HS2 planning: ‘How on earth is the public meant to make sense of this?’
Standing 2.7 metres tall and weighing a tonne, high-speed rail documents arrive for ‘bewildered’ councils to digest.
Spread over 12 large tables in the basement of County Hall in Aylesbury are 28,000 pages of plans for the proposed 350-mile (560km) high-speed railway planned to go from London to Birmingham and later north to Leeds.
Dozens of inch-thick volumes of data, maps, reports, drawings, references and calculations, including 400 pages of explanatory notes and the 400-page draft hybrid bill which went to parliament this week are strewn around. A further 33,000 pages of technical data have yet to arrive.
Together, a full set of the planning documents stands nearly 2.7 metres (9ft) tall, contains over 20m words and is said to weigh nearly a tonne.
“They were delivered this week”, says Rachel Prance, who works for Chiltern district council. “When we saw them arrive, it was ‘oh my God”. It is quite overwhelming. We’ve got 58 days to read it all and respond, which means we have to do something like 900 pages a day. We’re bewildered.
“Where do we start? How on earth is the public meant to make any sense of this?”.
For the first time, Buckinghamshire, which stands to get 40 miles of the line but no economic benefit, and the other 18 local authorities along the route, can see the precise detail of what would be Britain’s greatest civil engineering project in 100 years. Copies have been placed in libraries and town halls along the route.
Table 42, page 169 of Volume 3, 16.1.1, shows the railway will need 92m tonnes of earth to be excavated by 2025, 20m tonnes of concrete to be poured and 2m tonnes of steel. Volume 2 pinpoints where hundreds of bridges, 125 miles of cutting, 107 miles of embankment, 40 miles of viaduct and 50 miles of tunnels will be built; the 33 ancient woodlands that must be destroyed; the 1,180 buildings to be demolished and the 50sq km of farmland that will be lost.
It shows, too, that seven major rivers must be diverted and over 600 miles of security fence erected, along with town-size compounds to house thousands of construction workers and their machinery for up to 10 years.
“It will be one of the most complete transformations of the British landscape since Victorian times”, says Marcus Rogers, a planner who is advising Buckinghamshire.
“I have never seen anything like this before and I don’t think people in any way understand the impact it will have. It’s not possible to really assess it in the time we have been given. We need to dig into the 33,000 pages we have not seen to see their assumptions that government is working from”, he says.
“From a preliminary look, we don’t think that HS2 has used the proper methodology for noise impact, and may have exceeded World Health Organisation guidelines. I am also concerned that they have used national transport models and not referred to local ones.”
Nowhere on the route escapes transformation, the dossier suggests.
Volume 2: CFA20 Map Book, Map CT-06-112b, I6 shows that people living near the villages of Curdworth and Middleton in Warwickshire can expect new railway sidings, a mile-long cutting and embankment, a long viaduct, several bridges, tunnels, shafts, as well as one large main compound, 14 civil engineering satellite compounds and two railway installation compounds.
But they will lose only three farmhouses, along with 15 other houses and buildings.
James Richards, who offers donkey rides, horse riding and pony trekking from Dunton stables on the edge of Curdworth, says he has heard of the vast new dossier but not seen it.
“The line is not coming through the property although the services will. But it’s close enough to be dangerous. Horses don’t go with a construction site. It’s just not going to be practical to continue.
“All I know is that there will be one train every few seconds and the quicker they go goes the louder they will be. We will have to relocate but the question is the price”.
Curdworth primary school, which the map shows will be within a few hundred metres of the trains, says it is “unconcerned” about the noise or possible air pollution. “It’s not causing us any disturbance yet.
“It’s already pretty noisy with the M5 motorway [so] we don’t think it can get worse,” said a spokeswoman for the headteacher.
HS2 accepts there will be noise and visual impacts in the area but in Volume 2 it admits it rejected a 400-metre “green tunnel” near Middleton, because it would increase the cost of construction and operation.
Despite its size, some groups complained this week that the dossier did not have enough information.
“It might sound odd asking for more information … but there is still much that is missing if we are to be able to judge HS2 and decide whether the pain could ever be worth the gain,” said Ralph Smyth of the Campaign to Protect Rural England.
“Communities along the route desperately want to know details of the haul routes that convoys of HGVs will use to move heavy machinery and earth. They also want to know the maximum noise they will hear when trains pass. Yet there seems to be no more information beyond what we were given in May,” he said.
Remarkably, the dossier suggests that only around 2,000 people along the whole route will be seriously affected by train noise, and only a handful of houses in Aylesbury may need extra glazing.
“The map shows the noise will stop right on the edge of the houses. It stretches credulity. It means people will get no mitigation of any kind,” said Rogers.
“I would be amazed if anyone here has any idea what will happen. You see very little information about it”, said Lee Jones, a bank manager cleaning a car in Otway Close, near the open fields that will be turned to concrete.
In Camden, north London, where up to 400 council houses may be demolished and 60% of St James’ Gardens will be lost, the borough expects to suffer a decade of blight, noise and disruption.
“It’s going to be awful. I have seen the document in the library. I am definitely moving out before work starts and porperty prices plunge”, said Nora Francis, who lives about 400 metres from Euston station.
But at least one man is happy at the prospect of shaving 20 minutes off the journey time from London to the West Midlands. “High-speed rail cannot come soon enough for me,” said Sir Albert Bore, leader of Birmingham city council and transport lead for the Core Cities group.
“It will act as an engine of growth bringing thousands of jobs. It will free up much needed space on our crowded railways. [The hybrid bill] is another major milestone for Britain’s high-speed rail ambitions.”