Sparks fly over green corridor plan

by New Worker correspondent

HS2 HAS announced plans to deliver an “unprecedented” green corridor to run alongside the £56bn high-speed railway, to create a network of environmental projects from the capital to the north of England. But the Woodland Trust has hit back at the plan by saying that the only unprecedented part of the railway is the amount of ancient woodland it will destroy. And the tree campaigners likened the plans to “smashing a Ming vase and replacing it with bargain basement crockery”.

The new green corridor will eventually be the largest in the country. It will stretch for hundreds of kilometres as part of plans to build Britain’s biggest ever rail project. HS2 says that the corridor along the first phase of the line from London to the West Midlands will include seven million new trees and new native woodlands covering 900 hectares of land.

More than 220 new ponds will also be created for great crested newts, and public parks, open spaces and nature reserves will also be created in the largest planned works ever to accompany an infrastructure project in Britain.

The new corridor, to be built between London and the north of England, will include new wildlife habitats, native woodlands and community spaces to help integrate the new line into its surrounding landscape and environment.

The first phase, which covers 216 km between London and Birmingham in the West Midlands, will encompass a green corridor encompassing seven million new trees and shrubs, including over 40 native species, specific to each location. The new native woodlands will cover over nine square km of land.

It will also include over 33 square km of new and existing wildlife habitat, equating to an area the size of 4,600 football pitches, an increase of around 30 per cent compared with what’s there now.

For wildlife there will be tailor-made homes, ranging from bat houses to 226 new ponds for great crested newts and other amphibians. There will also be potential to support community projects and develop amenity spaces such as access routes, public parks, open spaces and nature reserves. A spokesperson for HS2 said: “Work on the pioneering initiative is expected to set new standards for how Britain and the rest of Europe builds the next generation of major infrastructure projects.

“As the corridor is being delivered, HS2 is encouraging local people and organisations to get involved in everything from landscape design to tree planting. This includes supporting local environmental projects through its various community funds.”

But Britain’s leading woodland conservation charity, the Woodland Trust, is not impressed. Luci Ryan, a Woodland Trust ecologist, says that 40 hectares of ancient woodlands, which have existed since at least 1600, will be destroyed.

“This is utter greenwash nonsense from an organisation trying to pretend that HS2 isn’t the most environmentally destructive infrastructure project this country has seen in decades.

“Some 98 beautiful, rare, irreplaceable ancient woodlands will be destroyed or damaged by this scheme. That’s 98 habitats and eco-systems that support a whole host of mammals, birds, invertebrates, fungi and plants. And once that ancient woodland is gone, it’s gone forever so while planting new trees is all well and good, it’s no substitute for what will be lost. Their plans — which let’s not forget are a condition of the scheme, not being delivered out of the goodness of their hearts — fall woefully short of replacing what will be lost on something being touted as a green infrastructure project.

“None of this new planting will replace the 30 hectares of ancient woodland destroyed on Phase 1 and the £2 million they are making available on Phase 2a as part of the woodland fund will not replace the 10.2 hectares of ancient woodland they are destroying there. “This is like smashing a Ming vase and replacing it with bargain basement crockery.”

In a related announcement on Monday, the British government confirmed a £2 million extension to the HS2 Woodland Fund, so it can cover Phase 2a of the railway, from the West Midlands to Crewe. The fund is designed to help landowners near to the route directly create new native, broadleaf woodlands and restore existing ancient woodland sites. This is in addition to the extensive “green corridor” plans and community funds that are already in place along the wider route.

Mark Thurston, CEO of HS2 Ltd, said: “I’m determined to ensure that HS2 also works for the environment and local communities. This starts by doing everything we can to reduce our environmental footprint and minimise the expected impact of our construction work. Longer-term, we’ll be leaving behind a network of new wildlife habitats, woodlands and community spaces, helping to create a lasting legacy along the route.”

Thurston said HS2 has already supported a range of community projects and created a series of new habitats, including planting over 230,000 trees.

HS2 Minister Nusrat Ghani said: “Our unique and beautiful countryside is one of our nation’s greatest assets. As we deliver the new high speed railway it is imperative we set a new standard for preserving, protecting and enhancing our diverse woodlands and wildlife. “HS2’s Green Corridor is one of the most significant tree-planting and habitat creation projects ever undertaken in this country.”

Meanwhile Doug Thornton, the former head of property at HS2 Ltd, has told the Sunday Times that he was put under “tremendous pressure to accede to an enormous deceit” and that the organisation may have “knowingly misled parliament” in covering up the fact they have under-estimated the cost of buying property along Phase 1 of the route by £1.9 billion, putting the actual cost 68 per cent over the official estimate. This comes in the same week that New Civil Engineer reported that the first set of contracts for building parts of the first Phase of HS2 have been estimated at £1.2 billion over the £6.6 billion target price, 18 per cent over budget.

Thornton said that the reason for the underestimation was that the reason for the underestimation was due to “rudimentary map-based analysis by interns”, which in the worst instance had valued land at Whittington Heath Golf Club as agricultural land worth less than £4,000, as opposed to the actual £40 milli