HS2 boss Sir David Higgins today saw with his own eyes the areas which will directly suffer thanks to the proposed £50bn high speed rail line.
Sir David, who took on the mantle of HS2 executive chairman in March this year, took up the invite from Aylesbury MP David Lidington and this morning met with locals in Wendover, Stoke Mandeville and Aylesbury to speak face-to-face about their fears.
He said: “I’d spoken to David and committed to coming up here and looking on the ground at areas which are most affected by HS2.
“We’re looking at continuing the work we’re doing with the communities to understand and look at the different methods of mitigation.
“I think on national infastructure projects which have a national role, there are always communities that are impacted and there are different ways of how communities are compensated, be it by land compensation or by environmental mitigation and it is always a case of striking a balance.”
He visited some of the areas most affected by HS2, including London Road, St Mary’s Church, Bacombe Lane and Ellesborough Road in Wendover; the Old Risborough Road in Stoke Mandeville and several roads just 150m from the line on the edge of the Hawkslade and Fairford Leys estates in Aylesbury.
He stood where 200mph trains could be thundering past less than every two minutes by 2026.
Mitigation discussed include planting trees to buffer noise, temporary link road construction to ease traffic congestion and the reinstatement of amenities such as golf courses, football pitches and playing fields that will be carved up by the line.
When asked whether the project’s hefty cost could be justified, Sir David said: “Our railway lines are very old – no new railways have been built for more than 100 years, and this is the first national railway.
“Other countries in Europe are decades ahead of us in building national infastructure. Getting through the Chilterns has always been a challenge, right back to the Roman days.
“It is obviously a route chosen by Chiltern Railways, the National Grid goes through here as do a number of A roads, but this issue is when we get closer to communities and clearly it’s about striking a balance.
“What today is all about is me seeing on the ground the result of the designers, engineers and community consultations.”
Following the tour, Mr Lidington said: “I’m pleased David agreed to come and was happy to meet people who are at the sharp end.
“It has left me in no doubt that these residents know what they’re talking about – they are the ones who have researched it and they know the detail.
“David was given some direct but courteous messages, and while the meeting hasn’t made me love HS2, it has been good to talk in detail about the effects.
“I’m sure we can work out a way to handle the construction better, and we need very strict plans put in place to minimise the impact of that on the local communities.
“David has said he was very impressed by the people he met today, and I feel he is very competent and capable as the man in charge.”
> To mitigate the effects on stately home Hartwell House, the line was moved closer to houses on Oat Close, Hawkslade. Some of these homes are just 150m away from where trains will zoom past up to every two minutes. Stoke Mandeville Parish Council vice chairman David Starr suggested that a false cutting or concrete tunnel should be built to lessen the noise impact, but was told that the cost of constructing a tunnel was five times that of building on flat ground.
> Standing on the spot in Olld Risborough Road where the 200mph trains will hurtle past, parish council chairman Jenny Hunt spoke of her concern over the ruined 11th century church in an ajacent field. She said: “There are between 1,800 to 2,000 burials there – some of which are the ancestors of people in the village. If it were to be moved, we feel it should be this side of the tracks in the village.” Sir David Higgins assured her that any humans remains found would be dealt with sensitively.
> Golf lovers will be upset that the tracks are due to plough straight through the Aylesbury Park Golf Course and playing fields in Fairford Leys on an embankment up to 4m high, but HS2 bosses said the residents’ proposition of a land bridge probably wouldn’t be viable because it would destroy a lot of mature foilage which would take a long time to grow back.
Local resident Andy Cole said: “Ideally we’d like the land bridge or the planting of a huge forest to act as a barrier between the line and our homes, and ideally it would be made into a bit of a feature for residents – a nature reserve or something.
“We don’t want it to happen, but if it’s got to, we want the best mitigation we can get.”
> When the line construction gets under way, between 710 and 730 HGVs will trundle through the Oxford Road and Churchill Avenue junction in Aylesbury each day, giving the already damaged road surface an even bigger battering. The building work is expected to take 13 months, and the construction traffic will add to the already congested roads between 8am and 6pm. HS2 bosses said that, if residents felt strongly enough, the road surface could be replaced as part of the mitigation.
> The noise from the high speed rail line is set to impact the quaint St Mary’s Church on London Road in Wendover, where the line is due to pass just 150m from the graveyard.
MP David Lidington said: “There is going to be a significant impact on this concert venue, which draws some notable ensembles. The community has spent a considerable amount of time doing it up.”
Chairman of the Wendover Society Mike Beard said: “The church sees 15,000 people a year at social and educational events, and 13,000 who come to pray.
“We have around 30,000 visitors each year and it seats up to 300. The next biggest church in the town only seats about half that.”