Few would argue that the UK's strategic transport infrastructure does not need improving. The debate about whether HS2 is the right solution has been heated at times, with the scheme's supporters and opponents airing deeply held views about the environmental, social and economic costs and benefits. No individual or organisation can pretend to hold all the answers to these issues but we feel it's right that we contribute our expertise on two key areas: the impacts on wildlife (and how these should be addressed), and the implications for reducing greenhouse gas emissions given the overwhelming evidence of the need to prevent dangerous levels of climate change.
The Government's preferred route for phase 1 is likely to damage important places for wildlife including at least three Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) and numerous local wildlife sites. Our full response to the Government's 2011 consultation (see downloads, right) includes details of the likely impacts on some of the worst affected sites.
The question of whether the phase 1 preferred route represents the "best" route in this regard, as the Government asked in the 2011 consultation, is highly debatable. However, now that the Government has announced its intention to proceed with HS2 and the details of local design and mitigation are emerging it is important that wildlife impacts are recognised and dealt with appropriately. UK laws and planning regulations lay down strict tests for considering developments that may damage wildlife sites – no less must be demanded of national infrastructure projects like HS2.
The Government has published maps for the phase 2 preferred route, connecting the Midlands to Leeds and Manchester. A further SSSI is likely to be severely damaged if the preferred route (Leeds arm) remains as shown in these maps, but overall the threat to nationally important wildlife sites appears relatively low from phase 2.
The second reason we are involved in HS2 is that we think it is essential that the Government's transport and climate change policies are aligned. We are convinced that human-induced climate change is the greatest long-term threat to humans and global biodiversity. Studies suggest that up to one third of land-based species on earth could be committed to extinction by 2050 if we do not act to address this problem. Rapid and deep emission cuts are essential to avoiding dangerous climate change. An urgent challenge for the UK is therefore to tackle rising carbon emissions from land transport.
We are concerned that HS2, as designed, will not fulfil its potential to reduce emissions because it has not been designed with this aspect in mind or brought forward as part of a coherent integrated UK transport strategy for long distance travel.