HS2 Phase 1 April 2016
Thank you for contacting me recently about the environmental impact of Phase 1 of HS2.
I support HS2 as I believe it will relieve capacity constraints on the rail network and improve connections between our towns and cities. I also believe it will bring vital economic benefits and help rebalance the economy between London and the rest of Britain. However, I appreciate that there are legitimate environmental concerns about HS2 and I agree that the environmental impacts must be mitigated effectively. When the last Labour Government set out its plans for HS2, it made it clear that the project must be delivered sustainably, without unacceptable environmental impacts.
When the Coalition Government published the High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill in 2013, it was accompanied by an Environmental Statement which identified likely environmental impacts along the route and measures to manage and reduce them. The Bill was also accompanied by environmental minimum requirements for HS2, which the current Government insist will be met. I welcome the fact that the route has been designed to avoid or reduce local environmental effects where possible, particularly around residential areas, historic buildings, conservation areas, sensitive habitats and areas of natural beauty.
The Government state that HS2 will be delivered with no net environmental loss and believe that environmental mitigation and compensation has been provided to compensate for the physical effects of the railway. The Government has also confirmed that 2 million trees will be planted as part of the mitigation in connection with Phase 1 of HS2.
High-speed rail offers some of the lowest carbon emissions per passenger-km, much lower than that of cars and planes, and I believe HS2 will therefore help us move towards a sustainable, low-carbon transport system which, over its lifetime, is projected to result in net carbon reductions from its operations.
However, I am concerned that the total cost of HS2 has now risen to over £55 billion and I believe the Government must get the costs under control. I am therefore pleased my Shadow Frontbench colleagues will continue to hold the Government to account on this. I believe that HS2 can bring great social, economic and environmental benefits to this country but that it must provide value for money and the benefits must be felt as widely as possible.
As I am sure you know, the Select Committee appointed to consider the High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill recently published its final report. The Government has said it will respond 'shortly'. In the meantime, the Bill is currently going through its Committee stage in the House of Commons. My Shadow Frontbench colleagues have committed to subject the Bill to line-by-line scrutiny and are pressing the Government to ensure that all concerns about the environmental impact of HS2 are given proper and full consideration.
Thank you once again for writing to me and for sharing your views.