The RSPB believes that essential major infrastructure can be developed in harmony with nature - that’s why we work hard with government, local authorities and developers to make sure new schemes avoid damaging our most important wildlife wherever possible, mitigate as much as possible and compensate, if doable, for any unavoidable damage. In the climate and ecological emergency we really need all developers to step up and show some leadership.
We’ve been working with HS2 Ltd since the outset to do this. But with every passing stage they have ignored much of our advice and the scheme has descended into an example of worst, rather than best, practice.
Last year we reviewed our position on HS2 in light of our experience and came out in public opposition.
Given all this, we were disappointed not just with the Government's decision to proceed with HS2, but also with the wild claims that it will be an environmentally leading scheme. As an organisation with long experience of ensuring nature-friendly development and given our experience with HS2, we feel it is our responsibility to make it clear that the scheme, as currently stands is a million miles away from this.
We remain committed to making all developments adhere to best practice. The Department for Transport wrote to us on the day of the Government's announcement explaining the decision and asking for our feedback, we spent time considering how to respond.
Earlier this week we sent them our response.
Our letter, which is attached here, sets out our disappointment with the current scheme, our experience of working with HS2, and sets out the major changes to the scheme which would be required to make it the leading scheme promised. If they are able to commit to these changes, in writing, then we are willing to work with government, HS2 ltd and others to make the most for nature.
But if the scheme cannot meet these conditions, then we do not believe HS2 can be referred to as ‘a leading scheme’ and our opposition will remain.
Many of the points in the letter are very sound - HS2 Ltd must be held to the highest standards for infrastructure projects; and all opportunities to improve rather than destroy habitat must be taken. However, I disagree with the conclusion of the letter - that RSPB will not co-operate with HS2 further. The railway will be built; and when accompanied by sensible wider transport policies to encourage modal shift from car and air, will form an essential part of a very low CO2 transport future.
RSPB should continue to engage positively with HS2 Ltd. At the same time it must raise its game in campaigning against other forces which are causing much greater habitat loss than a twin-track railway is going to cause, with no compensating CO2 benefit at all such as road expansion, out-of-town housing development and bad farming practice.
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