William Hague questions HS2 Ltd’s due diligence in relation to wildlife law
William Hague (Lord Hague of Richmond) has written a letter to the Rt Hon. Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, in support of evidence relating to potential wildlife crime issues of the High Speed Two (HS2) project, compiled by a team of independent professional ecologists. The ecologists’ concerns are set out in a document appended to Lord Hague’s letter.
Three major NGOs; The Woodland Trust, The Wildlife Trusts and The RSPB, have added their own joint statement of concern to the document.
The evidence focuses on two case studies where it is alleged there has been a worrying lack of due diligence by HS2 Ltd in ensuring that relevant wildlife surveys were carried out prior to the start of construction work in recent months. Consequently, appropriate licences were not obtained for protected species (bats and water vole) meaning that wildlife crimes may well have been committed. The suggestion is that these two examples are just the tip of the iceberg and that they are harbingers of the true environmental cost of that 20 minutes saved between Birmingham and London.
The ecologists claim that surveys to the Government’s own guidance on minimum standards were sorely lacking. They also highlight the lack of transparency from HS2 Ltd about surveys undertaken since 2014, with details only able to be obtained through a drawn out process of Freedom of Information requests. The secrecy surrounding the effect of a national infrastructure project on potentially hundreds of bats contrasts with the situation where the public can find out with the click of a mouse what bats have been affected and what mitigation has been put in place for a barn conversion down the lane.
In his letter, Lord Hague asks of the Secretary of State “I am sure you will agree that the law should be upheld and that there should be sufficient transparency for that to be ascertained”.
In order to prevent or minimise the risk of wildlife crimes, the ecologists’ statement considers it essential that, as a matter of urgency, HS2 Ltd:
1) Makes public all survey information relating to protected species along the Phase One route in a timely manner (as is required during the planning process for far less potentially damaging schemes). Reason: Providing such information will alleviate the concerns of the public and wildlifeconservation organisations about strongly suspected wildlife crimes and lack of due diligence taken to prevent these. It will also save police time and resources investigating likely offences.
2) Pauses all works on or near habitats that commonly support protected species (including woodland, mature trees, wetland, within 50m of ponds, caves and buildings) until such information has been issued, independently audited and found to be in order. Reason: Until there has been a thorough, independent and transparent audit of the adequacy of surveys and how these have informed the construction of Phase One and enabling works, continuation may constitute deliberate, intentional or reckless breaches of applicable laws
A joint statement issued by The Wildlife Trusts, The RSPB and Woodland Trust says:“HS2 Ltd has had many years to plan and deliver what is the country’s largest majorinfrastructure project. The scheme must set an example and show best practice in its environmental protection and management, and not lead the system astray by limiting transparency or disregarding due diligence. In the case of ecological surveys and the obtaining of correct licences for instance, HS2 Ltd has had more than adequate time to follow the proper processes. It would be a grave error if the Government allowed work to proceed that could be illegal as well as actively endangering wildlife – risking undermining every environmental commitment the Government has made about HS2. We urge the Secretary of State to listen to and act on the concerns raised by professional ecologists.”.