HS2's proposed 0.85-hectare Colne Valley viaduct and wetland creation scheme survived legal challenge last month HS2's proposed 0.85-hectare Colne Valley viaduct and wetland creation scheme survived legal challenge last month

Could HS2 be derailed?: 7 things you need to know

With the government expected to make a final ’go or no-go decision’ on High Speed 2 (HS2) early next month, ENDS looks at the environmental issues surrounding the scheme. Here’s what you need to know.

1 The final decision is due in February

In August, prime minister Boris Johnson called on civil engineer and former HS2 chair, Doug Oakervee, to carry out a “go or no go” review of the project. The review’s announcement was followed by the publication of figures showing the project’s spiralling costs and delayed timetable. 

A leaked copy of the review in November gave HS2 the stamp of approval but the review’s former deputy chair, Labour peer Lord Tony Berkeley refuted this. He published his own criticisms of HS2 this month including the dismissal of the project’s environmental statements issued by the company which he said misled stakeholders.

READ MORE: Has the HS2 review avoided counting the green costs?

Now the government is set to make a final ’go or no-go decision’ on HS2 in early February, according to a report from the New Civil Engineer.

2 Preparatory work has been met with strong opposition

Transport secretary Grant Shapps ordered all works on HS2 to stop while the review took place, unless the works were absolutely necessary. But despite this HS2 contractors arrived in South Cubbington Wood in Warwickshire at the end of September. 

Five Rivers Environmental Contracting were met by dozens of protestors who prevented them from carrying out their work. At the same time, environmental lawyers Leigh Day, acting on behalf of Chris Packham, threatened the Department for Transport with judicial review for allowing HS2 and its contractors to attempt to fell the woods during the review process, thus breaching their own protocols. 

In December, HS2 was forced to apologise to the Berks, Bucks and Oxon Wildlife Trust (BBOWT) for taking chainsaws to trees in a bid to clear land on the Calvert Jubilee nature reserve without its permission.

3 Phase One must deliver no net loss of biodiversity

The first phase of the controversial HS2 north-south rail link received royal assent with the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Act 2017, which allowed the construction of the railway line from London Euston to Birmingham – known as Phase One of the HS2 project. 

Phase One must deliver a “no net loss” in biodiversity and plans to deliver seven million trees and shrubs to be planted along its line with 33 square kilometres of new or enhanced ecological habitat, including the creation of 226 ponds for the protected great crested newts.

4 Campaigners argue HS2 provides ‘inadequate’ mitigation and compensation measures for nature

The ‘ecologically devastating’ impacts of HS2 on protected sites and the ‘inadequate’ mitigation and compensation measures put forward would push ‘nature to the brink’ and cause local extinctions, according to a new report from The Wildlife Trusts published this month

The Trust believes 28 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), three special areas of conservation, and two Ramsar sites are at risk of loss or face significant impact from the rail line. 

However HS2 has dismissed the figures underpinning the report 

5 One attempt at mitigation has failed

One element of HS2’s environmental mitigation works hit the headlines this year after it emerged that of the 234,000 trees it had planted between November 2017 and March 2018, 38% of them had perished in the heat due to the extreme nature of last summer’s heatwave. HS2 has since replanted them and was on track to plant half-a-million trees by the end of 2019.

6 One ecological mitigation site survived a legal challenge

Last month, the High Court dismissed a council's legal challenge against the transport and housing secretaries' decision to overturn its refusal of permission for one of HS2's proposed ecological mitigation sites.

The proposed 0.85-hectare Colne Valley viaduct and wetland creation scheme – comprising a pond, a reptile bank, two great crested newt habitats for hibernation, hedgerows and wet grassland – is set to be created in the London Borough of Hillingdon.

7 Local groups fear the project will impact their drinking water supply

In September last year, the company behind HS2 rejected residents fears that HS2 enabling works – which includes tunnelling and drilling boreholes through chalk aquifers in the Chilterns area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) – could reduce the quality and levels of water in the area.

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