High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from the Ramblers' Association (HSR 37)

1.  The Ramblers' Association ("the Ramblers") is a registered charity and a company limited by guarantee registered in England and Wales, founded as a voluntary body in 1935. Its registered office is at 2nd Floor, Camelford House, 87-90 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7TW. It has approximately 115,000 members and is the largest organization concerned with the interests of walkers. By "walkers" we mean anybody who walks for any legitimate reason, such as, for example, ordinary transport from home to work or amenities; thus we are not concerned solely with recreational walking or with rural locations.

2.  The Ramblers' charitable aims include, in summary: the protection of public footpaths and other routes used mainly for walking; the protection of the beauty of the countryside; the improvement and enhancement of the walking environment; and the promotion of walking for health, recreation and as part of an integrated system of transport. This submission will focus chiefly on matters relevant to these objectives and thus on issue 6, "Impact", and especially on question 2 of that section. Our objectives can be viewed in full at: www.ramblers.org.uk/aboutus/charitableobjects.

3.  The Ramblers supports the principles of "The Right Lines Charter—A Charter for High Speed Rail", published on 7 April 2011 by the Campaign to Protect Rural England. We urge the government to adopt them. We believe that the government's proposals and consultation procedures do not meet these principles and believe they should be implemented before construction of any high speed rail project commences.

4.  However, with regard to issue 2, the Ramblers supports improved public transport, in particular insofar as it advances our object of promotion of walking, i.e by taking people to places from which they might wish to walk. It is not clear that a system designed for rapid transport between cities is relevant to this criterion, unless by allowing for improved local services to intermediate destinations. Before supporting the current proposal on these grounds we would need to be convinced: (i) that the same objective could not be achieved by a less environmentally damaging scheme; and (ii) that resources would still be available for improved local services.

5.  Our direct answer to issue 6 question 2 is that we do not believe that anything in the documents published by the government demonstrates that environmental costs and benefits have been correctly accounted for. Very little weight appears to have been given to environmental considerations.

6.  The proposed route crosses the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. AONBs are expected to enjoy special protection except in rare circumstances. It is not clear that a case that such circumstances apply has been made. While it is true that a direct route from London to the West Midlands would almost inevitably pass through the AONB, the constraints imposed by the underlying assumptions about speed and route have precluded less damaging options.

7.  It has been claimed that the route through the Chilterns uses an existing transport corridor. However the impact on the environment, and on the enjoyment of the area by walkers, of a conventional, half-hourly rail service on the Chiltern Line and of traffic on the only moderately busy A413 are not in the same league as the potential impact of HS2.

8.  Similar considerations apply to the impact of the scheme on the London and West Midlands green belts. The constraints that limit choice of route have not been adequately balanced against the impact on hitherto undeveloped landscape.

9.  The countryside traversed by other parts of the route, even if it does not enjoy special protection, is generally tranquil. Here too the constraints imposed by seeking to achieve the highest possible speeds, without consideration of whether this is the best all-round option, appears to have ruled out the environmentally preferable option of a route alongside existing railways or motorways.

10.  It is a matter of particular concern to us that the impact on footpaths, bridleways and other rights of way on foot appears to have received little attention. These are highways, in law, as much as roads. Diverting a footpath causes a user of that highway considerably greater inconvenience than a road diversion of similar length would cause a driver. We estimate that 150 paths will be crossed by the proposed route, but the Appraisal of Sustainability mentions only 27 of them—those referred to by HS2 Ltd as "promoted routes" or "strategic routes". HS2 Ltd have explained to us[59] that it is only the effect on these routes, and not the effect on the likely 120 other rights of way affected, that has been taken into account. So the effect on most public rights of way has not been considered. This aspect of the consultation is therefore fundamentally flawed.

11.  We have received assurances from HS2 Ltd that it is their intention to avoid path closures (other than temporarily during construction). However it appears from what we have been told by HS2 Ltd—see previous paragraph—that little thought can have been given to how this will be achieved; and we are concerned lest the assurances should prove impossible, or too expensive, to deliver.

12.  Even if all paths remain open, public enjoyment of them will be severely reduced by the noise levels on bridges over, or paths close to, the route. Once again we return to the point that the route traverses currently tranquil countryside, whereas if it could be sited alongside existing major railway lines or motorways the impact of additional noise would be more acceptable. We suppose that in some cases, it will be necessary to divert public paths to convenient crossing-points. For example, where a farm is severed, and provision is made for an accommodation crossing such as a bridge or cattle-tunnel for the benefit of the occupier, such a provision could also be the means of crossing the line by nearby public paths, provided the resulting diversion to the path is reasonably convenient without significant adverse effect on enjoyment. In our view, provision must be made so that diversions follow desire-lines away from the railway; they should not simply be routes within the limits of deviation which run as unnatural, "dog-leg" diversions hard alongside the line from the point of severance to the new crossing-point.

13.  In summary, we do not consider that the government has made a convincing case to the public, or allowed sufficiently wide-ranging public consultation under the principles of The Right Lines Charter, that the current HS2 proposals are so much better than possible alternatives as to override the greater impact, compared to such alternatives, on enjoyment of nearby footpaths and on the beauty of the countryside.

The Ramblers asks the Committee to take these concerns into account.

May 2011

59   E-mail from HS2Enquiries to Adrian Morris, Head of Walking Environment at the Ramblers, 12 May 2011: "All of our work at this stage in the route development is based at a strategic level assessment. We would not undertake further, more detailed local assessments until we have confirmation that the Government agrees to continue its strategy for high speed rail and that it plans to continue with the proposed Route for consultation alignment as described.... Therefore, if this project progresses, HS2 Ltd would be required to undertake detailed localised assessment and would work with the local highways authority on the rights of way detail detailed in definitive maps." Back

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Prepared 8 November 2011