HS2

HS2 article written by Tom Walsh, Chairman of WPC

HS2 is once again a major talking point in Wendover. The monstrous structures that have been shown to you all are completely wrong for the AONB. I hope that you will get involved in helping us to stop them.

I think that this is a good time to update everyone on the Parish Councils HS2 activities. After all if HS2 is to be the subject of debate, that debate should be an informed one.

 

The Latest

On the 4th of September 2018 David Lidington MP hosted a meeting between Wendover PC (WPC), Stoke Manderville PC and Nusrat Ghani MP the minister responsible for HS2.

We and Stoke Manderville had a fair hearing from the Minister.

I did find her likeable, with a lively interest in her subject and I’d suggest that she is a leader. Her DfT sides-men were not referred to or leaned on at all.

The points that suited her narrative, ie HS2 are poor at engagement, HS2 are misleading and obstructive, were well received. Not a lot of love for HS2 Ltd at the DfT I’d guess.

Our tunnel proposal didn’t seem to be of as much interest though.

 

Building Wendover’s Case

I started out explaining the idea that Wendover has already been helpful to the project with our pragmatic approach to local issues such as..

Hydrogeology: Wendover PC identified the scale of the groundwater issue from the outset. We informed the Main Works Contractor (EK) of our fears and they have dismissed HS2 Ltd’s Ground Investigation (GI) data and instigating a more thorough research programme.

Ground Condition: We knew that HS2 Ltd. had misunderstood the true condition of the chalk around Wendover. Much of the arisings from excavation is likely to be unusable as fill in other areas of the project. The new GI program will quantify this problem.

Noise. The HS2 Ltd noise modelling is no more. EK have nearly completed a more accurate assessment and the noise mitigation for Wendover will be designed from this new data set.

Slab Track: The original HS2 Ltd. design called for a traditional, ballasted, railway construction method. As predicted, they will probably need to use a precast concrete system to support the rails. This may affect costs and noise models.

The A413: The WPC has always taken the view that the A413 wasn’t up to the challenge posed by a mass haul scheme of the scale of HS2’s proposed construction. EK seem to agree with us and are planning to move as much of the materials along the “trace”. Off road along the line of the railway.

The proposed viaduct at Small Dean presents another problem. With the massive housing growth proposed for the Vale, and for regions beyond that rely on the A413 at Wendover to link them to the rest of the country, the viaduct is bad news. The proposed design sits so close to the carriage way that the road can never be widened. This will damage the economic and social viability of our region while London and Birmingham benefit.

We have contributed positively to all of these headings in an effort to reduce impacts on our Community.

I then went on to put forward the idea that the original tunnel proposal, outlined at the petitioning stage, was rejected because the HS2 figures presented to Parliament were in error (I supported that with evidence from HS2 costings) and I suggested that there was now an opportunity to put that right, to save money and to speed up access to the trace, to make Wendover smile and save the AONB.

I asked that the contractor be allowed to consider and cost the Tunnel option.

I then went on to Lord Ahmad’s, who represented the government on HS2 in the Lords, statement on good ideas.  I was able to give the Minister an email that proved this was being obstructed by HS2 Ltd.

I then did the same with the Command Document 9396 in which the Lords and HS2 Ltd. accepted the design challenge of fitting the viaducts into the AONB and accepted that special efforts were required in our location.

We ran through fairness issues. Is Wendover being treated differently to other communities on the track with respect to variations and “good ideas”.

When we got to the A413 being effectively strangled by the Viaduct. Steve Bowles weighed in on the track of how housing growth might be restricted if the road network was compromised. This got the Minister engaged. Housing growth being a real headliner in Conservative Party thinking.

The Minister undertook to look at all of the points that we raised including the cost of tunnelling. It is clear that they are still a long way from accepting our figures. It appeared to be accepted that we didn’t rely on a single cost source, that we had cross checked our claims, but I picked up a feeling that they think that we must have missed something.

 

My Take.… I think that the Minister doesn’t altogether trust HS2 Ltd., will push them to improving their engagement and make them work harder on the design side. Some sort of revisiting of tunnelling cost will take place but the DfT think it won’t come out in our favour.

 

Where do we go from here?…. While I’ve been involved in this process The team and I have worked to achieve certain targets.

To achieve the best mitigation for Wendover.

To develop the Mined Tunnel option into a clear message.

To deliver our message to the people who can help us achieve the best mitigation.

 

Success? I don’t know how one measures the success of such an enterprise but we, the Wendover Parish Council team, have, apart from making Wendover the best known village in the corridors of power…

Taken our message to 10 Downing Street.

We have met twice now with the responsible HS2 Ministers.

We have developed relationships with a number of MP’s who support our position.

We are particularly focused on Public Accounts Committee members.

We have promoted questions being asked about Wendover in the House of Lords.

We have also developed relationships with other councils on the route.

We have developed working relationships with HS2 and EK.

We have brought our District and County Councillors into our project.

We also liaise with Officers at Bucks CC and AVDC.

We have encouraged Wendover HS2 to start campaigning, again, against the appalling viaduct.

Through all of this we’ve kept Wendover people informed of what we’re doing.

 

My opinion…I do detect a change in the political firmament with regard to HS2.

HS2 is becoming an unloved project and the press are chipping away at the rational behind it. Wendover has played no small part in this change.

 

So for the future… the Parishes Working Group, which includes Councillors, members of the Wendover Society and Wendover HS2, wish to carry on with the lobbying effort. There are new arguments to develop with District and County Councils around the housing development, roads infrastructure theme.

There is also the task of influencing our local planning authority who are surely the last bastion in defending the AONB against poorly designed structures.

 

If I may be whimsical…..I feel that we are launching another stone against a pretty thick castle wall. Each stone is now in the moat with all of the others that we’ve fired and the wall is only cracked a bit. I’m hoping that the other guys, and there are quite a few now, who are undermining the castle from within, get the job done. I’m also hoping that we don’t run out of stones.

 

Tom Walsh, Chairman