High Speed Rail - Transport Committee Contents

Written evidence from Chilterns Conservation Board (HSR 118)

1.  The Chilterns is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, designated in 1965. Such a national designation confers on it the highest level of protection. Any development which would cause damage has to be shown to be in the national interest and demonstrate why it cannot be located elsewhere. The HS2 proposal will cause serous and irreversible damage to the Chilterns AONB. The Chilterns Conservation Board is not persuaded that HS2 will provide national benefits to the economy or environment.

2.  The business case is poor and its dependence upon the notional valuation for time saving is not credible. The forecast for passenger numbers also lacks credibility and ignores previous experience of over-estimating demand for Eurostar and HS1 services. The result is to over state benefits to such an extent it materially affects the Benefit Cost Ratio.

3.  HS2 will result in increased emissions of greenhouse gases. In combination with the damage to the natural environment the Board does not accept that any net environmental benefits will be forthcoming. The reliance on offsetting against aviation the increased emissions caused by HS2 is wholly unrealistic as it relies on vacated flight slots remaining vacant. The industry has already confirmed that these slots will be used primarily for long haul flights. The net effect of HS2 will be to significantly increase carbon emissions - the national priority must be to make significant reductions.

4.  The Board is concerned that the DfT has not fully explained to the public the accepted definitions of high speed rail. Under EU Directive 96/48/EC Appendix 1 high speed railways do not require design speeds of up to 400 kph. The UK can upgrade much of its existing intercity network to high speed lines (200 kph/140 mph) with relatively modest investment compared to HS2, providing the entire country with improved services. The DfT design criteria for HS2 meant that route choice was seriously constrained and the scope to avoid the Chilterns AONB extinguished.

5.  A national transport plan is an essential pre-requisite for investment in the rail network and specifically for high speed rail. The most recent analysis of national transport needs, The Eddington Report 2006 and Transport White Paper 2007, remain relevant—neither recommended high speed rail. Such a plan would also give due weight to options for increasing capacity on existing railways. It makes little sense to ignore the potential to increase existing capacity in the short term at much lower cost.

6.  The demand forecasts are not credible. The very long period used for forecasting and reliance on historic trend data mean those forecasts are unlikely to be accurate. The active promotion of long distance travel is not a sustainable approach when the conservation of energy will be an increasing national priority. The demand forecasts have given insufficient weight to: the need to reduce travel; alternatives to long distance travel; and the growing effectiveness and availability of communications IT. The priority should be to manage demand and bring it into balance with capacity, and not to provide new capacity at high cost. The predict and provide model has been widely abandoned as unsustainable.

7.  The business case fails to include the environmental costs. Whilst it includes several qualitative attributes to which it assigns large monetary values, eg time saving and crowding, the impact on the environment is not included at all. The consequences are to undervalue the environmental impacts, nearly all of which are negative. Neither does the business case include any negative impacts on the economy notably the cumulative effects on local economies.

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

There are several accepted international definitions of HSR, which do not require speeds of up to 400 kph. The existing routes which can support speeds of up to 200 kph (125 mph) are considered to be high speed. This has not been explained to the public.

1.  HSR as per the HS2 specification is not affordable—more affordable alternatives exist.

2.  Experience in comparable countries is that high levels of investment in high speed rail directly leads to diversion of investment from the rest of the network.

3.  There is no need for high speed rail of up to 400 kph. The UK is geographically compact, with shorter journey times now compared to comparable countries with HSR.

4.  A better alternative would be to enhance capacity on the west coast main line and invest in a truly national programme of upgrading intercity routes in line with EU definition of high speed rail—up to 200kph.

5.  There will be considerable environmental damage through construction of the line and the associated significant increase in carbon emissions.

6.  There will be irreversible damage to the nationally protected Chilterns AONB.

7  Encouraging more people to travel further, more frequently is not economically or environmentally sustainable. The long term strategy has to be to reduce the need to travel and to save energy.

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

1.  There is a need for a national strategy to identify the role of transport in meeting anticipated future social, economic and environment needs. That strategy should go on to provide a context for investment in the rail network. Other priorities must be a road network fit for purpose, enhanced bus services, safe and attractive cycleways and well maintained footpaths of all types. This should all be in the context of reducing the need to travel and conserving energy. Particular emphasis must be given to advances in IT.

