Chris Packham CBE has welcomed the report published today by Lord Berkeley, former Deputy Chair of the Oakervee Panel, which concludes that HS2 is not good for the environment.
Lord Berkeley’s dissenting view comes ahead of the Oakervee Review and takes into consideration the submissions made by a number of environmental NGOs about the impact of HS2 on the environment and climate change. It has been reported that the Oakervee review currently does not take these issues into consideration. Lord Berkeley's Review highlights that there are a number of unresolved and diverse views on environmental issues, which need to be further and properly considered before any final conclusions can be drawn by the Secretary of State (Section 2.9.1).
Environmental NGOs submitting evidence to the Oakervee Review criticised the irreversible impact on ancient woodlands and the project's incompatibility with the achievement of the Government's Net Zero Emissions Goal, currently set for 2050. For example, they argued that HS2 will damage or destroy at least 108 ancient woodlands and hundreds of other precious wildlife sites. This is incompatible with national action to restore the environment, including the 25-Year Environment Plan. Tunnel boring machines will require millions of litres of water per day, thus posing unacceptable risks to the Misbourne aquifer and chalk streams.
The NGOs also pointed out that according to HS2's own figures, the project may not be carbon neutral for some 120 years. They submitted that HS2 is also designed to facilitate increased passenger numbers to airports, thereby enabling large-scale airport expansion in cities such as Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester. Environmental groups pointed out that is increasingly difficult to see how any of this is consistent with the declared Climate and Ecological emergency.
The Secretary of State for Transport initially announced a review into HS2 in August 2019. In September 2019 Chris Packham, represented by Leigh Day, threatened legal action against the government regarding its refusal to stop the enabling works for HS2 during the period of the review. The legal case argued that these works threatened a number of ancient woodlands and followed previous activities by NGOs to grant the woodlands a reprieve. In October, the government did major u-turn and committed to protect the woodlands pending the outcome of the Oakervee Review.
Chris and six environmental NGOs have signed up to a joint statement of support for the findings in Lord Berkeley’s Review. The groups are Friends of the Earth, the Ramblers, Greenpeace, the Woodland Trust, The Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB, all of whom are original members of the ReThink HS2 Coalition.
Chris Packham said:
“Having declared a Climate and Environment Emergency it is imperative that the government acts to minimise, mitigate or eliminate any further environmental damage - and HS2 would be enormously damaging through its habitat destruction, impact on endangered species and its considerable carbon footprint. Put simply, if HS2 was ever a good idea - it is not now. Of course, there is no doubt that we urgently need a greener transport infrastructure and this is why, given the funds allotted to facilitate it, we are asking the government to #ReThinkHS2 with the environment at the core of its decision making.”
Carol Day, solicitor at law firm Leigh Day, said:
“Given the terms of reference of the Oakervee Review, the environmental organisations that submitted evidence to it believed their concerns would be taken into account in the decision-making process. It would appear that this has not been the case. Our client therefore welcomes Lord Berkeley’s dissenting Review, which recognises the environmental factors require further consideration, particularly in the face of the current climate and ecological emergency."