Is HS2 really on track?
ALTHOUGH new Transport Secretary Chris Grayling appears to be behind HS2, telling Radio 4’s The World This Weekend that it’s ‘not just a speed project, but a capacity project’, some campaigners against the controversial £56 billion route have interpreted this as being only a lukewarm endorsement. The head of the National Audit Office has warned that the cost of Brexit will jeopardise major infrastructure projects. The Stop HS2 group doesn’t believe that the line will add capacity in the right places; it raises concerns about the environmental impact and cites it being £9.6 billion over budget. ‘HS2 will cause massive upheaval. There will be a decade of construction,’ says campaign co-ordinator Joe Rukin. ‘A lot of rural communities thrive on tranquility and their economy is based on that. The compensation issue is like a nuclear bomb. If your property is subject to a compulsory purchase order, you receive the market value plus 10%, but if you live in the fallout zone, your problems are just beginning.’
The NFU is trying to ensure HS2 doesn’t take excessive amounts of land for habitat mitigation. ‘Instead of losing, say, five hectares, suddenly a farmer may lose another five or even 10 for planting trees and grass. We want that kept to a minimum,’ comments rural surveyor Louise Staples. ‘We’re also working to ensure that any farms that are split are given a bridge or underpass and we want to make sure that liability remains with HS2, so that if things go wrong, farmers can still claim from them.’
Earlier this month, HS2 Ltd recommended a change of route for the stretch through South Yorkshire. This would preserve wildlife sites east of Wakefield, including Waterton Park, the world’s first nature reserve, plus Chesterfield Canal, a number of ancient woodlands and a section of the Trans Pennine Trail. ‘The changes are a step forward, but we hope the new ministerial team will do more to protect the countryside,’ says Ralph Smyth of the CPRE, which has helped to secure a £40 million compensation fund for communities affected. Julie Harding