2.  Such a strategy would provide the context for consideration of investment in HSR. The Transport White Paper 2007 provided some of this—notably it did not support HSR. This needs to be updated before committing the scale of funds required for HS2. Without it the country will be locked into a long term investment programme which, based on precedent and international experience, may lead to misplaced priorities and significant opportunity costs. Major cost overruns and delays can be anticipated.

3.  The UK is geographically compact with short distances between major cities. Communications between them are already amongst the best in the world including a dense railway network with frequent fast services. The scope to make major savings in door to door journey times is limited. The time savings provided by HS2 are modest (eg only seven minutes on London-Newcastle)—equivalent to approx. £700 million per minute saved.

4.  Greater social, environmental and economic benefits are likely to be derived from investment in the existing network. Most intercity rail lines can be upgraded to meet EU definitions of HSR—providing better value for money compared to HS2. Trains already in service are capable of travelling at sufficiently high speed (225 kph-140 mph) to qualify under EU definitions. Experience of the TGV in France is that existing services suffer as investment and other resources are diverted to creating a new network.

2.3  Impact on domestic aviation

1.  The impact on domestic aviation is likely to be restricted to London to Glasgow and Edinburgh. Rail already has significant share of the Manchester—London market (80%) and passenger numbers between other cities affected by HS2 are small.

2.  Saving on journey time to Scotland will not be significant (43 minutes saving on current best to Edinburgh and only 38 minutes to Glasgow). This is unlikely to prompt a major modal shift. HS2 assumes that it can convert directly numbers of travellers who switch to HS2 into numbers of withdrawn flights. This is unrealistic as airlines may accept lower load factors or use smaller aircraft. It is possible that international airlines will use this as an opportunity to use vacated domestic flight slots for long haul—the net effect would be a dramatic increase in carbon emissions.

3.  HS2 forecasts assume that the domestic aviation market will increase by 178% by 2033. It also assumed new runways would be built at Stansted and Heathrow—they did not change these assumptions despite cancellation of new runways. The reality is that the domestic aviation market between London, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Manchester has been in decline for several years according to CAA statistics.

4.  In practice HS2 will have to capture 50% of the current market (3.5 million flights per annum out of a total of 6 million) from Glasgow/Edinburgh to all London airports to meet modal shift forecasts (7% of passengers using HS2 will have switched from planes). Most flights are to Stansted, Gatwick and Heathrow which have been denied permission to build new runways—there is high demand for vacated slots. A switch from domestic to long haul flights will result in a quantum increase in emissions. The HS2 has not incorporated anticipated reductions in aviation emissions in the next 60 years which further reduces the scope for offsetting its own emissions

5.  If airlines are to be forced to keep freed up slots vacant, possibly by legislation there will be a considerable loss of income to airlines amounting to several billion pounds over the 60 year term used for HS2 calculations. If 3.5 million of HS2's passengers previously flew the lost fare income to airlines will be approx. £175 million per annum (based on an estimate of £100 per return flight). Over a 60 year period this equates to £10.5 billion in today's prices. Other losses will be suffered by the airport, eg loss of car parking income, retail sales etc. This impact on the aviation industry and national economy has not been included in the business case for HS2.

3.  Business case

1.  The demand forecasts are far too optimistic with an over reliance on historic trend data. The lessons of the Eurostar and HS2 domestic services, where forecasts were not met, have not been learned despite the warning from other parliamentary committees.

2.  HS2 fails to take into account the impact of IT on demand for travel, more flexible work patterns and the relatively high cost of all forms of transport. Neither does HS2 recognise that the individual propensity to travel in the UK has been static for 15 years. Most trips will be for leisure—but no explanation as to why many more people will want to travel long distance for leisure is given. Shopping and entertainment facilities are good in all city centres connected to HS2 - the relative attraction of London is declining.

3.2  Capacity

1.  The problem of capacity may not be as great as some have suggested. Over crowding, whilst attracting headlines, is actually a limited problem affecting a small number of intercity journeys—the problem is exacerbated by pricing practices.

