Government response to Environmental Audit Committee ‘HS2 and the Environment’ report

The Environment Audit Committee (EAC) today published the Government response to its recommendations for HS2. The National Trust is disappointed to see most of the recommendations have been rejected. (read full document here)

No ‘net gain’ for biodiversity

The EAC had recommended that HS2 Ltd needed to be more ambitious than its policy to ensure ‘no net-loss’ of biodiversity. They recommended, along with many other conservation and environment groups, that HS2 Ltd should aim to achieve a ‘net-gain’. Large infrastructure projects like HS2 needn’t necessarily permanently damage our environment. Instead, this could be a fantastic opportunity to leave the natural environment in a better state than we have inherited.

The Government said this would be ‘very challenging for a major infrastructure project such as HS2’. As it stands, HS2 will only replace habitats and woodland that it has destroyed. This has significant limitations as the project will already permanently destroy irreplaceable assets such as ancient woodland and only so much benefit can be achieved in close proximity to a high speed railway. Striving for a ‘net-gain’ in biodiversity would at least go some way to compensating for this irreversible destruction.

No ring-fence environment protection

Additionally, the Government has rejected the recommendation that the project’s environmental protection budget should be ‘ring-fenced’. The EAC’s recommendation would create a concrete budget for environment protection. This would essentially reduce the risk of HS2 cutting corners on environment protection or abandoning them altogether further down the line. The Government however has said this would not be ‘appropriate’:

‘There is greater flexibility in including environmental costs in a wider budget as this would enable the appropriate funds to be assigned as necessary.’

At this point in time, a solid budget for environment protection is not guaranteed. Therefore, many including the National Trust are worried that if budget problems arise in the future, it will be environment mitigation that would suffer from cost-cutting.

The HS2 Select Committee now have the difficult job of resolving some 2000 objections to the railway. Those seeking changes to the bill, including the National Trust, will have to trust that the Select Committee are able to properly consider environmental issues relating to the railway and that those issues relating to the principle of the Bill, and so not brought before the Committee, will be considered at third reading.

Samuel Weaver is a Media and Communications intern at the National Trust.

He is a recent History graduate from the University of the West of England. When not selling sausages in a deli, he usually occupies himself by researching and blogging on our nation’s more overlooked heritage. Follow him on twitter @weaversamuel2

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