policy. There is, for example, a Government policy to
protect ancient woodland, and my hon. Friend referred
to the recent forestry policy of the Department for
Environment, Food andRuralAffairs. The January 2013
policy statement reads:
“England’s 340,000 hectares of ancientwoodlands are exceptionally
rich in wildlife, including many rare species and habitats. They are
an integral part of England’s cultural heritage”.
It states categorically:
“Protection of our trees, woods and forests, especially our
ancient woodland, is our top priority.”
That last quote is relevant to the Department forTransport
and High Speed Two Ltd. How can that be when the
Government propose to destroy comparably large swathes
of ancient woodland?
Michael Fabricant: Does my right hon. Friend agree
that the words she quotes are all very fine but that it is
not words but deeds that count? So far, we have not seen
any of those words translated into deeds or practice.
Mrs Gillan: My hon. Friend is absolutely right.What
is even more worrying is that, against the background
of the National Audit Office report, the evidence given
to the Public Accounts Committee on Monday, and the
project budget going up by £10 billion, none of the
promises or deeds that the Government are talking
about at this stage will be kept if and when the project
proceeds to construction. I am doubly worried, and my
hon. Friend is absolutely right.
In Chesham and Amersham, we have the highest
number of ancient woods within 500 metres of the line,
18 in total, and they will be severely damaged by the
construction and ongoing operation of HS2; ironically,
I aminformed by theWoodlandTrust that the Chancellor’s
constituency of Tatton has the second highest number—
10 ancient woods will be devastated. Of those 18 ancient
woods in my constituency, seven are directly in the path
of the proposed line and will be totally devastated by its
I will give three examples. I do not know whether the
Minister has walked in Sibley’s coppice, but it will suffer
the loss of 2.1 hectares of what is only a 7.52 hectare
ancient wood, which is more than 28%. Farthings wood
will see almost 1 hectare of ancient woodland lost to the
construction of a cutting. The wood is only 2.56 hectares,
so the loss represents more than 40% of the wood.
One wood about which I am particularly concerned,
because I was walking in it on Friday morning, is
Mantle’s wood. It will lose 6.3 hectares of ancient
woodland, which represents a loss of more than 25% of
a 20.45 hectare wood that is cherished by the local
community. When I walked the public pathway to the
entrance of the wood on Friday, I could hear some
background noise—in fact, there was a lark singing
overhead—and the distant sound of a plane fromHeathrow,
but by the time I had walked 5 yards inside Mantle’s
wood, I was transported into a greenwood and back in
time. It is one of the most beautiful woods that can be
imagined, with dips and cherry trees that have been
there for years. There are birds, insects and flowers, and
I just missed the best season, because the wood had
bluebells before I arrived, but they were just over. I
encourage people to visit Mantle’s wood to see what
this project will destroy.
There is no point saying, “Okay, we are just going to
lose 6.3 hectares of a 20.45 hectare wood.” The path I
walked along will become the main transport route to
the portal that will emerge in the middle of Mantle’s
wood. Nobody can tell me that all those men and
vehicles, all that spoil shifting and everything that will
go on during the construction of the major exit of a
tunnel will not damage the rest of that wood irreparably.
People would weep if they could see what their children,
their children’s children and future generations will lose
if the project goes ahead.
The loss of ancientwoodland can never be compensated;
it does not matter what the Minister says or how many
people write it. Matt Jackson is the head of conservation
and strategy at the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and
Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust, and I am grateful to him
and his colleague for taking me into the middle of
Mantle’s wood and letting me see it not through a
layman’s eyes, as I have just described it, but through
those of a conservationist and expert. Anyone who saw
what was there would understand implicitly that such
woodland can never be replaced.
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Over the millennia, ancient woodland has evolved its
own ecosystem, including soils and fungi. When those
are disturbed, they are lost. One cannot just pick up the
wood and the soil, move them somewhere else, build
something, and then move them back and replant. That
ecosystem has taken hundreds of years to develop, and
we are going to destroy it just like that.
The plans drawn up by the Department for Transport,
which involve planting 4 million native trees to create
new habitats for wildlife and flora and to offset some of
the carbon impact of construction, are not good enough.