2.  As identified in the Eddington Report 2006 significant and affordable increases in capacity can be achieved by extending trains, converting first class carriages to standard class and improving a small number of pinch points. Upgrading of the signalling systems has to be installed in any event. These improvements would increase capacity and enable trains to operate at their design speed of 140 mph (225 kph).

3.  Adjustments to pricing and the need to reserve seats on peak hour trains would help to avoid any problems of over crowding. It is likely that all HS2 trains will require seat reservation (as per TGV). Passengers cannot be allowed to stand on a high speed train which means numbers have to be controlled.

4.  It is imperative that attempts are made to manage demand and keep it in balance with capacity. In line with successive Government policies, reducing the need to travel should be a priority. The ever increasing effectiveness and availability of IT will help with this challenge. It also reduces vastly the HS2 business case as all time on a train can be used productively thus reducing the value of journey time saving. The widespread practice of flexible working will help to remove traditional peaks. The use of the market to bring supply and demand into balance has not been applied fully.

4.  The strategic route

1.  The selection of the London-Birmingham route was significantly influenced by the DfT decision to specify that trains operate up to speeds of 400 kph. This meant there was very limited scope to alter the alignment. Contrary to government legislation and national planning policy (notably PPS7) it made it impossible to avoid building through the nationally protected Chilterns AONB with no serious option for avoiding the area.

2.  This speed was chosen partly because the claimed economic benefits rested so heavily on the value of time saved. That valuation based on the assumption that all time on a train was wasted and any time saved could be converted to productive work with a value equivalent to an annual cost of £70,000 per annum per employee lacks credibility—it fails any common sense test. Anybody who wishes to work productively on a train can do so—the percentage that can't because they have to stand is so small as to be negligible.

3.  The weight given to valuing time saved and the high speed specified constrained route choice to an unacceptable degree. Acceptance of alternative international definitions of HSR would have allowed consideration of alternatives and less damaging routes. It would also have added weight to the Government option of Rail Package 2.

4.  The proposed network will only directly link four major cities with partial benefits to several others. This will take at least £34 billion and 22 years (2033) to achieve. Most parts of the country will not be directly connected. It is not, therefore, a national network. If HS2 claims are accepted for economic generation the majority will be left out, even positively disadvantaged. It is also an acceptance that other efforts to promote economic regeneration outside London will not be successful unless and until several years after high speed rail is operating.

5.  As Heathrow has little scope to expand, creation of a high speed link to the airport is unlikely to bring significant economic benefits— the return on this investment will be poor. The desire to create a direct link has further restricted route choice. NB HS2 has not included the cost of a link to Heathrow in its cost estimates nor business plan.

5.  Economic rebalancing and equity

1.  The Board is not satisfied that there is convincing evidence from comparable countries that HS2 will lead to regional economic regeneration. The HS2 Ltd forecast that over 70% on the employment creation will be in London is more credible. There is international evidence that the modest economic effects of high speed rail are restricted to a geographically small area close to the railway station. The city centres of Leeds, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Manchester have already undergone highly successful regeneration. The economic problems lie in parts of those cities and surrounding regions beyond the reach of HS2.

2.  The damage to the economy of those areas affected by the HS2 route have not been taken into account in preparing the HS2 business case. There is emerging evidence that some cities and towns not served by HS2 (eg Coventry and Stoke) will suffer a decline in services with an associated impact on the local economy. It is essential that a proposal of this scale takes into account fully all impacts and doesn't overlook those which are unhelpful to the case for building the line.

6.  Impact

1.  HS2 Ltd now state that HS2 is likely to be carbon neutral. Earlier claims that high speed rail would be a central part of a low carbon economy are no longer made.

2.  It has to be assumed that for the foreseeable future a significant part of electricity generation will be from fossil fuels. This means HS2 services will result directly in carbon emissions. High speed trains use more energy than slower trains—at least double. If trains travel at 400 kph it will be nearer four times. As HS2 also propose to run longer and more frequent trains emissions will increase significantly several fold again. HS2 hopes this can be offset by promoting modal shift from cars (very small) and planes. The outcome is that in total HS2 services will generate significantly increased emissions possibly more than eight times that of services operating today, and indirectly stimulate a considerable increase in carbon emissions if long haul flights replace domestic flights. According to Birmingham airport, a new Birmingham parkway station will enable it to double its passenger throughput to nine million passengers per annum.

