Members of the High Speed 2 Bill Select Committee visited parts of Buckinghamshire on Thursday 11th June including National Trust properties along the route to see for themselves the potential effects of HS2 on communities and the landscape.
Robert Syms MP, Sir Peter Bottomley MP, Henry Bellingham MP and Ian Mearns MP of the HS2 Select Committee joined constituency MP David Lidington, community representatives, landowners and interested groups as well as HS2 Ltd officials, as they discussed plans for the proposed railway and the concerns of the people and places affected.
The Select Committee has responsibility for recommending approval or rejection of amendments to the railway put forward by those affected by its construction or operation.
Staff from Hartwell House and Coombe Hill along with the National Trust HS2 Project Team showed the committee the proposed location of HS2 where it would pass through Hartwell House Grounds.
Ben Middlemiss, Senior HS2 Project and Stakeholder Manger for the National Trust, said:
“HS2 should be built to the highest possible design, ecological, cultural heritage and landscape standards and the current plans for HS2 set out with the Hybrid Bill do not meet the standards we believe are need to protect Hartwell House, Coombe Hill and the Chilterns AONB.
“Should HS2 Ltd not agree to improved mitigation schemes as we believe they should, then the HS2 Bill Select Committee have some important decisions to make about the future of these places that the National Trust cares for on behalf of the nation. This process is an opportunity for Parliament to write it’s signature across the landscape and leave a legacy to be proud of.”
Members of the Select Committee were encouragingly attentive and engaged with the concerns that the National Trust set out, and the mitigation measures we proposed. In particular for the Grade I listed Hartwell House.
The planned HS2 route runs through the historic designed landscape at Hartwell, dividing the core designed garden. The National Trust’s proposed resolution is to shield the landscape including local communities west of Aylesbury from the noise and view of the trains using shallow, appropriately planted banks that incorporate noise barriers and blend seamlessly into this designed and nationally registered landscape.
These ‘Green Banks’ would fit more appropriately with the Historic Park and Garden and remove the need for separate noise barriers adjacent by integrating them. Other aspects of the proposal include; a landscaped and sensitively designed footbridge that avoids historic tree removal and blends into the Green Banks, and sensitive earthworks where HS2 plan them adjacent to Lower Hartwell to minimise earthworks and protect Hartwell Avenue.
It is of great importance that appropriate levels of mitigation are considered when developing the area. Hartwell is a special place enjoyed by many and valued by the community. It has been recognised by HS2 Ltd as ‘one of Buckinghamshire’s finest estates’ It has a remarkable international history stretching back almost one thousand years to the reign of Edward the Confessor. This is reflected in our proposals to mitigate the impact of this development at Hartwell.
The view from Coombe Hill will also be affected by HS2’s operation and construction. Members of the SC saw how HS2 will cross the landscape across the centre in the panoramic view from Coombe Hill, the NT took the opportunity to raise two main concerns:
- Firstly, light catching on moving trains, especially on the section immediately north of HS2 as it leaves the portal to the north side of Wendover.
- Secondly, the Stoke Mandeville Maintenance Loop is partly on a raised embankment and at the northern end goes through water meadows. The HS2 infrastructure includes gantries and night lighting which will impact on the views from Coombe Hill.
To protect the views from Coombe Hill, further screening is required for HS2 and the Stoke Mandeville Maintenance Loop. Our proposal involves the addition of small areas of new tree and understorey planting adjacent to the line, and additional sections of landscape earthworks also adjacent to the line. These landscape earthworks would also be planted with trees and understorey planting.
Coombe Hill is the highest viewpoint within the Chilterns AONB and enjoys panoramic, long distance views over Aylesbury Vale and the woods surrounding Chequers. Once a part of the Chequers Estate it is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It was highlighted to the Select Committee the importance of this site through the National Trust proposed improved mitigation for the Chilterns and Coombe Hill.
The National Trust carefully manage this site to allow public access as this site supports a very species rich example of chalk grassland typical of this part of the Chilterns (with juniper and areas of mixed scrub) and supports the entire UK population of the chalk grassland herb, fringed gentian. Coombe Hill is crossed by the Ridgeway Long Distance Footpath.
We anticipate a productive visit to John Bercow MP’s constituency including Waddesdon Estate and Claydon House in the coming weeks, as this will form a crucial part of the Select Committee’s understanding of the impact of the line.