They may be welcomed, but they will never compensate
for the loss of ancient woodland, which is, by nature,
irreplaceable. It is important that that is understood
fully by a much wider audience.
The Woodland Trust has considered the biodiversity
offsetting ratio produced by the Department forTransport,
which is approximately 2:1, and suggests an absolute
minimum compensation ratio of 30:1. I refer the Minister
to the trust’sHS2fact sheet “Compensation and Mitigation
for Biodiversity Loss”. He needs to re-evaluate and to
revisit that issue.
Michael Fabricant: On the Minister’s visit—by the
way, he did not write to me to say that he was visiting—
Mr Burns: It was a private visit.
Michael Fabricant: Far be it from me to criticise my
right hon. Friend. On his private visits, has he been to
one of the newer woodlands to see for himself the
difference between newly planted woodland and a wood
of the type my right hon. Friend the Member for
Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan) describes that
has existed for 300 or 400 years?
Mrs Gillan: I am sure that the Minister will want to
respond to that point. Walking in any wood is a great
pleasure, but if you go down to the woods today,
Minister, you are in for a big surprise, because there are
many people throughout this country who feel strongly
about our habitat, our woods and our natural heritage.
The draft environmental statement goes on to say
that the proposedwoodland plantingwill have a beneficial
effect that will be significant at the district and borough
level.However, the viewof our environmental organisations
is that it is unacceptable to claim that the effect will be
beneficial when the woodland planting will be only
partial compensation for the loss of ancient woodland.
The draft environmental statement also says that one
aspect of the design of the proposed scheme is to avoid
or reduce impacts on features of ecological value. It
refers to constructing a green tunnel next to South
Heath in my constituency to reinstate habitat continuity
in the area. However, ancient woodland at Sibley’s
coppice would be destroyed to create that cut-and-cover
green tunnel, and the avoidance of ecological impact is
almost impossible. Strip planting schemes are proposed
that purport to replace the loss of our ancient woodland,
but the habitats of certain animals and organisms cannot
be joined up across a road. Some of the claims that are
made in the environmental statement need close evaluation
because I do not believe that they do what they say on
the tin.
Natural England states that ancient woodland is a
system that cannot be moved. The baldness of that
statement makes me believe that no matter what the
Minister says about grand plans for replacing our ancient
woodland, once it is destroyed, it is destroyed. We need
to accept that, and to admit that that is what the scheme
will do.
Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): Is an ancient
wood an ancient wood, or are there different types of
ancient wood? In other words, would one find the same
things in Chesham and Amersham as in Lichfield, for
Mrs Gillan: I honestly cannot answer my hon. Friend
with accuracy; I can answer only frommy own experience.
In Mantle’s wood, for example, we have the most
magnificent cherry trees,which are native to the Chilterns.
One can see that they have been there for years by the
huge size of their trunks, their shininess and the rings
on their bark. They are absolutely magnificent. It is a
mixed wood; there are even oaks and beeches growing
there. In the Chilterns and our area of outstanding
natural beauty, we were famous for making beechwood
furniture. I imagine that there will be some commonality
across the country, but each wood is bound to have a
unique and different nature, wherever it is, which makes
it irreplaceable.
Michael Fabricant: Perhaps I can help. There will be
variations between different types of wood depending
on the quality of the soil, whether there is water and the
environmental weather patterns in different parts of the
country, but ancientwoods all have one thing in common:
because they have existed for hundreds of years, their
ecosystems have evolved in such away that any replacement
with new plantations cannot replicate them. That is the
point that my right hon. Friend and I are making.
Mrs Gillan: That is helpful. There is no doubt that
my hon. Friend and I share a passion for our ancient
woods. I hope that the fact that he has secured the
debate and given others an opportunity to speak up will
make the Minister and the Department think twice
about pursuing the project and the route.
I want to allow other hon. Members to speak, but
before I draw my remarks to a conclusion, I must say
that, sadly,many people have found the draft environmental
statement, which is currently subject to consultation, to
be superficial, inconsistent and incomplete.Crucial ecology
surveys and assessments are yet to be undertaken. It is
almost impossible for communities to respond effectively,
and the presentation suggests that environmental impact
is a secondary consideration, but that is simply not
good enough for such an expensive project.
