National CPRE still ignoring its own HS2 policy,
despite concerns of local branches..
The Staffordshire branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England has launched a blistering attack onHS2, with CPRE Staffordshire’s technical adviser Phil Goode saying ;“It imposes itself not only on long stretches of unspoilt tranquil landscapes, but also close to – or under – many villages, and involves demolition of rural properties, farms and recreational areas.” adding that it is a “Monster intrusion into our landscape and our lives”, and claiming in terms of the justification for the project that; “All that is left is the final admission by the Prime Minister that we must have one because everybody else does.”
This sentiment reflects the view of CPREs national president Sir Andrew Motion, who described HS2 as“bonkers” in December, but this has been lost on the staff at head office. CPRE nationally have been criticised by campaigners and local branches alike for seeming to ditch their own policy on HS2.
At a meeting in December, Sir Andrew Watson, the chair of CPRE Warwickshire said that he was“exceptionally disappointed” that Shaun Spiers, the national Chief Executive of CPRE, had arbitrarily changed the stance of the national organisation from insisting that ‘Five Tests’ were applied to HS2, to a position of support for HS2, without consultation with or a mandate from the membership. After what was seen by many as a complete farce of a public consultation in 2011, the legality of which is still in question, Spiers, a former Labour MEP who attended university with the originator of the HS2 plans Lord Adonis, said;
“We are particularly pleased that this appears to have been a genuine consultation.” adding that “We are pleased the Government has shown its commitment to Britain’s railways while being sensitive to the impact that HS2 will have on communities and the countryside.”
The five tests which CPRE set for HS2 are;
1. Protect the environment, by for example using existing transport corridors.
2. Tackle climate change and minimise energy needs.
3. Shift existing trips rather than generate new ones.
4. Improve local transport.
5. Integrate with planning and regional regeneration.
The reality is that none of these tests are met by HS2, for the following reasons;
1. The environment is not protected. 350 unique habitats, 50 ancient woods, 30 river corridors, a national nature reserve, 10 county wildlife trust reserves, 24 Sites of Special Scientific Interest and hundreds of other important areas could be directly damaged or indirectly affected by HS2. Existing transport corridors are hardly used at all by HS2 due to the proposed speed of the service making it difficult to curve.
2. The energy consumption is too high due to the proposed speed. 50% more energy will be required to run HS2’s proposed 400 km/h trains than the existing Eurostar London-Paris trains use.
3. The shifting of journeys from air (the only form of travel less carbon intensive than HS2) to rail as a result of a new line will be small as internal air flights within the UK are a tiny proportion of all travel. Instead, HS2 would generate wholly new travel, including Birmingham-London commuting; and lead to longer journeys.
4. HS2 as proposed would have few links with local transport and few effective interchanges with other rail services. In a recent radio interview, Rail Minister Simon Burns admitted that linking HS2 up to existing rail services is not in the HS2 budget, but what is in the budget is a requirement for £7bn worth of cuts to existing services.
5. The Government have confused ‘development’ with ‘regeneration’, as with the potential exception of Old Oak Common, the line would not serve areas needing regeneration.
Also out of kilter with reality is Ralph Smyth the Senior Transport Campaigner for CPRE, who said when Stage 2 was announced;
“In planning for 2032, when phase 2 of HS2 is proposed to open, it is right that we should now aim high for our rail network. So we can certainly welcome the Government’s level of ambition.”
In that press release Smyth claimed a positive of the Stage 2 plan was that “Only one SSSI would be directly affected”, despite the fact HS2 will in fact impact upon 24 SSSIs. Smyth has also claimed that the failure of HS2 Ltd to mitigate plans, and indeed in some cases make them worse is actually the fault of campaigners, saying;
“Anecdotal reports suggest that parishes that have engaged to date have secured addition mitigation whereas those that have focused solely on opposition have not. This highlights that we are at the stage where a failure to engage on mitigation is likely to cost the countryside.”
Joe Rukin, Stop HS2 Campaign Manager said,
“While local communities have had great support from some branches of CPRE, we have completely given up on national office, as they are completely failing in their remit. They claim that we do not understand that their position is not to oppose all development, but make sure that necessary developments are done properly, and that is the point the likes of Spiers and Smyth have totally missed, that this is a completely unnecessary development which is being done in a way which maximises environmental damage.”
“We are very disappointed by the CPRE national office, as are many local branches, as they set five tests for HS2 to pass and it just about manages to pass half of one of them. The ‘anecdotal evidence’ which Smyth quotes that groups opposed to HS2 have not got mitigation is clearly an anecdote that he has completely made up. Along the entirety of Stage 1 of the route, every action group is completely opposed to HS2, but every action group has acted pragmatically and engaged with HS2 Ltd to get mitigation if the project goes ahead. In Kenilworth we have just been told that because we pointed out the constraints which HS2 Ltd hadn’t noticed, and because we proposed mitigations, they have decided to make things worse and tear up the entire third of a mile of green belt between Kenilworth and Coventry. To say that HS2 Ltd haven’t mitigated, or in this case made things worse, because of our opposition to the project is a totally misinformed and absolutely disgusting.”