Is HS2 re­ally on track?

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country -

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

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