HS2 Bill Amendment 10

Amendment 10 is a pretty good amendment and something to work towards, even if it is not accepted today. It would require a report every six months rather than annually; “indirect impacts” are explicitly mentioned; and it would require a report to Parliament by the Secretary of State, with a four-week consultation period, rather than no consultation at all.

Explaining why Amendment 10 is better than the Amendment the Government have backed

My Lords, I find myself in the slightly unusual position of introducing an amendment that I did not have anything to do with. I signed up to support the noble Baroness, Lady Young, on this, and about 10 minutes later she told me that she was withdrawing her name because she had been made an offer that she could not refuse from the Minister. I am carrying on with the amendment because it is an exceptionally good one. The Minister has already written to everybody saying that the Government will accept Amendment 13, but it is worth describing the difference between the two amendments.

Amendment 10 is a pretty good amendment and something to work towards, even if it is not accepted today. There are three main differences between the two amendments: first, Amendment 10 would require a report every six months, while in Amendment 13, the reporting would be annual; secondly, “indirect impacts” are explicitly mentioned in Amendment 10, while there is no mention of them in Amendment 13; thirdly, Amendment 10 would require a report to Parliament by the Secretary of State, with a four-week consultation period, while Amendment 13 would require no consultation at all.

On six-monthly reporting versus annual reporting: six-monthly reporting would obviously allow closer observation of what exactly is going on. You could follow issues as they arise, as opposed to trying to mop them up, say, a year later. It also allows lessons to be learned, which is not always easy, and would allow those lessons to be learned quickly and before the same season of works starts the following year. That would be quite a big bonus. Also, the report would be to Parliament itself.

HS2 Ltd does not formally recognise the indirect impacts of the development on ancient woodland. I had to find out exactly what “indirect impacts” means. It is the sort of the thing that would be near any construction site, such as dust, debris, light, noise and that sort of thing – the sort of thing that nobody, whether human, animal or insect, likes near them. In fact, it has quite an impact on ancient woodland. It disturbs bats, nesting birds and all sorts of creatures that like the dark and thrive in it.

The ancient tree strategies contain lists of the woods directly affected, but no such list exists for the woods that HS2 considers indirectly affected. The Government’s forestry policy document, Keepers of Time, explicitly recognises the need for indirect effects to be identified. For HS2 not to do this is very concerning.

Furthermore, correspondence between HS2 and Natural England in 2014 clearly showed that Natural England considered that HS2 Ltd had failed to assess adequately the indirect impact of the original scheme on ancient woodland. The Woodland Trust has kept a list of the woods that it considers indirectly affected; it gave this information to HS2 Ltd in every consultation response that it sent. It allows comparison between what is happening on the ground and what is being proposed by HS2.

Current analysis shows that 10 ancient woodlands will be directly affected by the phase 2a works and that further ancient woodlands will be indirectly affected; in phase 1, there were about 29 in that category. Each of these woods has been assessed on a case-by-case basis and not by drawing an arbitrary line on a map, as HS2 Ltd has done. Sufficient clarity on this would enable further assessment of whether the project is proceeding as planned or is in fact more environmentally damaging than HS2 Ltd admits.

By not publicly accepting that some ancient woodlands are indirectly affected, it is impossible to have an open conversation with HS2 Ltd about these woods and what measures it could put in place to ameliorate, minimise or eliminate the damage that it might be doing. Amendment 10 would enable that conversation to happen and would clearly demonstrate the wider impact of this scheme on both the natural environment and, potentially, humans.

Finally, after the report to Parliament, a four-week consultation period would enable any new and troubling developments to be given an airing so that they could be addressed and reported on in further reports. It would also provide an official mechanism for the centralised collection of public information about what the works look like on the ground compared to what was written in the various environmental statements. At present, this information is gathered in an ad hoc fashion, making it difficult to obtain a clear and accurate picture.

Overall, Amendment 10 is stricter, clearer and – I think – more likely to be accepted by the general public, who do actually worry about bats, nesting birds and insects. And they do worry about the impact dust, debris and general construction mess has on their immediate environment and on ancient woodlands. I beg to move.

Forced to withdraw Amendment 10 for lack of support

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate, which has been quite interesting for me as well. I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, that I am absolutely thrilled to be left holding the baby. It is a beautiful baby and I am honoured to do so.

I found the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst, to be appalling. I was quite staggered to hear him say things like we must not be held prisoners of the past. Images came to mind of students pulling down statues of slave owners and I wonder if he supports those as well. It is absolutely fantastic if he does. He made comments about how the railway must be straight. It does if trains are going at 250 miles an hour, which is the planned speed for it. Of course, the railway will not do that at first—it will be 225 mph or something—but is still exponentially far less environmentally friendly at that sort of speed. Yes, it has to be a straight railway line because it cannot go around corners, which means that the line will go through a lot of extremely valuable land.

Both the noble Lord, Lord Haselhurst, and the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, talked about replacement trees. I congratulate them on wanting replacement trees, but there is also the fact that in the drought of summer 2018, tens of thousands of trees that HS2 Ltd had planted died. It said that it was cheaper to replace them than to water then, which means that 89,000 trees died and were replaced with, again, small trees. 

What is needed as a replacement is large trees; if you have to keep replacing them, you will keep on getting small trees. I would argue that HS2 is not entirely reliable about planting its trees.

As usual, the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, was extremely kind to me, apart from the comment about my short fuse, which is sadly true. I am glad that he likes Amendment 10, which is a credit from him and I thank him for it. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, on planting hardwoods instead of pines. I am not sure that I liked his description of Amendment 10 as “well intentioned and harmless”. I would like to think it is tough and radical. I also congratulate him on pronouncing my name correctly, which many Peers do not.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, talked about the rich ecosystem that exists in ancient woods. That is the whole point: it is difficult, if not impossible, to replicate that when such biospheres are very precious. This is not just about preserving the past; it is about making sure that our whole environment stays healthy. Sometimes we do not know, until we have lost them, what the precious things we have do overall. I am also glad that she talked about wetlands and meadows, which of course are just as important. Had there been amendments concerning them, I would have supported them fully.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, congratulated the noble Baroness, Lady Young, on her incredibly important work on this. I thank the Minister. It was good that she talked about direct and indirect impacts. That was valuable, but I am not clear how the lessons learned will be dealt with by the Government and am not sure if the Minister is able to let us know. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 10.

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