I recently received the below letter from Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, concerning the revocation of the regional strategy for the South East of England Plan. I warmly welcome this announcement which means that the top down Central Government targets for house building will be scrapped. It will give more responsibility to elected local councillors to decide how much development we need and where it should take place.
Archive for the ‘Chilterns (AONB)’ Category
A letter from Eric Pickles concerning the revocation of the regional strategy for the South East of England PlanFebruary 14, 2013
I recently wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport on behalf of a number of constituents concerning what legislation requires there to be an evacuation facility if HS2 was placed in a full bore tunnel through the Chilterns as HS2 have indicated is required. I have now received a reply and have enclosed a copy of my letter below. For those constituents who wish to view the relevant legislation it can be found here. I believe the relevant information can be found on page 10 of the pdf file.
I spent Friday in Kent looking first-hand at the impact that the Channel Tunnel High Speed rail route had had there. I travelled to Ashford with the Managing Director of Southeastern, the rail company that operates the local rail services serving the whole of Kent. In the county, I met parish councillors from two villages beside which HS1 was built, local campaigners fromk the Ebbsfleet/Gravesham area, Kent County Councillors and KCC officers, including planners who had been closely involved in coping with the railway’s construction and operation. I also stood right by the HS1 route while both a local fast service and a Eurostar train passed.
Inevitably, one day can only give you a brief impression of what people in Kent went through and live with now. To start with, there are two major differences between HS1 and the proposed HS2. First, Kent actually has stations – at Ashford and Ebbsfleet- and not just the Eurostar services but fast local services run along the HS1 tracks. So there are some benefits to local people in terms of better services to be weighed against the adverse impact. Second, for most of its length HS1 runs alongside a six-lane motorway. There is simply no comparison between that and the Misbourne Valley route. To label them equally as “transport corridors” is risible.
Southeastern told me that they now had more passengers from towns like Ashford and Folkestone using the high speed services than using the conventional trains, despite a 20 per cent fare premium for the high speed option. They argued that passengers were willing to pay the extra because they valued the time saved from the daily commute and the opportunities that that gave to them for leisure and family life. I challenge them as to whether this meant that they were providing a rich man’s service. They denied this, arguing that their trains were used by people on average incomes too. In don’t know whether there are published figures to show the number of passengers from different income groups. The local campaigners and parish councillors were more sceptical about the transport benefits. they said that the Department for Transport’s original predictions of passenger numbers and revenue had not come close to being fulfilled and said that they resented paying through taxes and higher fares for a line that only a minority of the county’s population used.
It was difficult to gauge the noise impact, in large part because the proximity of the motorway inevitably dulled the impact of train noise. While the noise from the two trains that I observed was less intrusive and shorter in duration than I had expected, those trains were shorter and travelling more slowly (140mph for the local service and 180 mph for Eurostar) than is predicted for HS2 (250 mph). Local campaigners said that while noise barriers did work pretty well, out in open country with no noise barrier the impact was much greater. To my mind this reinforced the need for detailed and reliable noise maps to be available for study and comment before any final decision is taken on HS2.
I saw a cut and cover tunnel at the edge of one village. Visually, I would not immediately have known that there was a tunnel there had I not been expecting it. The village road had been reinstated over the top of the tunnel and the depth of the topsoil layer meant that oak trees were now growing on top of the structure. However, the parish councillor from that village said that construction had meant disruption, temporary road closures and diversions and a lot of dust over a couple of years. He also said that compensation had been ungenerous and taken far too long to get settled. Kent County Council briefed me about rescue archaeology along the route and on how some historic buildings had been dismantled and relocated.
In terms of lessons learned, Kent CC said that with hindsight they would have engaged earlier over the issue of overhead gantries, which were visually very intrusive, and tried to get the DfT to waive its normal rules about safety barriers on bridges. It was the inflexible imposition of these rules that had left a number of country lanes looking permanently suburbanised, when there was no objective need for large concrete barriers in such locations. One of the things that had worked well was the establishment of an environmental fund, financed by central government and administered by an independent trust, that could give local groups grants to finance local environmental projects.
What came across from all the conversations I had is that that people in Kent, whether officials, councillors or grass-roots campaigners are happy to share their experiences with colleagues in Buckinghamshire. They too had to go through the experience of learning very quickly about a range of technical issues and drawing on their knowledge may help Bucks constituents in their campaign.
This study was mentioned in a lot of this morning’s broadcast media but was not, when I checked, available on Network Rail’s web site. However, a journalist has kindly emailed me a copy which I have posted here.
Some time ago a constituent contacted me regarding DEFRA’s policy towards Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and how this relates to HS2 (see my blog post of 15 June entitled ‘HS2 and DEFRA’s Policies towards AONBs‘). I wrote to Richard Benyon, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at DEFRA, to pass on my constituent’s concerns.
My letter was passed on to the Department for Transport for a response, and I have now received one from Norman Baker MP, who is a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State there. A copy can be seen below.
Back in June a local conservation officer told me that he had been unable to obtain a figure from HS2 Ltd for the total land-take associated with Route 3 in the Chilterns area (see my blog post of 17 June). Given that it is an officially recognised Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, I found this disconcerting, and wrote to the chief executive of HS2 Ltd about the matter.
I have now received a reply, and have posted copies of the relevant correspondence below. Naturally I am frustrated that a numerical figure is not available.
I have written to the Commissioner of Transport for London to pass on the concerns of a constituent regarding the number of additional passengers who will use Euston Mainline and Underground Stations if HS2 goes ahead. My constituent is worried that the volume of additional people will cause congestion to what can already be a busy station. A copy of the letter can be viewed below, and I will post the response when it arrives.
As I mentioned in my blog-post of 6 June, the ’51m Group’ represents the thirteen councils that have come together to challenge the evidence about the HS2 project. They are known as ’51m’ because that represents how much they claim HS2 will cost each Parliamentary Constituency if it is built (£51million). The group want to emphasise the impact this proposed scheme will have on every taxpayer in the country for years to come.
The group has now written a letter to Philip Hammond regarding the consultation process for HS2, and I thought that it might be helpful to place a copy of their letter on this web-site (see below).
A number of constituents have written to me about the alternative route for high speed rail which was developed by the engineering and planning consultancy, Arup. The Department for Transport has not yet published the full details of this route, which could help people answer question five of the public consultation on HS2, which asks whether they “agree that the Government’s proposed route… is the best option for a new high speed rail line between London and the West Midlands”.
One constituent sent me a copy of a document he obtained from the National Archives, which was published by Arup in April 2010, and which has had several sections blanked out.
I have written to Philip Hammond to seek his comments, and to ask him to clarify whether his Department will publish the full details of the Arup route. A copy can be seen below.