The non-technical summary of the statement considers
environmental impact only superficially and completely
misunderstands the complexity and national significance
of damage to habitats. For example, it states:
“At present there are no route-wide significant effects on
which is clearly not the case given that 67 ancient woods
will suffer direct loss or damage, and given the national
importance ascribed to ancient woodland by the national
planning policy framework.
I have some questions for the Minister, although I
could speak for much longer. Sadly, we have not had the
opportunity for detailed debates on HS2 in the House.
On Second Reading of the preparation Bill, so many
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[Mrs Gillan]
people wanted to speak that even I, despite being called
first after the Front Benchers, had only six minutes.
There has been little or no opportunity to consider into
the detail of the project, which is why I amso grateful to
my hon. Friend for securing this debate.
If the project goes ahead, the Department for Transport
must come up with a much better story to support it
and a much better way to deal with the problems arising
from it. The route through the Chilterns and my hon.
Friend’s constituency is a straight line. It is like a piece
of steel going through the heart of our community and
through an area of outstanding natural beauty, which is
designated as such because we are supposed to protect
it for future generations.We are breaking that protection
and that vow by putting the project through the middle
of the AONB.
Reportedly, the route has to be a straight line through
the middle of theAONB and up to Birmingham because
everything is about speed; a straight line is necessary to
run those really fast trains. The story has changed a
little, however; it is now about capacity on the west
coast main line. If that is the case, the Department for
Transport must look seriously at variations to the route
to minimise not only the environmental damage, at
least, but some of the horrors of blight that will be
caused to people’s lives, homes, businesses andcommunities
along the line. The existing proposal had better not be
the last word on the route from the Department. We
will have the hybrid Bill process, if HS2 goes ahead, but
if that happens, I make a plea for moving some of the
line so that we can protect one of the most fragile parts
of the United Kingdom.
Michael Fabricant: Does my right hon. Friend share
my curiosity about what the Opposition spokesperson
will say about the line’s route? The Opposition now
seem to have adopted the route for which we were
campaigning when we were in opposition before 2010.
Mrs Gillan: Senior distinguished members of the Labour
party, such as the former Chancellor of the Exchequer,
the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West
(Mr Darling), have come out in public against the route.
Today, the former Business Secretary, LordMandelson,
features on the front page of the Financial Times, and
“‘Expensive mistake’warning derails consensus on HS2”
is a pretty heavy headline. The Labour party is in a great
deal of difficulty. This morning, Lord Adonis tweeted
with bravado that it will not make the same mistakes as
were made on the Channel tunnel and cancel HS2. The
original idea was indeed Lord Adonis’s way of dealing
with what was looking like a pretty comprehensive
transport policy from the Conservative party in the
run-up to the election. The gaff has been blown by Lord
Mandelson—Lord Adonis came up with an idea that
was more political than practical. Labour was probably
a little surprised when we adopted it hook, line and
sinker, and certainly when we went for the route through
the AONB.
I want the Minister to re-examine the reasons for
HS2. If the case for HS2 is not only speed, but capacity,
and if the project goes ahead, even though the dreadful
business case is getting worse, it must be possible to
vary the route of the line to minimise the damage.
I want him to look at greater tunnelling. I was grateful
when the Government’s second Transport Secretary—I
think the Ministerworks for the third Transport Secretary
in as many years—listened to me and took seriously my
points about the geology of my area, with its chalk
streams and the aquifer, and about the environment and
woodlands that would be affected. She extended the
tunnel, although unfortunately she extended it right
into the middle of a piece of ancient woodland.
