Environmental Audit Committee report warns of cuts to environmental mitigation if construction costs spiral upwards
MPs have called on the government to give the £43bn HS2 a ring-fenced budget to finance environmental protection and mitigation measures amid fears they could get cut back if the scheme’s construction costs increase.
The legislation to authorise the first phase of the high-speed railway line, which runs from London to Birmingham, is due to receive its second reading in the House of Commons later this month.
Today, a report by the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, said that a ring-fenced environmental budget should be used to pay for measures that reduced the environmental impact of the scheme or provide separate compensatory measures.
Joan Walley, chair of the committee, said it was “imperative” that large scale infrastructure projects had “proper environmental safeguards” to ensure that “impacts were minimised”.
She added: “This means adopting stringent, enforceable standards and setting aside adequate funding.
“That won’t happen if HS2 Ltd can avoid implementing safeguards if they consider them to be ‘impracticable’ or ‘unreasonable’.
“There needs to be a separate ring-fenced budget for these safeguards and for compensation, separate from the rest of the HS2 budget, to prevent the environment being squeezed if HS2 costs grow.”
The report also said that the government needed to have greater ambition for the environmental goals of the project than simply to deliver “no net biodiversity loss”, as it has currently committed to.
The report said: “Where such biodiversity loss is genuinely unavoidable and cannot be mitigated, compensation measures should be applied to the fullest extent possible.”
The MPs also said the government had not conducted enough environmental surveys along the route to establish a biodiversity baseline from which to measure the project’s impact. It added that survey should be completed “as soon as possible”.
An HS2 Ltd spokesperson said the project already had higher environmental standards “than for any other project of such a significant scale”.
“The committee has acknowledged that the aim of ‘no net biodiversity loss’ is a challenging one. There may be opportunities to achieve a net gain as the project develops and these will be considered fully.
“HS2 Ltd acknowledges the need to complete the outstanding protected species surveys as soon as possible and this work continues. We share the committee’s regret than some landowners have refused access for environmental surveys and hope they will now grant this access.”