High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

5  Environmental impacts

I have always believed that our beautiful British landscape is a national treasure. We should cherish and protect it for everyone's benefit.[171]

We will establish a high speed rail network as part of our programme of measures to fulfil our joint ambitions for creating a low carbon economy.[172]

70. As with any major piece of transport infrastructure, HS2 would have significant impacts on the environment. These are described at a high level in the Appraisal of Sustainability.[173] The changes to the 2009 design for the London-West Midlands route, intended to reduce and mitigate negative impacts, are also explained. If the Government decides to proceed with the scheme, a detailed environmental impact assessment and environmental statement will have to be undertaken prior to introduction of a hybrid bill.


71. One of the Government's principal objectives for transport is that it should contribute to the UK's climate change targets. There is a lack of clarity in the debate about whether high-speed rail will make a positive or a negative contribution. Two very different propositions tend to get mixed up. The first is that HS2 will of itself significantly reduce carbon emissions by encouraging people to switch from road and air. The second proposition is that given a strategic objective of dramatically improving connectivity and capacity of inter-urban transport, high-speed rail is a relatively low-carbon option.

72. Mr Hammond hinted at the first proposition by saying that high-speed rail will help the Government to meet its climate change targets by "encouraging millions out of their cars and off the planes onto the train."[174] HS2 Ltd forecast that, for London-West Midlands in 2043, 6% of HS2 passengers will have switched from plane and 7% from car, with 65% from classic rail and 22% new trips generated by HS2.[175] "A national network could see as many as 6 million air trips and 9 million car trips switching to high-speed rail each year."[176] Supporters of HS2 have tended to endorse the view that it will of itself have substantial carbon benefits.[177]

73. Despite some shift from more carbon-intensive modes to rail, the Government's official assessment is that the overall impact of HS2 on carbon emissions is hard to predict but likely to be very small. A substantial amount of carbon would be emitted in the construction of the line and HS2 would generate additional travel (some 30,000 trips per day).[178] Any reduction in domestic flights into Heathrow would almost certainly be offset by additional international flights, although these would be within the EU emissions trading scheme and could be diversions from Gatwick. HS2 would be powered by electricity, so the carbon emissions would be determined by the extent to which the UK's energy supply is "decarbonised". The Appraisal of Sustainability concludes that the overall carbon impact of HS2 would be "broadly neutral". At worst it could increase emissions by 24m tonnes; at best it could reduce emissions by 27m tonnes. "Whichever scenario takes shape, the contribution of HS2 would be insignificant when compared to other transport emissions in the UK [at about 0.3%]."[179] The percentage of UK car trips that might transfer to HS2 is, in overall terms, very small; we discuss the impact on aviation below. Table 2: High-speed rail and CO2 emissions in selected European countries

CountryPopulation (2010) AreaHigh-speed lines in operation (2011) Rail passenger use (20091) Nuclear and renewables as % of total electricity production (2010) CO2 from domestic aviation (2009)
(million) (km sq)(miles) (million passenger kilometres) (%)(million tonnes)
France64.7 547,6601,185 88,61089.6 4.5
Germany81.8 348,630803 81,20641.0 2.1
Italy60.3 294,140577 49,52426.5 2.2
Spain46.0 499,1101,285 23,05653.9 3.6
United Kingdom62.0 241,93071 52,76523.6 1.8

Note: 1 Rail passenger figure for Italy is for 2008


Eurostat demo_pjan

The World Bank

Union Internationale des Chemins de fer (UIC)

Eurostat rail_pa_total

Eurostat nrg_ind_33a

House of Commons Library (SN/SC/5533) EU ETS and Aviation

74. In Paris, we heard from the French Transport Minister, Mr Thierry Mariani, that promoting high-speed rail over road and air transport was part of the Grenelle Environment Roundtable carbon-reduction agreement.[180] However, as Table 2 shows, France and other European countries with high-speed rail generate substantially higher proportions of electricity from non-fossil sources (mainly nuclear) than does the UK. Switching from road or air to rail therefore has a significant carbon benefit. The Committee on Climate Change has recommended a radical decarbonisation of UK electricity generation by 2030 and the DfT refers to the Government's "clear commitments to progressively decarbonise power generation."[181] Currently, however, the scale and pace of the programme is uncertain.[182] Table 2 also shows there is no simple link between high-speed rail and carbon emissions from domestic aviation.