I want the Minister to undertake to look seriously at
greater tunnelling. A Brett tunnel plan, with a gap at
Durham farmfor engineering and environmental reasons,
is being proposed on behalf of Conserve the Chilterns
and Countryside and the Chiltern Ridges HS2 Action
Group. It would protect all the ancient woodland in the
Chilterns for future generations to enjoy. I want him to
assure me today that he will examine the proposal
seriously and not rule it out on grounds of cost, because
the cost to our environment will be even greater. I want
the Government to ensure that that is covered by the
final environmental statement, when that is deposited
along with the hybrid Bill. That is in the Minister’s gift,
because the current consultation on the draft environmental
statement is being carried out by HS2 Ltd, so it is not a
statutory consultation, but a gratuitous one—perhaps
that iswhy the document is so poor. The real environmental
statement must be produced by the Department for
Transport and it must be deposited with the hybrid Bill.
I understand that it will run to at least 50,000 pages, but
I want an undertaking from the Minister today that it
will run to 50,001 and include the full tunnelling option
that would protect the AONB.
If HS2 goes ahead, and goes ahead on a straight line,
without the route being varied and without greater
tunnelling, I ask the Minister to look at the mitigation
ratios that I was discussing earlier, because 2:1 is not
enough; 30:1 is more like it. What is more, I want the
finance for that to be protected—I am not stupid. The
project has already gone up in cost by £10 billion and
has one of the largest contingency funds in living memory.
The costing has been got wrong at almost every turn,
and at every stage, by clever consultants, by the Department
and by HS2 Ltd. Mistakes have been made in calculating
the spoil coming out of tunnels and in the business case.
Dare I say it, mistakes might even have been made in
calculating the traffic on the west coast main line.When
money is squeezed, the first thing to go is promises to
protect the environment. That is all too easy, and I have
seen that process happen along the London underground
line in my constituency. Trees and foliage were cleared
to keep the line safe; on one side they were replaced by
soil full of local flora and fauna, but the money ran out,
so a spray thing was used for the other side instead.
Anyone walking along the line can see the meadows and
the wildlife coming back on one side along that Chiltern
railway line, which is so beautiful, while on the other
side, where the cheaper material has been used, it is like
a desert. I have written to London Underground asking
it to ensure that it continues the planting. I therefore
have practical experience of the fact that when the
Government and organisations run out of money, the
first thing to go is the promises that they made to
protect and enhance the environment.
There is another option, however. You know it,
Mrs Osborne, I know it, my hon. Friend the Member
for Lichfield knows it, everyone else involved in the
251WH High Speed 2 (Ancient Woodlands) 3 JULY 2013 High Speed 2 (Ancient Woodlands) 252WH
project knows it and now Lord Mandelson and the
right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West know it:
cancel HS2 and look at other options. If we are going to
spend billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money—we are
not in Victorian times, so it is our money, not private
money, that will build the railway line—a better way to
achieve the Government’s laudable aims is to look at
other projects that will deliver better value for money
for the taxpayer and protect our environment. I hope
that the Minister will take my points seriously and
reflect on them at the Department for Transport, and
that he will make alterations or look to other schemes
that would benefit the country far more.
10.17 am
Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): It is a
pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Osborne.
I apologise for my terrible cold, which is affecting my
delivery somewhat.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael
Fabricant) on securing this important debate and for
posing some important questions on behalf of his
constituents and others who are concerned about our
natural environment. The debate will be followed closely
in communities along the proposed route and, speaking
as a Greenwood myself, I have a natural sympathy for a
number of the points he made. The debate is timely,
because there are only eight days left before consultation
on the phase 1 draft environmental statement closes.We
have heard from right hon. and hon. Members about
the impact on ancient woodlands. Before addressing
such valid concerns, however, I will say a few words
about the wider environmental significance of the new
north-south line.
A new line can help the UK to meet its 2050 carbon
reduction targets under the Climate Change Act 2008
by attracting new passengers to the railways and by
providing the additional capacity that freight and passenger
services need. The rail freight sector has enjoyed 10 years
of growth, and any Government that is serious about
tackling carbon emissions would want to see that success
continue.Without additional capacity, however, the risk
is that freight operators will have to be turned away in
future. Greengauge 21 looked at the environmental
impact of the HS2 project last year, in a report
commissioned by the Campaign to ProtectRural England,
the Campaign for Better Transport and theRoyal Society
for the Protection of Birds. That report makes it clear
that the environmental benefits of the new line have a
close relationship with other policy areas.
