HS2 impact ‘worse than we feared’

The impact of living near HS2 is now laid bare- for those who can wade through the Government’s 50,000 page Hybrid Bill before the public consultation closes on January 31-and, for some, it’s worse than feared.

James Del Mar, Head of Rural Consultancy at Knight Frank, reports a rush of calls from people whose homes were not on the original plans. ‘We expected the actual Bill to show a greater area [of spread], but it’s still a big shock,’ he comments. ‘The important thing, however, is that this is not yet legally binding and plans may change. ‘Also, those affected may now be eligible for compensation more quickly if their property wasn’t included in the original plans. Instead of waiting until 2027, they could be eligible under a Statutory Blight notice [for the Government to buy the property] as soon as 2014 or 2015. We have already had a number of properties accepted on this basis.’

Mr Del Mar adds: ‘People have to work out what they want. Some will say they can’t face the emotional trauma and will want to sell; others will try to find a way of landscaping to mitigate the effect.’ Rachel Halvorsen has an organic farm, cafe and farm shop near Brackley, Northamptonshire, and will lose land. More seriously, her house is outside the safeguarding zone (within which owners can serve a Statutory Blight notice) but is well within view of the 50ft high viaduct.

‘It’ll be higher than our house and there’s nothing we can do to mitigate it,’ she says. ‘If we thought HS2 would be good for the country, we would accept the hit, because someone has to, but it doesn’t stop anywhere, so what’s the point?’ Belinda Naylor agrees that the business case for HS2 is ‘lousy’. Her family farms at the Anglo Saxon village of Chetwode, Buckinghamshire – ironically, it featured in The Oldie’s ‘Unwrecked England’ column this year-which will be split in two. ‘Already, 10% of the village is affected by Statutory Blight,’ she says. ‘We have a Grade I listed church with medieval stained glass. The Church of England asked for a tunnel under the village, but it’s been ignored. Nothing has changed from our original submissions in 2010, so I don’t know why we bothered. The feeling here is that this Government is out of touch and has no regard for the countryside or family life.’

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Nicholas Ford, chief executive of the landowning charity The Ernest Cook Trust, points out that the route was meant to avoid Grade I listed buildings and Grade II listed landscapes But HS2 goes within 150 yards of the trust’s Grade I listed Hartwell House near Aylesbury. It also decimates two farms-estimates are that 10,000 acres of agricultural land will be lost between London and Birmingham- and a golf club. ‘We have raised this with HS2 and the Government and have had no response,’ says Mr Ford. ‘We’re now trying to mitigate it as best as we can. We’re asking for a green tunnel, but there are no proposals for it.’ The Campaign to Protect Rural England states that it believes the case for a new railway has been made, but points out: ‘Other countries have aimed for iconic design in their new railways, but we are concerned that photomontages of HS2 have shown ugly concrete viaducts striding brutishly across the countryside.’

The Wildlife Trusts‘ Paul Wilkinson comments: ‘Initially, this proposal was about speed, but now the focus has shifted to capacity so route adjustment could be considered. We want a focus on exemplary environmental mitigation, with a true sense of scale and urgency. This is about ambition. If HS2 is to go ahead, it must deliver as much for wildlife as for commuters and the economy.’ Clare Forrest of the Chilterns Conservation Board points out that the consultation period is shorter than one for deciding speed limits for tractors. ‘The Government’s approach to the loss of ancient woodlands is just to plant trees, but the character of the landscape is unique, and would be completely degraded by artificial new plantings,’ she says. ‘We’ve also recently learned that some 12 million tons of spoil from digging out deep cuttings could be deposited in the Chilterns. It’s not the kind of substrate you can grow things in.’

The Woodland Trust also fears the picture is worse than that given in the draft Environment Statement. It says: ‘An early example is Battlesford Wood, the Mid Colne Valley SSSI, where actual loss is stated as 2.47 acres, not 0.5 acres as previously stated.’ Some 21 ancient woodlands will be affected, but the charity says the construction footprint will be far greater than first suggested. ‘To destroy ancient woodland to make way for temporary building sites is deplorable,’ says Nikki Williams. ‘This is not about making sure the route is straight-it’s pure laziness.’ Policy director Hilary Allison adds that the timescale for digesting such an enormous document is unfair. The trust employed an extra member of staff to read it, but she still has another 50,000 pages to go.

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