HS2: The Mess that Keeps on Giving
By Paul Harding, Unitary Candidate for Chiltern Ridges and Asheridge Vale Candidate for Chesham Town Council
HS2 sometimes seems like an unstoppable juggernaut powering through our valleys and our communities. Controversy has followed the project since it was conceived, and even before it first broke ground, the initial justifications had shifted and were dissolving.
If those calculations were already in doubt back then, how much more so now? Part of the justification for HS2 was to do with Heathrow. HS2, it was argued, would negate the need for a third runway and all the extra air traffic that a third runway would imply. In addition, HS2 connecting to central London in Euston would mean that high-speed rail would run from Manchester to Paris (and beyond). Much of the revenues from HS2 passengers were projected to be from premium fare business travellers, travelling for face-to-face meetings. The project would be well regulated, ensuring that the environment would be respected through oversight from the Environment Agency (EA) and Natural England, as promised to Parliament through HS2's Environmental Statement. Risks and pressures on aquifers, local communities, and animal habitats would be dealt with responsibly under the law. Budgets would be controlled.
Well… here we are in 2021. A third Heathrow runway is now approved anyway. HS2 will no longer go to right into central London, so no continuous high-speed link to Paris. Businesses have discovered, out of pandemic necessity, that a lot of expensive business travel can be replaced with Zoom (other video conferencing software is available!) meetings. Budgets have ballooned to so much (from £32billion to the current 'official' number of £88billion) that the original estimates were either laughably incompetent, deliberately misleading, or both. Not exactly a reason for confidence. The Environment Agency, Natural England, Parliament, and HS2 are playing an elaborate game of pass-the-parcel and "nothing we can do" over responsibility for local damage, despite this violating representations HS2 made to parliament about safeguards and protections.
The result? HS2 have got away with apparent misrepresentations and are continuing the project despite concerns over inadequate early surveying (another reason for the ballooning budgets) and future activity. Meanwhile, our environment is being damaged, and our natural resources are being put at risk. Affected residents often feel unsupported and ignored.
In January we wrote about our chalk streams (http://chiltern.lib.dm/a61dhW) and the stress our water resources are under due to abstraction and discharges of untreated sewage. We were glad to see the national media reporting on some of these same issues in February and March. We also mentioned in the piece that HS2 is a potential disaster for local water supply and these beautiful natural assets.
Already Shardeloes Lake between Amersham and Great Missenden has suffered an odd discharge of chalk shards, possibly because of HS2 activity. Like many natural systems, the aquifer in the area that feeds the River Misbourne is finely balanced. And it's not just the beautiful stream and lake that rely on this balance, it's also a huge segment of the population.
Nothing to worry about? Then why has Affinity Water, one of the companies that takes this water to sell to us, received a special (and effectively unlimited) guarantee from the government due to risks from HS2's boring & tunnelling in the area. We already don't have water to spare, why are we risking such a large supply?
Is HS2's disregard for local social and environmental concerns inevitable as the project ploughs on through our area? We would argue not. Each time an animal habitat gets reported- forcing HS2 to protect it; or a plan for a roundabout gets changed due to local action-as Lib Dem Cllr Alan Bacon and Lib Dem Walid Marzouk helped achieve in February (http://chiltern.lib.dm/a31dpF), some of the potential impact is avoided.
Every time local action delays or causes a change in HS2's plans, we help ensure that the true cost of the project is better understood and accounted for. This is the case even if the government is not yet ready to admit that the true benefits were dramatically oversold, and the original budgets dramatically understated.
These actions also help ensure that future projects do a much better job of considering environmental and social costs (and the costs of dealing with the resulting local community action) when they are calculating whether or not to spend billions and billions of taxpayer money for dubious or overstated benefits.
We are keen to find out as much as possible about how HS2 is continuing to affect our communities throughout the constituency. Below is a link to a survey.
If you have a particular HS2 issue you want to raise, please a take couple of minutes to fill out the survey. We can't make HS2 go away but we can help investigate all community impacts, publicise these and take action wherever appropriate and wherever possible. Just the way we did at Little Missenden.