At the moment, rail journeys consumemuch less carbon
than equivalent car journeys. That gap was expected to
close as more electric cars entered the market. I remind
Government Members that the full coalition agreement
included a commitment to
“a national recharging network for electric and plug in vehicles”.
In reality, those plans have been drastically cut back. It
may make uncomfortable listening for some Government
Members, but the Government’s failure to deliver a
national recharging network strengthens the environmental
case for a new rail line.
The report also highlights the need for a full network
as the carbon reduction benefits are multiplied fourfold
when the second phase to Manchester and Leeds is
factored in. The Government should and could have
provided that certainty by introducing a single hybrid
Bill to cover the entire route, allowing construction to
start at both ends of the line. We need a clear timetable
for decarbonisation of the electricity market, and that
was one of the report’s recommendations. Labour has
made a commitment to decarbonise the sector by 2030
before phase 2of the new line is completed.
Network Rail has embarked on a major programme
of electrification on our existing rail network, as well
as on the new high-speed line. We need an ambitious
timetable for decarbonisation to reduce the impact of
that additional demand. There are steps that the
Government could take nowto maximise the environmental
benefits of the new north-south rail line, However,
those wider gains will not cancel out the loss of individual
habitats. Loss in some areas may be unavoidable, but
damage should take place only when all reasonable
alternatives have been exhausted. The test is whether
every reasonable step has been taken to mitigate
environmental damage.
Hon. Members and communities along the line have
raised serious concerns about the way in which HS2 Ltd
has handled consultation up to this point. It is no secret
that many of the early community forum meetings in
particular were badly organised, with underprepared
staff giving incorrect or conflicting information to the
public. As the Chilterns Conservation Board said at the
time, the meetings were characterised by
“a lack of clarity on what the Community Forums will actually
cover. Many of the HS2 Ltd staff…were…quite new in post and
could not confirm how the meetings should work or even if they
would be attending future ones.”
The Minister must ensure that when the consultation
on the final environmental statement begins—I would
welcome a date for that—the process is transparent and
accessible, and that enough time is provided for proper
responses fully involving the affected communities.More
than a year on, there are still serious questions about
the route, includingwhether the tunnel under the Chilterns
will be extended, with only eight days left for the draft
environmental statement consultation.
The situationwas not helpedwhen misleading statements
were made early last year. In a letter to the right hon.
Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs Gillan), the
then Secretary of State for Transport, the right hon.
Member for Putney (Justine Greening), suggested that
woodland could be transplanted to an adjacent site, a
process known as translocation. We must be clear that
ancient woodland cannot be moved, but some animal
species and soil can be moved or translocated, although
the consequences of moving soil from ancient woodland
are, sadly, poorly understood. Any trees that are moved
will be coppiced, radically altering their appearance
and risking the death of individual trees during the
moving process. Although some constituent parts of
the woodland may be salvaged, the original biodiversity
cannot be recreated and is lost for ever. Natural England
has said that translocation might, if carried out as a last
resort when loss of the original habitat is completely
unavoidable, form part of a package of compensation
measures. In other words, translocation may have a part
to play, but we must be honest about its limitations.
The onus should be on route design and mitigation
measures to avoid disrupting ancient woodland in the
first place. Some measures have been introduced to
reduce the line’s impact, such as additional tunnelling,
253WH High Speed 2 (Ancient Woodlands) 3 JULY 2013 High Speed 2 (Ancient Woodlands) 254WH
[Lilian Greenwood]
but we would like clearer information about the cost,
especially now that the overall cost of the project has
increased, largely because of newtunnels inwest London,
Birmingham and the east midlands.
Michael Fabricant:Will the hon. Lady clarify whether
the official Opposition now support the route, more or
less, that we proposed when in Opposition, which would
follow an existing transport corridor, thus minimising
environmental damage, and not the Adonis route that
we have adopted?