75. The impact of HS2 Phase I on domestic aviation is likely to be insignificant as there are no flights between Birmingham and Heathrow and there will be no direct Heathrow HS2 service. More impact is forecast for the Y network as rail would compete more effectively with aviation for journeys between Scotland, the north of England and London. Whilst this would have some carbon benefits and improve the choice of mode for passengers, the Airports Operators Association says that the potential for HS2 to attract air passengers "should not be overestimated". Flybe, which operates from 38 UK airports but not Heathrow, says the Y network would have "no impact whatsoever" on its services.[183] Where high-speed rail has been introduced and provided a journey time of less than four hours, it tends to attract a high proportion of the air/rail market; however, this is often in the context of a much increased total passenger market and the air services sometimes continue.[184]

76. Heathrow Airport Ltd, Manchester Airports Group and Birmingham International Airport are more positive about the contribution that the HS2 might make to reducing UK domestic flights but still anticipate a substantial overall growth in demand for aviation. Indeed, they expect the Y network to improve the regional attractiveness of Birmingham and Manchester airports (assuming airport high-speed rail stations are built). HS2 may also attract a significant proportion of UK passengers who currently fly to Heathrow from Manchester, Newcastle or Scotland, or those who fly from UK regional airports and take onward connections from Paris (taking HS2 to Heathrow and flying onwards instead). Much of this depends on the quality of connectivity (speed, frequency, transfers etc) between HS2 and Heathrow and regional airports such as Birmingham, East Midlands and Manchester. The Government needs to make clear how HS2 fits into its wider aviation strategy. It is not clear that even the Y-network will substantially reduce demand for domestic aviation. We note that Lord Mawhinney's report into whether Heathrow should be on the high-speed network only found against the idea when assessing it on the basis of it ceasing at Birmingham: "… a direct high-speed link to Heathrow fully funded from public expenditure, in the context of a high-speed rail network extending only to the Midlands, is not likely to provide a good return on the public expenditure entailed." We would encourage the Government to reassess this proposal based upon the assumption that the network will extend to Manchester and Leeds.

77. Some supporters of HS2 have argued that it would have substantial carbon-reduction benefits. These claims do not stand up to scrutiny. At best, HS2 has the potential to make a small contribution to the Government's carbon-reduction targets. Given the scale of the expenditure and the official assessment, HS2 should not be promoted as a carbon-reduction scheme. However, if the Government's primary aim is to meet and reinforce demand for inter-urban travel, HS2 will produce less carbon than an expanded motorway network or a reliance on domestic aviation. It is important that the Government makes rapid progress with reducing carbon emissions from UK electricity generation.

Local environment

Of course, we must ensure the appropriate protections for our magnificent countryside. This is why our reforms will maintain protections for the green belt, for National Parks and Areas of Outstanding National Beauty.[185]

78. The DfT acknowledges that it would be impossible to eliminate local environment impacts from HS2 but believes that sensitive design and mitigation measures could ensure that such impacts will be minimised.[186] HS2 Ltd has proposed a London-West Midlands route that avoids any significant demolition of property except for the Euston station area; about half the route would be in deep cutting or tunnel, to reduce noise and visual intrusion on adjacent areas.[187] HS2 Ltd suggests that the impacts on sensitive local sites will be quite limited:

No Grade I or Grade II* listed buildings would be demolished, and no internationally protected sites of ecological interest would be adversely affected, while impacts to nationally protected sites are restricted to a few locations. The proposed route crosses the Chilterns AONB, with all but about 1.2 miles (2km) of the line in tunnel, deep cutting or in the corridor of the existing A413 main road.[188]

79. Despite these reassurances, HS2's possible impacts, on the natural environment, buildings and people, have generated much concern and opposition, not only to the proposed route but also to HS2 as a project. There are particular concerns about the impact on the Chilterns (a designated AONB), the Colne Valley and parts of Warwickshire. Many local "stop HS2" groups have formed to protest about what they fear would be increased noise, visual intrusion, severance and disruption in their locality, both during construction and when the line is in operation. Some organisations, such as CPRE, suggested that a route close to the M1 might be less environmentally-damaging and therefore preferable;[189] the M40 corridor was generally considered to be unsuitable although a lower operating line speed and the use of tilting high-speed trains could make this option viable. Overall, there did not appear to be a consensus on any alternative route from an environmental perspective.

