HS2 has defended its assessment of the megaproject’s environmental impact after campaigners said there were “fundamental flaws” in the way it was calculated.
A report from a group of charities known as The Wildlife Trusts found that the metric HS2 uses to assess the scheme’s impact on nature – called ‘no net loss’ was “untested, out of date and fundamentally flawed”, while the value of its compensation measures had been overstated.
The campaigners calculated that for Phase 1 of the project – from London to the West Midlands – there would be at least 17 per cent less nature after construction than there was before building work started, compared with the 2.6 per cent loss estimated by HS2.
The construction of Phase 2a – from Fradley in the West Midlands to Crewe in Cheshire – would see a reduction in nature of at least 42 per cent, they said, well above the 17.01 per cent estimated by HS2.
The report alleged that watercourses, ponds and trees had been missed out of the data, and that well-established hedgerows, which provide berries, shelter and nesting places for wildlife, had been given a lower nature value than the new hedgerows that HS2 intended to plant.
The scale of errors meant HS2 should provide far higher compensation than the amount offered to date because the potential damage to biodiversity had been seriously underestimated, the group added.
It called on the company to pause construction and recalculate the total loss to nature as a matter of urgency before it was too late to change the scheme.
“HS2 Ltd must stop using a deeply flawed method to calculate the value of nature affected by the construction of the route,” said Dr Rachel Giles, evidence and planning manager at Cheshire Wildlife Trust and author of the report.
“It is astonishing that a flagship infrastructure project is able to use a metric which is untested and not fit for purpose.
“HS2 Ltd should urgently recalculate the total loss to nature, by re-evaluating existing biodiversity along the entire route while there is still time to change the scheme’s design and delivery.”
But HS2 said it did not recognise the figures or believe them to be reliable.
“The Wildlife Trusts have undertaken limited desk research and have not accessed huge areas of land for undertaking ecological survey, in contrast to the ecologists who have compiled HS2’s data,” said a spokesperson.
Independent experts from Natural England consulted on HS2’s methodology, which was rigorously assessed by a team of professional ecologists and the data shared with the independent Ecological Review Group, she added.
“We’re committed to reviewing our assessment methodology on an ongoing basis and intend to align more closely with the government’s biodiversity metric once it is published in the coming months,” she said.
As well as planting seven million trees and creating over 33,000 square metres of new habitats in Phase 1, HS2 continued to minimise loss through design refinements, such as its recent 30 per cent reduction of the impact on ancient woodlands in Phase 1, the spokesperson added.
The UK’s high-speed railway line, HS2, is facing criticism over its environmental assessment. According to the independent panel set up to review the project’s impacts, the plans are “fundamentally deficient”.
HS2 is intended to reduce the journey time between London and the north of England, and is estimated to cost £108 billion. Its environmental assessment was completed in 2020, but the panel of experts, who were asked by the government to conduct an independent review, reports that the assessment was flawed, failing to fully consider the potential long-term impacts of the project.
The panel particularly criticised the “unnecessarily complex” approach taken to conducting the assessment, which resulted in long delays and the lack of consideration for other environmental issues beyond the traditional assessment criteria.
“We believe that the impacts of HS2 and associated works on the environment and biodiversity across England must be fully, effectively and accurately assessed,” explains the panel’s chair Professor Jon Day. “What was lacking in the assessment was a proper focus on health and wellbeing, wellbeing, cumulative impacts and knowledge of natural systems.”
In response, a spokesman for HS2 Ltd said that it takes its environmental responsibilities seriously, had “incorporated feedback” from the panel, and that “All future assessments would go further than the one which came before.”
Going forward, it is essential that the HS2 project is scrutinised carefully to ensure that it meets the highest standards possible. Environmental impact assessments such as these are critical to helping ensure that development projects are sustainable and beneficial for the environment, long into the future. The UK government must ensure that the issues identified by the panel are prioritised, and that HS2’s environmental assessment is improved and fit for purpose.