3.  HS2 make no allowance for the energy needs for operating the new and enlarged stations.

4.  HS2 Ltd calculations for the emissions associated with the construction of the line are too low. The total embedded carbon for constructing the line and associated stations is estimated to be only 1.2 million MtCo2e. This is not a credible figure in view of the quantities of steel and concrete needed, and the associated emissions of transport for movement of material including the quarrying and disposal of millions of cubic metres of spoil. An example of the underestimate is that HS2 state that the volume of spoil to be excavated and disposed of for the section from West Ruislip to Aylesbury is 680,000 cubic metres. The actual volume is nearer 12 million.

6.2  Are environmental costs and benefits (including in relation to noise) correctly accounted for in the business case?

1.  No. The business case does not include the value of any environmental impacts. Whilst other attributes such as crowding are given monetised values and included no such attempt was made for any environmental characteristic. As significant weight is attached to the Benefit Cost Ratio (especially by Treasury) the environmental impacts have not been correctly accounted for.

2.  HS2/DfT has refused to provide a figure for the total land take but it is believed to be approx 2,500 hectares, representing a considerable loss of productive farmland and woodland. No value is attached to the value of production foregone. In the Chilterns AONB alone 24 woods will be lost or damaged (17 hectares) of which 12 hectares are ancient. The Board estimates that in the Chilterns13,700 metres of hedgerow will be lost of which several thousand metres are ancient.

3.  The Chilterns is a major aquifer providing drinking water to over one million people. The railway will be tunnelled through the aquifer but HS2 has not been able to provide any reassurance that these drinking water supplies will not be affected. It is known that abstraction sources at Chalfont St.Giles, Amersham and Little Missenden, cannot be used for the duration of the construction. Such matters have not been incorporated in the HS2 report or business plan. There will be a cost as the local water companies will have to seek alternative supplies.

4.  The River Misbourne is one of England's most endangered rivers according to the Environment Agency. It has suffered from low flows for many years due to a combination of over abstraction and variable climate. The railway follows the river valley and the Misbourne is likely to be badly affected during construction with the possibility of permanent changes to its hydrology.

5.  The Chilterns is one of the most popular areas for walking in Europe (55 million visits per annum - Southern Tourist Board 2007). Many visitors arrive from London by train in the Misbourne valley. The local pubs and shops benefit from these visitors, but it is a trade which will diminish significantly for many years. The blight has begun as businesses consider whether it is worth investing. The reputation of the whole of the Chilterns will suffer when the work begins, further reducing the number of visitors over a wider area than that affected directly. The loss of business has not been taken into account. In general the impact of the construction itself on the local economy and communities will be significant but no weight has been given to these effects.

6.  It will have a major and permanently damaging impact on the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The reputation of the Chilterns as place for quiet recreation will be affected. The Ridgeway National Trail will be cut and regionally important routes such The Chiltern Way and Chiltern Cycleway will also be severed or diverted. Restoration of these routes may not take place for a decade.

7.  Along the line 10 SSSIs and another 100 sites important for wildlife will be damaged. It is known from HS1 that a 2 metre high security fence will be erected for the entire length of route. This would be an ugly intrusion into the landscape and a substantial barrier to the movement of mammals.

8.  The quality of the Chilterns landscape (and across the UK in general), is in large measure due to farming. The high speed rail line takes no account of farm holdings, many of which will be dissected. The impact will be that many will be rendered permanently uneconomic due to severance. Others may not survive the disruption caused by the construction itself. The impact on farming is not considered at all in the HS2 business case.

9.  The business case has not given any weight to the generation of noise. Published data related only to Laeq figures. This has the effect of averaging thus reducing the actual noise levels experienced. Lmax figures should also have been published. There is international evidence (ANASE Report for DfT 2007) to show that noise disturbance is also related to frequency, timing and suddenness. None of these factors have been take into account. HS2 also acknowledge that above 200 mph aerodynamic noise becomes more of an issue, but no information has been published by HS2 to show what the effect would be if speeds of up to 250 mph were to be achieved.

May 2011

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© Parliamentary copyright 2011
Prepared 8 November 2011