CAMPAIGNERS will have to wait until the new year to find out if HS2 will go ahead – because the coalition wants to know if it can build a £500 million tunnel under the Chilterns as a suspected ‘sweetener’.
The final decision was expected this month, but has been put back by Justine Greening while a feasibility study is undertaken to see if a tunnel could minimise the line’s impact on the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Martin Tett, leader of Bucks County Council and chairman of the 51m group of 18 councils that oppose HS2, said: “There’s no evidence yet where the £500 million is to come from, nor do we know who will suffer as a result.
“The proposed HS2 route does irreparable harm not only to the Chilterns AONB, but to towns, villages and beautiful countryside all along the route.
“This would bring immediate benefits at a time of austerity, when investing in UK infrastructure is imperative.
“We need to spend on a decent transport infrastructure for the entire country – not sink every spare penny into one superfluous rail line.
Chairman and social media director of Stop HS2, Penny Gaines, of Quainton, said: “Justine Greening told the Transport Select Committee she intended to make a rational decision about HS2.
“It looks like she is delaying the decision, but meanwhile her officials are scrabbling round looking for a way to buy off a few people in the Chilterns.
“We hope that she realises that opposition to HS2 is because the project is a bad project for the nation.”
Shirley Judges, Stop HS2 director and chairman of the Great Missenden HS2 Action group, said: “As far as the AONB is concerned this proposal makes things very much worse.
“We know that the greatest damage and disruption will be at tunnel entrances – materials and equipment depots, massive caravan sites for the work force. If the tunnel is extended by 1.5 miles the entrance and associated devastation will no longer be on the southern border of the AONB, it will be right inside it.”
Mike Fox, Chairman of the Chilterns Conservation Board, said: “The damage that would be caused by HS2 would be massive, so we welcome the secretary of state for transport’s decision to delay her announcement on whether it will go ahead or not.
“This will give much-needed time for the government to reflect on the enormous number of objections submitted by people across the UK to this very costly project.”
A longer tunnel north of Amersham is a better option than excavating deep cuttings, but the rail line will still run across the surface for 8 miles through the Chilterns AONB.
“The scale of environmental damage to this nationally-protected area would still be huge and unacceptable.”
Steve Rodrick, chief officer at the board, added: “We recognise the government’s attempts to ensure the national protection given to an AONB means something.
“A longer tunnel, whilst welcome, would make little overall difference to the environmental impact of the railway which will still consume huge amounts of energy and damage many, many important sites for wildlife.
“The conservation board still believes that there is no sound case for building HS2.”