HS2 tunnel argument ‘blown out of water’
NEW reports suggest extending the HS2 tunnel through the borough would lower the cost of the project and ‘reduce its devastating impact’ on residents.
Hillingdon Council commissioned two independent studies looking into the viability of a tunnel through the Colne Valley, to reduce the impact of the high speed railway.
The council – along with borough MPs, action groups and campaigners – has repeatedly requested that the entire route through the borough should be in a tunnel, if the project goes ahead.
It said it commissioned the reports – one from development and infrastructure consultancy Peter Brett Associates (PBA) and the other from economic development consultancy Regeneris – after HS2 ‘refused to provide a robust appraisal of the extended tunnel option.’
The line would be tunnelled through central London (known as the Northolt tunnel), but it is planned to emerge next to West Ruislip station.
High-speed trains would then travel overground, then cross a 3km viaduct over the Colne Valley, before entering the Chiltern Tunnel near the M25 motorway.
HS2 argues a tunnel through the Colne Valley was considered but ‘ending the tunnel at West Ruislip offered the best solution from an environmental, construction and cost perspective’.
Without a tunnel, people living in Ruislip, Ickenham and Harefield say they are the ones who will suffer, with heavily congested roads, HGV lorries, noise pollution, 24-hour working, construction sites where spoil will be dumped and the destruction of some of the borough’s best beauty spots.
And that is just during construction. Once operational, opponents fear noise from so-called ‘tunnel boom’ as the high speed trains exit close to Ickenham High Road, more noise in the Colne Valley, and the destruction caused by, and visual impact of, the viaduct.
The first study, by PBA, proposes a 7km tunnel between West Hyde and West Ruislip as an extension to the Northolt tunnel. The report says: “There is a feasible tunnel solution which will allow HS2 to transit the Colne Valley in a manner which avoids the extensive work proposed on the surface, the consequent negative construction impacts over a seven-year period and the permanent operational noise and visual impacts.”
There are huge technical benefits from tunnelling, the report concludes, and it will have significantly less impact on the environment, communities and businesses.
It also found the extension would ‘enable provision of the turnouts in-tunnel for a future Heathrow Spur’. It has been argued connections between the spur and the main line HS2 track could not be placed in a tunnel.
HS2 argued they had to connect above ground, which is the reason past requests to extend the tunnel beyond Ickenham were dismissed.
The cost of the tunnel was estimated at £1.16billion, 5.8 per cent more than the HS2 option, ‘but this does not take account of property or community costs,’ the report says.
Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner MP Nick Hurd (Con), who will join the select committee of MPs scrutinising the HS2 Hybrid Bill when it visits the borough tomorrow (Thursday), said: “For years now, HS2 have tried to fob us off by saying that a tunnel extension was not feasible or cost effective.
“These reports blow that argument out of the water.”
The second report, by Regeneris, valued the economic, financial and environmental cost of HS2 to Hillingdon at between £41.9million at the lower end to as high as £157.5m, with no economic benefits because there would be no ‘stopping stations’ in the borough.
Accepting the lower range of impacts, the cost difference between the PBA proposed tunnel extension scheme and HS2’s viaduct scheme reduces to £22.13m – just a two per cent gap.
HS2 has already estimated its compensation costs at more than £54m, so the cost of extending the tunnel through the borough would therefore be considerably lower.
HS2 chief executive, David Higgins, has said the company’s view on the tunnel has not changed.
In a letter to Mr Hurd he wrote: “We have never questioned whether a tunnel is feasible but, from an early stage, it was clear that it was not a practicable solution to the challenges in the area.”
HS2 is now working on its own study to find out the consequences of tunnelling under the Colne Valley, which it says ‘reinforces’ its conclusions.
Mr Hurd said: “Instead of using taxpayers’ money to back up their old excuses, I will be challenging them and ministers to be open minded and engage properly with the argument.
“If a tunnel extension could be the cheaper option, and imposes less grief on the community, then it is their responsibility to look at it very seriously,” he said.
The select committee will be treated to magnificent views across the Colne Valley such as this, from The Old Orchard pub in Harefield, when it visits tomorrow (Thursday)