After sitting for 12 months on a detailed proposal submitted by Cubbington Action Group against HS2 for a modified route causing less damage to the local environment, HS2 Ltd has ruled that the Group’s alternative “does not provide value for money” and “is not recommended for the current scheme”. However it has become clear, to the fury of the Action Group’s representatives, that the scheme costed by HS2 Ltd is not the one that the Group submitted, but a far more expensive substitute devised by the HS2 engineers. At the same time as this attempt to reduce the environmental impact of the scheme has been rejected, the design engineers working for HS2 Ltd are making money-saving changes that will worsen the impact on Cubbington.
In May 2012 Cubbington Action Group submitted a detailed proposal showing how a relatively short bored tunnel under South Cubbington Wood could avoid the extensive damage to the ancient woodland that would be caused by the HS2 Ltd design. The Group were promised by HS2 Ltd that the proposal would be subjected to a clear, rigorous and open ‘sift process’ through which alternative options for mitigation would be developed and evaluated based upon a list of criteria encompassing engineering, environmental, economic and financial factors. The Group has continually been promised that we would have the opportunity to see and discuss all of the comparative data related to the different options prior to decisions taking place.
Despite these assurances, at a meeting last month representatives of the Action Group were advised that the tunnel had been estimated to add £500 million to the cost of the scheme and had been ruled out on the grounds that it did not “provide value for money”. No evidence to back this cost estimate was provided, and it was clear that no attempt had been made to subject the proposal to the promised “clear, rigorous and open sift process”.
Even worse, it became apparent in response to questioning from the Action Group representatives that the cost estimate given did not relate to the 1.2 km long tunnel that the action group had proposed, but to a 7.8 km tunnel running all the way from the northern part of Cubbington to the tunnel planned under Long Itchington Wood. This longer tunnel, the result of an unsolicited exercise by HS2 Ltd engineers, explains the ten-fold increase in cost over the original estimate of £50-60 million made in the submission by the Cubbington Action Group.
The HS2 Ltd representatives at the April meeting were unable to provide a cost estimate for the original tunnel proposal and have failed to rectify this omission since.
Peter Delow, Chairman of the Cubbington Action Group against HS2, commented:
“Our submission was quite clear about what we were requesting, and there can be no excuse for HS2 Ltd misinterpreting our proposal. It is clear that HS2 Ltd has treated us to a twelve month trip along the garden path. What has happened is at best incompetence on the part of HS2 Ltd and, at worst, amounts to blatant duplicity; I’m very much afraid that I incline to the latter interpretation. We have tried very hard to work with HS2 Ltd in the interests of achieving a design that will minimise the environmental impacts in Cubbington. It has been clear for some time that HS2 Ltd is not interested in working with local community representatives in this way – a view which is amply illustrated by this tunnel fiasco.”
This latest indication of HS2 Ltd bad faith comes at a time when local community representatives are becoming increasing alarmed at a “salami-slicing” approach that has been adopted by HS2 Ltd to raise the trackbed height across virtually the whole of the route through Cubbington as the result of a money-saving exercise. In the worse case, the trackbed height is now over eight metres higher than it was at the time of the 2011 public consultation.
Peter Delow observed:
“In the worst affected location, between South Cubbington Wood and Rugby Road, the cutting is now so shallow that the tops of the power cable supports protrude above ground level and it will be necessary to raise the Rugby Road up on an embankment to provide sufficient clearance for the trains to pass underneath. It is clear that, as far as HS2 Ltd is concerned, cost is now the only consideration and that the environmental effects have no significance.”
Notes to editors:
- The document describing the tunnel proposal that was submitted to HS2 Ltd may be downloaded here