High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from the National Trust (HSR 32)


1.  The National Trust welcomes the Committee's inquiry and we are pleased to offer this response to your consultation.

2.  The National Trust looks after special places "for ever, for everyone". We protect and manage, on behalf of the nation, over 270,000 ha of countryside and over 700 miles of unspoilt coastline and estuary. Our coast and countryside open spaces attract more than 100 million visits per year. We are also responsible for many hundreds of buildings and gardens of historic or cultural significance. The Trust is a major business, with an annual operating budget of more than £350 million and some 5,500 employees. We are a major provider of tourist facilities, and own Europe's largest network of holiday cottages and gift shops. Over 3.8 million people are now members of the National Trust which is over 5% of the UK population.


3.  The Trust is directly affected by a range of transport issues such as aircraft noise which blights some of our sites, the quality of local road and rail services and in the past we have been heavily affected by road building programmes. The current HS2 proposals directly affect the Trust through a requirement to take land at Hartwell House which is held inalienably under our acts of parliament. There is also potential that an expanded network north of Birmingham or any other HSR scheme would impact our property.

4.  Having said this, the Trust is not in principle opposed to investment in a high quality rail network which could provide benefits in terms of delivering a low carbon transport system.

5.  Whilst not opposed to HSR the National Trust believes there are some key principle that should be at the heart of any HSR programme:

(a)  It should be part of a wider transport strategy that seeks to reduce travel where possible and to decarbonise the network. It would be helpful if the Government more clearly articulated how HSR relates to the future management of the road, air and wider rail network. Starting from the principle of the need to decarbonise the network also means that the measures of success and therefore the design criteria of any scheme would not be based on in principle decisions to run at a predetermined speed. Instead the design criteria would be based on delivering the optimum outcome for a range of indicators including carbon emissions, speed, noise, economic regeneration and critically from the National Trust's perspective the impacts on natural and historic landscapes. We believe that by applying this principle from the start any scheme would be more adaptable and more acceptable to the general public.

(b)  Any HSR programme should have a range of options which should be assessed against the criteria of sustainable development. This means that an overall judgement on the social, environmental and economic benefits and impacts of each option should determine decisions around the scheme rather than narrow economic perspectives.

(c)  It is a long held principle that public involvement is a critical factor in making sustainable decisions. Any HSR proposals should therefore involve genuine and early public participation. Whilst major rail projects will always generate some "losers", in our experience a truly participatory approach almost always leads to improved proposals and greater public support. Whilst we recognise the issues of blight, the first phase of the current proposals have fallen well short in this respect. However, we are encouraged by the relationship we now have with HS2 Ltd and the indication that the Government will approach the second phase of the scheme differently.

(d)  Finally, we believe that any HSR scheme should be the greenest possible which means the impacts should be mitigated to the greatest degree possible. Whilst this might have an adverse impact on the narrow economic case the adoption of the principles of sustainability means that this can be justified because of the value that should be attached to the protection and enhancement of the environment and people's quality of life.


1.  What are the main arguments either for or against HSR?

6.  The National Trust has in the past argued that it is unsustainable on both environmental and social grounds to have significant amounts of domestic air travel. A high quality rail network could be a valuable contribution to a low carbon transport system. The aim of decarbonising transport more generally and of minimising other environmental and social impacts such as the impacts on designated landscapes, noise or habitat loss should be reflected in any success measures and should inform the route, detailed design and operational parameters of any scheme.

7.  Not least because of the direct impact on our own property and that of communities in the Chilterms, we are acutely aware that there are always losers in schemes of this nature. One of the key disadvantages of any HSR programme is the impact on places where property, habitat, livelihoods or precious tranquillity is to be lost. We sympathise with the natural reaction of individuals and local groups and believe that they are unhelpfully characterised as NIMBYs. This is generally a result of a lack of engagement at the early stages and a sense of being disenfranchised from the decision making process.

2.  How does HSR fit with the Government's transport policy objectives?

8.  The lack of a national strategic plan for transport means it is difficult to determine the inter-relationships between the Government's transport objectives. However the Government's vision for "a transport system that is an engine for economic growth but one that is also greener and safer and improves quality of life in our communities" is to be broadly welcomed, in particular the emphasis on a system that is greener which clearly implies they will be seeking environmental gains. Is it clear from the Government's vision statement that the rail system and HSR in particular is a key priority for delivering their ambition.

9.  Having said this, the current HSR proposals have not been framed in such a way as to deliver the outcomes that the Government is seeking. For example, the Government's own consultation document on HS2 makes clear that the scheme may in fact be a net contributor to carbon emissions and it is clear that there are unacceptable impacts on important natural and historic designated landscapes. This appears to be because an operating speed was set as an outcome of the project rather than the outcome being framed in line with the Government's overall vision to deliver environmental as well as economic gains which means the line cannot be finessed sufficiently to minimise local environmental impacts.

10.  If the decisions around HSR were taken in line with the principles of sustainable development it could be entirely justifiable to reduce the speed, reduce the return on investment, reduce the impact in carbon and wider environmental and social terms and still deliver a project with significant benefits.

3.  Business case

11.  The National Trust is not best placed to comment on the details of the business case, however, we would reiterate the point made above that any scheme should be based on a much broader set of economic, social and environmental factors.

12.  In addition to this we would argue that a marginal economic case increases the importance of ensuring environmental and social gains are maximised.

4.  The strategic route

13.  The National Trust has only a peripheral interest in the choice of stations along the route. However, we are in principle opposed to the route passing through the Chilterns AONB. We also believe that the impacts on the built and natural environment and the potential to improve these should be central criteria in any decisions.

5.  Economic rebalancing and equity

14.  The National Trust does not have the expertise to answer this question.

6.  Impact

15.  It is very clear that whilst the current proposals recognise that there are environmental and social impacts these have not been accounted for in a robust way. There is no thorough assessment of the impacts on social and environmental capital both positive and negative.

16.  We believe that if HSR is to proceed the environmental and social impacts should be mitigated to the greatest possible degree especially if the economic case is considered marginal.

17.  We are encouraged by the approach of the Department for Transport and HS2Ltd in terms of engaging over mitigation measures and an apparent desire to use mitigation to deliver environmental gains where possible. However we believe they could go further and we would encourage the committee to recommend bold and innovative approaches to mitigation and where the most sensitive historic and natural environments are impacted an increased use of tunnels which are the most effective way of mitigating the impacts.

May 2011

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Prepared 8 November 2011