National Trust supports a long HS2 tunnel to protect the Chilterns AONB

Today the National Trust presented to the House of Commons High Speed Two Select Committee, their support for a fully bored Chilterns Tunnel in order to protect the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Over the course of two weeks numerous parties are petitioning the Select Committee regarding the Chiltern tunnel case.  Representations have already been made by Chiltern District, Aylesbury Vale District, and Buckinghamshire County Councils, the Chilterns Conservation Board as well as several other parties such as the Chiltern Society.  The main issue under examination is the need for a continuous bored tunnel through the Chilterns to reduce the negative impacts of HS2’s construction and the operation of the train line through the Chilterns landscape.

The National Trust’s parliamentary legal advisers, accompanied by Peter Nixon, Executive Board Director of Land, Landscape and Nature set out the Trust’s support:

Request of Select Committee

‘The National Trust supports the case for a fully bored tunnel through the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Trust believes a fully bored tunnel affords the best mitigation for this nationally important landscape.

The National Trust’s role

‘The National Trust is an independent conservation charity founded 120 years ago as a classic piece of Victorian social enterprise. It exists to promote the permanent preservation for the benefit of the nation of places of natural beauty and historic interest (National Trust Act 1907). The Trust achieves this through permanent ownership of 250,000 hectares of land – the vast majority of which is inalienable and which can only be ceded by Special Parliamentary Procedure – 775 miles of coastline and thousands of buildings throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and through the promotion of caring for all special places in these three countries. The National Trust is supported by more than 4 million members and has 20 million visits to their pay for entry properties a year and an estimated 200m visits to the countryside and coastline in their care. The Trust is one of the biggest volunteering organisations in the country with 60,000 regular volunteers supporting their charitable purpose.

‘The National Trust is not against development; indeed they carry out significant development on their own properties, for example for visitor facilities, agricultural buildings and housing. The Trust’s strategy for the next ten years outlines how they will rise to the big challenges of the 21st century and how they will work with others to find solutions. Restoring a healthy, beautiful, natural environment by working with others to conserve and renew the nation’s most important landscapes and helping look after the places where people live by engaging in shaping good housing and infrastructure development is central to this strategy.

‘The National Trust is for good development – which respects the natural and historic landscape. The bigger the development – and HS2 is one of the biggest – the more important the Trust believe it is for it to be good. HS2 provides a once in a generation opportunity for the Government as sponsor to write its signature across the landscape – the National Trust urge it to do so with creativity, humility and pride.

The Chilterns AONB

‘AONBs are very special places, as evidenced by their national statutory designation. On behalf of the nation the National Trust has an extensive ownership interest in AONBs, with over a quarter of all their land being in these areas. Therefore in both principle and practice the Trust believe in taking great care over these nationally significant landscapes.

‘The Trust is concerned that AONBs are under increased pressure from development carried out in an inappropriate way. They are currently undertaking research into the application of the National Planning Policy Framework across all forms of development within, and close to, AONBs and will be making recommendations primarily applicable to Local Planning Authorities on handling AONB cases. Of all AONBs, the Chilterns is the only one affected by HS2 Phase One. The National Trust is neither for nor against the principle of high speed rail but objected to the route chosen for Phase One because of the impacts it would have on a landscape of national importance.

‘In the Chilterns the Trust cares for more than 20 places including great houses, woodland and villages, providing stewardship of more than 5000 hectares in the AONB.

The Trust believes that the impact of HS2 on the AONB can be vastly greater on the wider intrinsic and visual landscape than on just the land immediately taken.

‘The surface infrastructure of HS2 across the Chilterns AONB would have a very damaging impact on the landscape qualities for which the AONB is designated, and strongly argue that the “major development” and “great weight” tests within the National Policy Planning Framework are fully applied here.

Support for a fully bored tunnel

‘The National Trust supports the case for a fully bored tunnel through the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Trust believes a fully bored tunnel affords the best mitigation for this nationally important landscape.’

The Trust focussed the content of its statement on the Chilterns Tunnel, and its support for such a tunnel. The Trust would have given a more comprehensive statement of their case with regard to a Chilterns tunnel, but given that much of what would have been presented has been covered by others, they have agreed to make a supportive statement to the Committee, to avoid repetition and underline the clarity of this case.

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