As the HS2 Phase 2a: High Speed Rail (West Midlands to Crewe) Bill has its second reading in the House of Commons today, Project Officer Sarah Gibson takes a look at the implications of the new phase on the National Trust’s ability to look after places of historic significance and natural beauty.
As a conservation charity responsible for places of historic interest and natural beauty, the National Trust has concerns about Phase 2a of HS2. These relate to both the overall protections proposed for the environment and also specific site concerns in line with our statutory responsibility to protect the land we hold on behalf of the nation for ever and for everyone. We believe that if this phase of HS2 is to go ahead, it should be built to the highest design and environmental standards. The current plans for HS2 set out with the Phase 2a Bill do not meet these standards.
Today, the HS2 Phase 2a Bill has its Second Reading in the House of Commons. Giving MPs opportunity to debate the main principles of the Bill, the Commons will then vote on whether the Bill can proceed to the next stage – committee. From this point onwards the principle of the Bill is established.
Passing of Second Reading will also mark the start of the petitioning period – the period by which petitions (a summary of objections to particular aspects of the Bill and associated remedies) can be submitted to Parliament. The petition is a request to Parliament by an affected person, group or business to present their case for alterations to the Bill to the Select Committee. The Committee membership is yet to be announced but will be made up of MPs whose constituencies are not on the HS2 route.
Under the anticipation that the Bill will today be voted to proceed to committee stage, the National Trust is preparing to petition Parliament, setting out our concerns with the Bill and our proposed remedies. In the interim, the Trust continues to be proactive and to negotiate with HS2 Ltd on these matters.
Our specific concerns about HS2 Phase 2a
The Shugborough Estate is situated in Staffordshire and within the Cannock Chase Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). In the Bill’s current form the Estate and the surrounding landscape will be affected by HS2 in a number of ways.
For example, due to the proposed raised section of the railway over a relatively flat landscape, HS2 will be visible over long distances. The Trust is particularly concerned about the proposed Great Haywood Viaduct and associated embankments over the River Trent which will be visible from significant view points in the estate (such as the Triumphal Arch) and throughout the wider AONB. Substantive noise from the construction of HS2 and the operation of the railways will also impact important heritage assets.
The landscape which surrounds HS2 in this area is highly sensitive and there are important relationships between Shugborough and other neighbouring historic parklands.
We have identified a mitigation strategy to address these and other impacts. We are calling for:
- Designing the Great Haywood Viaduct according to specific and appropriate principles that reduce its visual impact on the landscape;
- Integrating railway embankments to mitigate visual impacts;
- Extending the viaduct noise barrier to provide further acoustic mitigation;
- Increasing tree planting and woodland extensions to maximise the opportunity to screen views of HS2;
- Restoring water meadow and lowland meadow habitats that could provide a biodiversity offsetting opportunity for HS2 Ltd;
- Formalising and funding a new Cannock Chase AONB HS2 Panel, so it is given the power and resources to ensure that HS2 is integrated into this special landscape.
For ever and for everyone
All across the country the natural environment is under pressure. In our engagement with transport proposals we seek to ensure that opportunities in connection with the delivery of a road or a railway are grasped, and that complimentary environmental outcomes are achieved. We will continue to strive for this for the special places impacted by all phases of HS2 – a once in a generation project that the nation cannot afford to get wrong. The beauty of areas such as Cannock Chase AONB are of growing importance as ‘green lungs’ in an increasingly densely populated and built up region, and must be protected.
For more information about our views on HS2, take a look at our web page.