Lilian Greenwood: I thank the hon. Gentleman for
his intervention. He is right to point out thatwe considered
alternative routes and argued that they should be considered
by the newGovernment.We want the project to proceed,
but there are significant concerns about the Government’s
timetable, particularly the hybrid Bill. The Government
are in a position to make decisions and we want the
project to proceed, but that does not mean that we
should not look carefully at the option for mitigation
and compensation to protect the natural habitat.
Will the Minister tell us whether he is satisfied with
the way in which alterations to the proposed route have
been made so far, whether he expects further changes,
including additional tunnelling, to avoid ancientwoodland,
and whether he has given any thought to how ancient
woodland in particular will be approached during the
hybrid Bill’s petitioning process? When the Bill goes
into Committee, the Government will be able to set
limits of deviation restricting the extent towhich alterations
may be made during that process. We ask for careful
thought to be given to how ancient woodland might be
affected by those limits. The commitment to planting
new trees is welcome, provided they forma sensitive and
effective sound barrier, but they cannot replace ancient
woodland which is, by definition, irreplaceable.
I am pleased that the hon. Member for Lichfield
agrees that a north-south rail line is right in principle.
As the House debated last week, there is an impending
capacity crunch for our railways, especially on the west
coast main line which will be full by 2024.
Mrs Gillan: The hon. Lady says that the west coast
main line will be full by a certain date. Can she give me
her source of information and the evidence base on
which her statement is based?
Lilian Greenwood: My information is based on the
evidence provided by Network Rail and others showing
the continuing huge growth not just on the west coast
main line, but on all rail lines. There is great demand
from passengers and freight and we must be able to
meet that from an environmental perspective because of
the importance of rail for our future economic growth
and regeneration.
A new north-south rail line is necessary to keep pace
with rising passenger and freight demand. This project
can bring additional private investment along the route,
generating jobs and growth while improving connections
between our cities, particularly in the midlands and the
north. The hon. Member for Lichfield was absolutely
right to call for this debate on ancient woodland, which
is a particular concern for his constituents. This discussion
comes at a crucial point as the designs for phase 1 are
finalised. I hope that the Minister will explain exactly
how he intends to act on the back of the points raised
today, and provide full answers to the questions that
other hon. Members and I have posed.
There is no doubt that there is a difficult balance to
be struck. High-speed rail can help to deliver carbon
reduction,which iswhy theWoodlandTrust, the Campaign
to Protect Rural England and Greenpeace support it in
principle. Inaction is not an option, as road schemes
and degraded air quality also threaten woodland. The
line can bring real environmental benefits, but only if
other policy decisions are taken, including in particular
a commitment to decarbonise electricity. That wider
context is crucial, especially as Parliament is being
asked to confer extra spending and planning powers in
aid of the scheme.
As hon. Members have pointed out, there is an
apparent contradiction between theGovernment’s national
planning framework, which contains a provision against
development on ancientwoodland sites, and the proposed
route, which goes through several such areas. This is
exactly the sort of issue that could be addressed in the
long-awaited national transport strategy, but three years
in, the Government still do not have one. Perhaps the
Minister will tell us when he expects the document to be
published; it would be of great assistance to MPs and
the public as the debate continues.
To conclude, we have lost half our ancient woodland
since the 1930s, mainly as a result of agricultural
development. The hard truth is that although the new
north-south rail line will bring a great number of benefits,
it is likely to result in further loss. That is a matter of
regret, and both the Government and HS2 Ltd must
present an absolutely watertight case when they propose
the disruption or destruction of ancient woodland sites.
I promise hon. Members and the wider public that
Labour will return to the issue during the Bill’s Committee
10.30 am
TheMinisterof State,DepartmentforTransport(MrSimon
Burns): It is a great pleasure to serve under your
chairmanship, Mrs Osborne, and I thank my hon.
Friend the Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant)
for securing the debate. As everybody who has taken
part in the debate or been in the Chamber will acknowledge,
the issues that have been raised are extremely important.
I assure my hon. Friend that, during the course of my
comments, he will be getting answers to the six questions
that he asked.
One has to accept, as the hon. Member for Nottingham
South (Lilian Greenwood) did during her speech, that a
balance has to be struck between the economic needs of
the country and the potential impact on a countryside
that has been enjoyed by generations of people. My
right hon.Friend theMemberfor Chesham and Amersham
(Mrs Gillan) described, in very moving terms, the
importance to many communities throughout the country
of not only ancient woodlands, but other environmental
features of their local communities.