80. We have been presented with two very different accounts of the environmental impacts of HS2: HS2 Ltd told us that noise levels would be quite limited, that HS2 would create a "dual-carriageway for wildlife",[190] and that 2.9m cubic metres of spoil would be generated and used to construct bunds or removed avoiding local roads.[191] By contrast, the Chilterns Conservation Board and others told us that HS2 (as proposed) would result in damage to 10 Sites of Special Scientific Interest and 84 county wildlife sites, "the largest loss of ancient woodland in recent times" (25.8 hectares )[192] and a "Berlin Wall for wildlife".[193] In addition, noise calculations did not allow for "worst-case scenarios", such as unfavourable wind directions, the land take was unquantified and the amount of spoil would be "absolutely gargantuan" (perhaps 11m cubic metres) and its disposal impacts much greater than described by HS2 Ltd.[194] Even the width of the corridor is unclear.[195] The Chilterns Conservation Board[196] and National Trust[197] pointed out that they were not merely seeking to protect local interests but had responsibilities and legal duties to protect certain land and property on behalf of the nation. In the case of the Chilterns Conservation Board, its duties relate to the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty; in the case of the National Trust, it relates to Hartwell House and grounds, which it holds "inalienably", through which the proposed HS2 would pass.[198] These organisations also pointed to the Government's undertakings to be the "greenest government ever" and to protect the national environment, particularly Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

81. The divergence of views on likely impacts of HS2 is partly because detailed environmental assessments have not (yet) been carried out nor noise protection measures designed.[199] It might in some cases be due to a lack of dialogue and communication between HS2 Ltd and the major objector bodies. Some have stated that requests for information have been blocked or delayed without adequate explanation.[200] The groups are concerned that the Environmental Impact Assessment will not be undertaken until after a decision (to proceed) has been taken, by which time it will be "too late".[201]


82. The DfT's economic case methodology does not put a monetary value on landscape costs.[202] The Government's recent Natural Environment White Paper sets out proposals to change this approach and to include the value of "natural capital", which may be much higher than the market value of the land:[203]

Later in 2011, [DEFRA] will publish new supplementary guidance to HM Treasury's Green Book for use by all Government Departments on valuing the natural environment in appraisals.[204]

In fact, HS2 Ltd has already undertaken an "indicative" assessment of the landscape value for HS2, which it puts at £4.5bn.[205] If this figure were to be deducted from the benefits of HS2 (London-West Midlands), the BCR including WEIs would fall to 1.56 (see Chapter 4).[206]

83. We recognise that HS2 is likely to have substantial impacts on the countryside, communities and people along its route. It is unfortunate that a direct route between a station to the west of London and the West Midlands crosses the Chilterns AONB—a national asset. Because detailed assessments have not been undertaken, it is difficult to be clear about the precise scale of the impacts or the effectiveness of mitigation measures. Our visit to the Arup sound laboratory suggests to us that noise impacts may be less than feared but for other factors it is impossible to tell. We recommend that the revised business plan for HS2 should take account of the Government's new approach to economic appraisal, which places a monetary value on natural capital. It should also make explicit whether this approach would suggest changes to the alignment or design of the route proposed by HS2 Ltd. We would encourage the Government to place greater emphasis on following existing transport corridors.

Consultation, Challenge and NIMBYs


84. The DfT and HS2 Ltd undertook formal public consultation on the HS2 proposal earlier this year. The consultation was intended to gather views on:

the proposed national high speed rail strategy [...] and on the proposed line of route for an initial London - West Midlands line.[207]

Mr Hammond described the consultation as "one of the largest and most wide-ranging ever undertaken by Government."[208] Some 50,000 responses were received. Many people who responded to the consultation did so due to concerns about possible impacts on their homes and local environment. Many also submitted strategic arguments in favour or against HS2.

85. Despite the considerable scale and content of the consultation exercise, some major stakeholders, such as 51m and AGAHST, expressed disappointment and frustration with the process. AGAHST complained that there has been a lack of impartiality in the process; that residents on the Y sections were effectively excluded as no information was provided on the route north of Birmingham; that economic and environmental information was inaccessible or not available; and that Ministers implied that they would proceed regardless of the consultation.[209] The Chilterns Conservation Board, 51m, National Trust and HS2 Action Alliance also criticised the consultation process, particularly in terms of a failure on the part of HS2 Ltd and the DfT to engage with them, to debate strategic issues, resolve technical issues or to consider alternative proposals.[210] Complaints about lack of consultation or engagement might simply reflect the fact that such discussions as there were did not produce the results which opponents wanted. We have no way of judging whether or to what extent that has been the case.


