Full Chilterns tunnel is not only environmentally sound but would shave at least £500m off HS2 budget

This Monday, the Chilterns Conservation Board and Conserve the Chilterns and Countryside (CCC) jointly published an authoritative report to highlight the non market impacts of the Government’s proposal for a partial tunnel through the Chilterns AONB, compared with their alternative proposal to use an extended tunnel which vastly negates the environmental impact of HS2.

Image: Steve Mulligan

L to R: Dr James Cooper, Lord Stevenson, Cheryl Gillan MP, Ray Payne (CCB) and Stephanie Boston (CCC)
Steve Mulligan

The report was launched at an event in Portcullis House, hosted by the Chilterns MP and long-term opponent of HS2, Rt Hon Cheryl Gillan MP. She was joined on a panel of speakers which included Labour’s Lord Stevenson of Balmacara,   Ray Payne, Chair of the Chilterns Conservation Board of Conserve the Chilterns, and our very own Head of Government Affairs Dr James Cooper. 

Ray Payne talked through the reports methodology as well as highlighting its key findings. He noted that by adopting a fully bored tunnel that only 6 square km of the AONB would be affected by the route, compared to 45 square km under current plans.  As a result –

  • 0 ha of Ancient woodland would be effected, compared to 9.6ha lost
  • 20ha of agricultural land would be lost, compared to 250ha
  • 1 dwelling would be lost, compared to 143 dwellings lost or damaged

The report’s analysis of comparative impacts demonstrates that tunnelling under the Chilterns would cost half as much as a track above ground when the impact on ancient woodland, tourism, the local economy, agriculture, property and health is taken into account. When these are factored in they add between £500m and £750m to the HS2 budget.  The report concludes that the when “non-market effects” are taken into account then the Chilterns alternative tunnel proposal is both economically rigorous and “cost neutral”.

Both Cheryl Gillan MP and Lord Stevenson gave very emotional speeches, where they both talked about the negative impact of HS2 on local Chiltern’s communities and on the countryside they cherish. These views were fully endorsed by Stephanie Boston, a founder of Conserve the Chilterns, who talked about the key remit and rationale of their group and why she felt the report should make a difference in helping them present a credible case.  The Woodland Trust’s James Cooper was the final speaker and reaffirmed our intention to fight for the 67 ancient woodlands under threat by HS2, as well as endorsing the study as an important contribution to the HS2 debate, linking it to the Treasury’s work on Natural Capital.

Following the debate was a lively Q&A where former Defra Secretary of State, Caroline Spelman MP, made a number of useful interventions, including noting her warm support for the Woodland Trust’s stance on Biodiversity Offsetting. She noted that if Government closely followed our proposed hierarchy then it could be a powerful tool to ensure that woodland and other habitats lost or damaged by HS2 could be appropriately compensated, as well as rightfully stating that ancient woodland was irreplaceable by its very nature.   

The panel also discussed the public response to the report by Ben Ruse of HS2 Ltd, who noted to the media that the estimates “smack of guff and nonsense”. The overall feeling from the panel was that this is an innapropriate comment from somebody paid to  represent the Government.

I will end this blog by noting that both groups must be commended for producing an excellent addition to the evidence base for HS2, which contributes to the wider debate on the need to value the environment when assessing major transport and infrastructure developments. We will certainly be positioning this with politicians as we continue to engage them with our concerns on HS2. 

Judge for yourselves by reading the full report.

Steve Mulligan, Government Affairs Officer


About Kay Haw

Assistant Conservation Adviser, Woodland Trust. Nature is my passion, especially woods and trees which are just amazing elements of life. One day (soon) I hope we humans learn to work in harmony with Mother Earth.
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4 Responses to Full Chilterns tunnel is not only environmentally sound but would shave at least £500m off HS2 budget

  1. michael barton says:

    Down here in Kent we might be a bit more supportive of HS2 as we have got a lot of compensation for disruption (ref Caroline Spiel’s pragmatic support for “proposed hierarchy”). Let WT and others site “Cobham and Ashenbank Management Group” on HS1 and the millions of environmental compensation we got in North Kent as well as the first decent railway link since the 1850’s.. How many HS2 objectors (the less pragmatic) bothered to investigate HS1, delivered on time on budget or come to see us here – beware however, we are not so rich as those in the Cotswolds and sometimes we vote Labour – like Lincolnshire !!!!!

  2. Derek West says:

    Yes the Chilterns would be protected by this proposed tunnel,but what about the rest of the route,
    HS2 is ill conceived and should be scrapped.

  3. Rwthless says:

    The whole project is over expensive, does not make use of a disused route (via Lapworth) that exists already and the money would be better spent on overall infrastructure. The Chilterns would be better off, with this tunnel, but Crackley Wood in Warwickshire would still be under threat and if it is built would never be the same again. All to save 20 minutes off the journey to London. Why can’t people just get up 20 minutes earlier? That would save even more money.

    This palliative suggestion is intended to divide and weaken the opposition to the project. Don’t give in to it.

  4. Peter Kyte says:

    It could also save the taxpayer millions in compulsory purchase orders and court costs.

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