Progress Report – February 2018

Published on February 7, 2018
The latest you need to know about HS2 in the Chilterns…

Shifting ground:  Ground investigation works for HS2 are now well underway at various sites across the Chilterns. Of course, HS2 is not keen to make its initial findings public, but we understand that the Environment Agency has some concerns regarding the potential impact on the River Misbourne and the underlying aquifer and have asked HS2 to carry out further investigations. The Chiltern Society has obtained a copy of an initial report and we’re currently analysing the results.  We will update you with more information as and when we get it, but suffice to say our concerns about the potential loss of the Misbourne and our concern over the stability of the Bacombe Hill SSSI, where the Wendover cut and cover tunnel is due to be constructed, remain.

Safety concerns: We have analysed the proposed operating parameters of HS2 in the Chiltern Tunnel, and believe that this operation needs a full safety assessment before the tunnel designs are finalised. HS2 has used a safety case reference to decide that it will be operationally safe. The case used was HS1, which has shorter tunnels, substantially fewer trains running at lower speeds, with less passengers. In our opinion the proposed operation of 18 trains per hour each at 320kph in tunnel is unsafe should a train have to be evacuated with passengers being led to the parallel tunnel which, in HS2’s words,is  a ‘relatively safe place’. We are engaging with HS2 to discuss our concern.

Planning applications: HS2 is submitting a number of planning applications to local councils in the Chilterns. Currently these are mainly for the creation of habitat sites away from the line, with the intention that they will be ready in two years time to relocate endangered species from the construction area. Applications have been made to Aylesbury Vale District Council, Chiltern District Council and South Bucks District Council. Details of applications can be found by going to the planning application search on a particular council’s website and typing in HS2.

Next steps: The rail company’s representatives are meeting with the local parish councils to inform and discuss its proposed next steps. Currently they are looking at the work that would need to be done to deliver the haul road for construction vehicles to the Chiltern Tunnel North Portal near South Heath, together with the alterations that will be needed to the A413 roundabouts and the link road at Great Missenden.

Viaduct designs: Detailed designs for the 3.4km HS2 viaduct that will slice through the Colne Valley Regional Park will be presented for public discussion in the spring. The concept designs, issued in January, suggested transparent noise-reduction barriers around the structure with vertical lines, visible to bats and wildfowl, to reduce possible impacts.

Politics and protests 

It’s a no from the dame: Dame Cheryl Gillan, the MP for Chesham and Amersham, was one of 12 MPs to vote against the Bill to build the first part of the second phase of HS2  from Birmingham to Crewe. She told MPs of the soaring cost of HS2 as a whole (£16billion in 2013; £55.7 billion by 2015) and of the destruction of irreplaceable ancient woodland…63 ancient woodlands will be destroyed in phase 2a alone.

Changing track: Michael Fabricant, the Conservative MP for Lichfield, also voted against the bill.  Initially, he said, HS2 had promised trains running directly from Birmingham to Paris.Now that proposal has been scrapped and passengers will have to go to London and switch to a different train in a different station, taking their luggage with them.

Changing mind: Sir Kevin Barron, the Labour MP for Rother Valley, has withdrawn his long standing support for HS2.  He told MPs: “I truly believed that HS2 would help to bridge the divide between the north and London. However, I now believe the case has become flaky at least.”   He added: ”Most business leaders believe that if the north is to thrive the links between northern cities need to be improved, not just by having another route to London.  I believe we can do so much more with this money, in particular on the electrification of lines that the Government has scrapped.”

Legal threat: HS2 Ltd and the Department for Transport have warned demonstrators in Hillingdon that they will seek High Court injunctions to prevent them demonstrating against the railway at the Harvil Road site. A solicitor’s letter said that between October and January there had been at least 45 incidents of protestors trespassing, climbing onto vehicles and sitting, standing or lying in the path of vehicles, and the actions pose “a significant and unacceptable risk to health and safety.”  Mark Kier, on behalf of the protestors, said: ”The protests against HS2 in the Colne Valley will continue. We believe this letter is an act of bullying.”

Tree protests: Meanwhile protestors, including the local vicar, tied themselves to trees in protest at HS2 works around Euston Station.  The company is taking possession of Euston Square Gardens and plans to fell 200 trees in the area, including dozens of giant London planes, which HS2 says is necessary to provide space for construction vehicles and a temporary taxi rank. The company has already acquired St James Gardens, a park and a former burial ground and has cut dozens of trees down.  They have promised to replant some trees in the area once the 17 year construction period is completed.

Elsewhere…

Failed contractor replaced: The construction company Kier has taken on responsibility for building the part of the HS2 line that was originally intended for the collapsed company Carillion.

Small recompense: Steeple Claydon Methodist Church in Aylesbury Vale is to receive £12,000 from the Government’s community fund set up to compensate local communities for the disruption from HS2. The church says it will instal new heating and lighting and replace pews with chairs.