Although I believe HS2 to be in the national interest,
we know that it is sadly not possible to build a railway
without any effect on the environment.When designing
the route,wemust carefullyweigh important considerations
255WH High Speed 2 (Ancient Woodlands) 3 JULY 2013 High Speed 2 (Ancient Woodlands) 256WH
such as wildlife habitats against other concerns, such as
protecting as many people’s homes as possible.We must
ensure that any environmental effects are reduced as far
as possible and also look for opportunities to benefit
the environment along the way.
I assure right hon. and hon. Members that the
Government are determined to make the scheme
environmentally responsible, and I believe that we have
gone to great lengths to listen to those who are concerned
about the environmental effects of the project. InFebruary
2011, we consulted on the appraisal of sustainability.
As hon. Members said, we are now consulting on a
more detailed draft environmental statement. That is an
unprecedented level of consultation to ensure that we
do the right thing by the environment.
A great deal has also been done on designing the
route of HS2 to reduce its environmental impact. HS2
Ltd has worked closely with Natural England and the
Environment Agency on choosing options and preparing
designs that have no impact on sites of international
importance for nature. In addition, bilateral meetings
have been held with county wildlife trusts to discuss
possible impacts on wildlife sites and mitigation measures
that could be employed to reduce impacts whenever
As I said, in September last year, I made a private
visit—driving from the M25 up to Warwickshire—to
see exactly what the impact of the line of route would
be on not only the environment, including woodlands
and water, but some of the communities, villages and
houses near the route. It was extremely important that I
could visualise that for myself, rather than seeing this
only as a concept on a piece of paper, fromphotographs,
or from what people have told me.
What struck me was that all too often, when the
Government or some other organisation produces a
recommendation, that is their view of what should
happen. More often than not, when people come up
with improvements, fine tuning, or even criticism to it,
those who have drawn up the proposal feel threatened,
dig their heels in, and take an attitude that what they
want is right and what anyone else wants to change,
modify or reject is wrong. Hard and fast positions are
taken, so no one is prepared to budge. Going along that
line of route, I was impressed by proposals that had
come in to fine tune or change the line of route slightly,
or associated proposals, and the way in which HS2 Ltd
has been prepared to work with groups and local
communities to make improvements. We have not had
the unfortunate situation that happens all too often
whereby because the proposal was the Government’s
and HS2 Ltd’s, it was 100% right, and anything that
challenged it was a criticism of them, and they were not
prepared to think again.
It is fair to say that a number of changes—and, to my
mind, improvements—have beenmadeto alleviate problems
for not only the environment, but individuals, their
communities and their properties.However, I also accept
that one will never be 100% able to meet the wishes and
requests of people who want changes, because it is just
not possible to do so, given the project’s sheer scale. One
has to reach a judgment on what is in the national
interest and what must go forward, because it is in the
national interest,while at the same time trying to minimise
any damage that might occur to the environment and to
people’s homes and businesses. I will deal with part of
that later in my speech.
As I said, HS2 Ltd has worked closely with Natural
England and the Environment Agency on choosing
options and preparing designs that would have no impact
on sites of international importance for nature, which is
important. There have been bilateral meetings with
county wildlife trusts to discuss the possible impacts on
wildlife sites. The Government have already committed
to planting 4 million new trees as part of the HS2
project, and hon. Members referred to that important
point in their comments. I certainly take the point that
that has to be done sensitively and properly, but it
represents an important improvement to the environment,
especially where the line of route will be.
Mrs Gillan: I am not being ungrateful for what the
Minister is saying, but I would like to point out that the
ratio of replanting—the 2:1 that I referred to, although
the experts say that 30:1 is needed—should be considered.
It sounds like an awful lot of trees, but when we start to
look at the density per hectare, it is not a large number
of trees.
On community involvement and bilateral meetings,
the Minister must admit that, particularly in my area,
they have not always been the most successful or effective
exchanges of information as far as larger groups are
concerned, even in relation to their number and frequency.
