Press release on HS2

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.”.

ENDS

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10 Replies to “Press release on HS2”

  1. I knew there was something about William Hague that I liked.
    NGOs showing teeth, we need more of this please. Even if this hairbrained project was needed before Covid, surely it’s now been proved that so many meetings can be done in a much more environmentally friendly way via the internet.
    Save time, save money, save the environment. Scrap it.

    1. HS2 should never have progressed. Another wealth-creation scheme legacy from the Blur-Broon era.

      But Hague showed such promise when he ran rings round Blur at PMQ which was very entertaining. I don’t often laugh at R4 but I did then but then he blew his credibility with all that 14 pints a day and baseball-cap crapola. I wonder how his piano playing is progressing.

  2. I always swore that I would never be a NIMBY. However, I must first state a conflict of interest. HS2 will run within 500 meters of our house and in full view of my study. I despair at the idiocies associated with this project. Plan A was for the line to run along a viaduct close to Trowell village centre. No problem? Well, the viaduct was designed to be higher than (and adjacent to) the village church tower! Despite her much vaunted enthusiasm for the whole venture, our then MP (Anna Soubry) saw the foolishness of this and negotiated a revised Plan B. It will now run through a cutting. Easy change to make? Viaduct to cutting?
    Because of our proximity to the line, we have had a series of ‘ecological’ visitations. The first came to survey birds, badgers, etc. They came outside th breeding season. I told them that the hedgerow between us and the proposed line held breeding Common and Lesser Whitethroats – although the Turtle Doves, Cuckoos and Willow Tits had gone. They seemd to regard me as more of a nuisance than anything else. Still they paid us for the access.
    Then came the bat-men. Two youths who looked in the garden and identified a tree that might hold bats. They did not have authorisation to examine the tree – which actually hosts a bat-box!
    Later in the year, two more came and shoved an epidiascope into the box and announced that it seemed to contain bat dropping, but no signs of any bats. Still they paid us again for the two visits.
    Finally, the sound guys came and left their acoustic gear for a couple of days. Worried about theft, much to Linda’s amusement, they chained it to one of the damson trees! Back later to remove said equipment. Still they paid us for two visits.
    This is where some of the money has gone. How many properties have been visited (and reimbursed) like this?
    Still, there will be over 20,000 jobs associated with the East Midlands Hub just down the road. I have repeatedly asked, at public meetings in the village, for examples of these jobs. Answer came there none. I suppose that there will be a man with a flag and a whistle on the platform and engineers repairing the shoddy workmanship along the line.
    Good Luck, Lord Haig! They are more likely to take notice of you that that pinko Packham! But the construction companies have shovelled so much money into Conservative coffers down the years, that I suspect it is pay-back time?

    1. “The first came to survey birds, badgers, etc. They came outside th breeding season.”

      Survey in name only. A Nelson survey.

      There was a presentation at this year’s virtual Birdfair covering swift conservation which raised exactly the same issue, i.e. surveys not being performed at relevant times/seasons. Not HS2, not woodland, but the same failure.

  3. I think there is a generic issue here within the engineering profession which seems to treat anything affecting it’s core task as a nuisance and to be paid no more than lip service to. If you can blast it through planning by spending a lot of money on consultants then fine. But it isn’t – not even for the engineers. the banning of onshore wind was richly earned by this attitude (admittedly aided by Government’s failure to lead on real planning) – there seemed to me to be little care for anything other than the grid connection – wind turbines do make quite a bit of noise and noone should have to live with one that they can constantly hear.

    Then there was Railtrack and trackside clearance – work which really was needed, but the scorched earth approach I saw from the train horrified me – a tiny bit of planning & communication could have made the whole operation acceptable, but instead it hit the buffers.

    I wonder how much effort has gone into reducing the impact of construction and the damaged footprint on both people & birds of the construction ? Bad construction can leave collateral damage on a scale massively greater than the actual track – if you look at air photos the space rail takes up is actually pretty economical. Will HS2 try and work within the width of the lasting route as much as possible or will it spill out on all sides ?

    What should have happened ? If it had to happen we should first have had the environmental considerations up front, rather than as the very obvious tack on, secondly this surely was the opportunity for the Government as a whole (especially agricultural support) to design a complete new landscape around the development, with particular emphasis on not just protecting but massively expanding habitat for hundreds of metres either side of the line. Not compensation, but a 21st C response to harm which may sometimes be genuinely necessary.

    And, no, you can’t ‘move’ and ancient wood. If you don’t understand why just read Rackham.

  4. A few weeks ago I actually watched a promotional video about HS2 that followed the whole route from London to Birmingham which detailed where new wildlife habitat would be created to try and offset that lost in construction. The misgivings kicked in when at one site they showed the bat house – a full building designed for bat use – they would put in. The impression I got was there would only be one along the entire route, so only one needed, just enough to use as a photo prop in a PR campaign? I can’t say I’m very confident about HS2’s supposed care for wildlife.

  5. If BoJo is prepared to break international law over changes to the EU withdrawal agreement I can’t see Schapps changing one iota of HS2 although I live in hope that it will bankrupt those involved and prove to be a financial disaster (no brainer on that).

    1. If that happens you can bet your last pound the Tories will bail the developers out with tax payers money.

  6. Thanks for flagging this issue, Mark, and for highlighting Lord Hague’s letter. The Chilterns Conservation Board has also written to HS2 with our concerns regarding bats at Jones’ Hill Wood – our letter here: https://www.chilternsaonb.org/uploads/news/CCB%20letter%20to%20Mark%20Thurston_Jones%20Hill%20Wood%20Oct2020.pdf
    HS2 has responded but has not answered our questions or given us the assurances we seek, so we wrote again this week and are awaiting a response. For us, there are important principles at stake that go beyond just this location, including HS2 adhering to recognised best practice and transparency of information.

  7. It’s so important that the matter of HS2’s environmental obligations is properly addressed. Government leaders and the construction industry must be held to account. It’s time to stop paying lip service to environmentalism whilst escalating the scale of environmental destruction in relation to massive infrastructure construction projects and smaller scale construction and development ventures across the country.

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