Disappointment at lack of ambition

Posted on 20th June 2014

Setback for rail opportunity to bolster nature’s recovery

A call for a more ambitious objective than ‘no net biodiversity loss’ for HS2 has been rejected in a report published by the Government.

Stephen Trotter, The Wildlife Trusts’ Director, England, said:  “We’re deeply disappointed at the lack of ambition demonstrated today in the government’s rejection of the Environmental Audit Committee report. 

Today’s response to the Environmental Audit Committee’s report on HS2 and the environment, also largely rejects recommendations on allowing compensatory habitats away from the route.

Stephen Trotter continues:  “An opportunity to demonstrate real ambition to restore nature along the length of the route and help heal blighted communities and damaged countryside has been missed.  It’s a real shame that government considers ‘no net biodiversity loss’ to be ‘appropriate.’  Proclaimed by Government as a visionary project, it should be visionary at every level.  Government could and should be ensuring that HS2 is a pioneering example of minimum damage and maximum repair for nature.

“Our recently published vision showcases how large-scale nature restoration could help communities and the countryside most at risk from the proposed High Speed railway line, and for a tiny percentage of the overall budget. 

Today the government has failed to rise to the challenge but The Wildlife Trusts will continue to make the environmental, social and economic case for properly addressing the impact of HS2 on wildlife and ecosystems.” 

Wildlife Trusts along the course of the route collaborated on ‘HS2: A vision for large-scale nature restoration along the Proposed Route’ running the full length of the HS2 line (Phases 1 & 2).  The vision shows how a ribbon of natural areas, wild havens, green bridges and cycle ways could be created along the corridor of the HS2 route.  Initial costings suggest that environmental restoration on this scale could be achieved with less than 1% of HS2’s overall budget of £42bn and a Cost Benefit Analysis undertaken by researchers at Newcastle University show that the benefits of restoring nature and providing access will outweigh the costs.

The Wildlife Trusts believe that and with a much reduced environmental impact, it could be a means to put nature – and people’s access to it – back into areas of lowland England where it has been lost – to raise our environmental baseline following decades of decline.

The Environmental Audit Committee report on ‘HS2 and the Environment’.

On 7 April, the Government’s Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) published its report of its enquiry into ‘HS2 and the Environment’.  The Wildlife Trusts submitted written evidence to the EAC.  You can read the EAC report here.  HS2 Ltd have committed to ‘no net loss in biodiversity’.  However The Wildlife Trusts don’t think the HS2 Environmental Statement properly identifies all the damage HS2 will cause and were pleased to see that the EAC report supported our view.  We strongly agree with the EAC’s view that HS2 doesn’t aim high enough in terms of its environment vision or ambition.  We welcomed the EAC recommendation that HS2 must “aim higher than the objective of no net biodiversity loss”.  The EAC report picked up on the fact that ‘the offsetting metric takes no account of the well-being aspects of the habitats and biodiversity lost and gained’, a point we have raised before.  Most importantly, with any project, the right approach to planning it is to start by trying to avoid impacts to important wildlife sites and species. The EAC felt that there is “significant work to do” to demonstrate that this key principle of avoidance wherever possible was being followed, and too often decisions that lead to the destruction of habitats were based on purely financial measures.  Another point it picked up is the flawed mitigation and compensation methodology.  A final key point is its recommendation that HS2 has a separate ring-fenced environmental budget to ensure that nature restoration along the line can be maintained and enhanced over time.  The Wildlife Trusts believe a separate transparent budget for environmental protection is essential and will make it much easier to assess the commitment of HS2 to the environment as at the moment this is part of a larger budget making it difficult to assess exactly how much money is being allocated to environmental mitigation and compensation.