Mr Burns: I take on board my right hon. Friend’s
point about the number of trees, but I am not 100%
convinced that 4 million new trees along the line of
route is not the right number. Of course, that is only
part of the remedial action that the Government and
HS2 Ltd will take to protect the environment, which I
shall address in greater detail later.
My right hon. Friend also raises an important point
about community forums and the interactive dialogue
between communities and HS2 Ltd. I will be frank with
her: we get a variety of reports of those meetings. Some
reports have been extremely positive, saying that people
have found the meetings extremely helpful. As she will
know from her correspondence with me on behalf of
her constituents, they have been concerned about some
of the meetings that have taken place in her constituency,
and I accept that point. I have noted the criticisms that
she has drawn tomy attention.We have certainly spoken
to HS2 Ltd and we or it will address the concerns of
several of her constituents, because we believe that it is
important that there is a proper dialogue between
communities and HS2 Ltd, and that peoplework together.
Even if people do not necessarily agree with the project,
that is the important thing. Because I and the rest of the
Government believe that the project is in the national
interest and should go ahead, we must work with local
communities, and local and national organisations, to
ensure that we get the best project that causes the least
damage to the environment.
In addition to the new trees that will be planted, we
are examining opportunities to enhance existing habitats
or create new woodland areas and wildlife habitats, but
wemust be mindful that it is not possible—unfortunately,
and as much as I would love to have it in my gift—to
avoid completely all sensitive areas. We have already
made every effort to avoid sites that are of importance
257WH High Speed 2 (Ancient Woodlands) 3 JULY 2013 High Speed 2 (Ancient Woodlands) 258WH
[Mr Simon Burns]
for their international ecological value and areas of
national designation, such as the Chilterns area
of outstanding natural beauty. In this instance, of the
13 miles of route through the area, less than 2 miles will
be at or above the surface. Compared with the phase 1
route that was originally subject to consultation in
2011, there will be a more than 50% increase overall in
tunnel or green tunnel, and the initial preferred scheme
for phase 2 has no impact on national parks or areas of
outstanding natural beauty.
When it comes to minimising impact on ancient
woodlands, the Department and HS2 Ltd take their
obligation to conserve them extremely seriously. Through
careful design of the route and strict controls during
construction,we are seeking to reduce, as far as practicable,
any impacts. For example, the provision of a tunnel at
Long Itchington avoids the ancient wood there, and a
retained cuttingminimises land take at South Cubbington
Ancient woodlands, as everyone who has taken part
in or has listened to the debate accepts, are a very
important part of our natural heritage. However, as I
have said, it is, sadly, not possible to build a railway
without any effects on important environmental sites.
Other factors, such as the location of people’s homes,
have to be taken into account as well. The Government
have to strike a balance between a range of important
considerations. That debate has taken place to good
effect in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member
for Lichfield, where the original route has been moved
away from those places where the majority of people
live. Designs have also been developed to avoid important
employment areas and to ensure that local conditions
for growth are not missed.
Michael Fabricant indicated assent.
Mr Burns: I hope from the way my hon. Friend is
nodding in the affirmative that he is appreciative and
accepts that that was the right thing to do.
To provide an effective outcome for the natural
environment, I strongly believe that we have listened
and engaged, and we will continue to engage with those
non-governmental organisations with an interest in the
natural environment. TheWoodland Trust, theWildlife
Trusts, the RSPB and other groups already form part of
the debate throughmy regular environmental round-table
meetings. They are already proving effective, and as a
result we are implementing plans for a design panel to
inform the aesthetics of the detailed design.
I assure my hon. Friend that we will be providing
suitable compensation for any ancient woodland that is
lost, following the best practice recommended by our
ecologists,which is developed in conjunction with Natural
England. We will also be examining opportunities to
enhance existing woodland and to create new woodland
areas and wildlife habitats.With more than 22,000 ancient
woodlands in England and Wales, it is impossible to
avoid them all. That being the case, we believe that it is
appropriate to provide some form of compensation
when avoidance is not possible.
Current best practice,which builds on methods employed