86. Following its establishment in 2009, HS2 Ltd established three challenge panels (strategic, technical and analytical) "to provide independent expert scrutiny on different elements of [its] work." These panels continue to meet. Of the three groups, currently comprising 22 people (all men), only the Analytical Challenge Panel contains any evident critic of high-speed rail. The Strategic Challenge Panel comprises eight transport and local government experts who are almost all publicly supportive of high-speed rail, including the Director of Yes to HS2, the Director of Greengauge 21 and the Chairman of Network Rail.[211] Mr Hammond said that the details of the challenge panels were a matter for HS2 Ltd but he thought they had "worked well".[212]

87. It is disappointing but perhaps unsurprising that DfT and HS2 Ltd have not been able to reach agreement on technical issues with major objectors such as 51m and those with statutory roles such as the Chilterns Conservation Board and National Trust. We do not pretend that any consultation process could have led to opposition melting away but some factual issues might have been resolved and areas of disagreement narrowed. It is also of concern that the Government intends to reach a decision on whether to proceed with Phase I before information on the Y network is published and before many of the environmental impacts for both phases are clear. We recommend that no decision is taken until such strategic information on Phase II is published, appraised and consulted upon.


88. The previous Secretary of State has been accused of comparing opponents of HS2 with the Luddites and "NIMBYs" (Not In My Back Yard).[213] In Manchester in June this year, Yes to HS2 launched a bus poster campaign—"Their lawns or our jobs". Professor Begg, Director of the campaign, defended the posters.[214] Meanwhile the Stop HS2 campaign toured the country with a 10ft inflatable white elephant.

89. What should have been a serious and factually-based debate about how best to address the transport, economic and environmental challenges of HS2 has too often been reduced to name-calling and caricature: Luddites, NIMBYs and white elephants fought out a battle of "jobs versus lawns". We urge the Government to desist from disparaging opponents of HS2 as NIMBYs and for both sides in the debate to show respect for each other and to focus on the facts.

171   Prime Minister David Cameron, letter to National Trust, 20 September 2011 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/hands-off-our-land/8777913/David-Camerons-letter-to-National-Trust-in-full.html Back

172   HM Government: The Coalition: our programme for government, 20 May 2010, p 31 Back

173   Booz & Co, HS2 London to the West Midlands. Appraisal of Sustainability. A report for HS2 Ltd, February 2011 Back

174   HS2 Consultation, February 2011, p 5 Back

175   Economic Case for HS2, p 19 Back

176   HS2 Consultation, February 2011, p 50 Back

177   For example, Network Rail, Ev 292. Back

178   HS2 Consultation, February 2011, pp18-19 (based on London-Birmingham, 2043) Back

179   Booz & Co, HS2 London to the West Midlands. Appraisal of Sustainability Non Technical Summary. A report for HS2 Ltd, February 2011, p 15 and Ev 262 Back

180   Grenelle is also discussed by CPRE, Ev 191. Back

181   HS2 Consultation, February 2011, p 53 Back

182   The Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, in its report, Electricity Market Reform, said that "the Government needs to be more explicit about its ambitions" and that "It should set out an intended pathway of gradually reducing carbon intensity to 2030". (Fourth Report of ECC Committee, April 2011). The Government is shortly due to publish proposals and policies for meeting the fourth carbon budget (2023-27).  Back

183   Q365 Niall Duffy Back

184   For example, London-Paris: briefing note provided by House of Commons Library, unpublished. Back

185   Prime Minister David Cameron, letter to National Trust, 20 September 2011 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/hands-off-our-land/8777913/David-Camerons-letter-to-National-Trust-in-full.html Back

186   HS2 Consultation, February 2011, p 55 Back

187   Ev 267 Back

188   Ev 262 Back

189   See also Ev w62. Back

190   Q463 Back

191   Ev 286 Back

192   Letter from Steve Rodrick, Chief Executive, Chilterns Conservation Board, to Mrs Ellman, Chair, Transport Committee, 12 September 2011  Back

193   Q 350 Back

194   Qq 331-332, 337 Back

195   Ev 286 Back

196   Q 324 Back

197   Q 318 Dame Fiona Reynolds Back

198   Ev 292 Back

199   English Heritage said that, without additional work, they were unable to judge the impacts of HS2 on the historic environment and its heritage assets, Ev w232.  Back

200   Ev 161 Back

201   Qq 331-332 Back

202   Qq 551-552  Back

203   HS2 Ltd estimates that the land cost (including buildings) for HS2 London-Birmingham will be £930m. See Ev 286. Back

204   DEFRA, The Natural Choice: securing the value of land, Natural Environment White Paper, June 2011, Cm 8082, para 3.42 Back

205   Ev 267 Back

206   Oxera email 6 September 2011 Back

207   HS2 Consultation, February 2011, p 25 Back

208   HS2 Consultation, February 2011, p 6 Back

209   Ev 166 Back

210   Qq 326-360 Back

211   Ev 286 Back

212   Q 548 Back

213   Financial Times, 25 June 2011, p 2 and Q 510  Back

214   Q 97 Back

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Prepared 8 November 2011