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HS2 – campaigners launch their new case for a Chilterns Long Tunnel to preserve the AONB

 

A new study launched today (Thursday 26 March) proves the viability of a 24.2km tunnel, which would preserve the protected Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The study, produced by Peter Brett Associates, has been commissioned by Chiltern District Council, together with Aylesbury Vale District Council, Buckinghamshire County Council and the Chilterns Conservation Board.
The purpose of the new report was to devise an alignment which:

• Was designed as a bored tunnel from first principles rather than a surface route part of which subsequently became a tunnel route;

• Mitigated the consequences of the surface alignment;

• Recognised the variable geology and topography of the Misbourne Valley;

• Mitigated so far as is possible the impact on Wendover and provided a more sensitive response to the location of the northern portal;

• Avoided the steep summit climb and a tunnel exit at the top of the Chilterns hills thus making it a more economic route to operate;

• Recognised the design criteria used by HS2 Ltd; and

• Adopted the safety requirements of the new EU Commission Regulation concerning a technical specification for interoperability relating to ‘safety in railway tunnels’ of the rail systems of the European Union (European Regulation 1303/2014)

The report concludes that:

• A long tunnel is technically feasible and protects the designated landscape of the Chilterns AONB
• It has far less impact on the Misbourne Valley than the Government’s proposed scheme and will be a better route operationally
• An underground ‘Firefighting’ point (station) can now take the place of the previously required mandatory open air gap on tunnels over 20km.

The cost of the Chilterns Long Route is estimated at £1.85bn, representing 1.5 to 2 per cent of the overall construction cost of HS2 Phase One; however, this should be viewed with the considerable mitigation of the effects of the route on the Chilterns AONB and would avoid extensive compensation costs, which have not been factored in at this stage.

Summary Table of Comparative Costs
Government’s proposed scheme Chilterns Long Tunnel Route
23.7 km 24.2 km
£ 1.45 billion £1.85 billion

Permanent and irretrievable loss of environment on the government’s current proposed route is rated ‘very high’ – and as this latest report demonstrates, is avoidable. As the report states, the technology is available and the engineering solutions exist. The question now is whether a small additional financial cost at construction stage, set against savings across the project’s whole life, is worth preserving a beautiful and unique part of the countryside.

Those whose livelihoods and communities are threatened by HS2 are in no doubt. The Chilterns AONB is priceless, and if the project does go ahead £1.85bn is a small price to pay to preserve this unique landscape, in a scheme likely to exceed £50bn.

Rt. Hon Cheryl Gillan, MP for Chesham and Amersham, said: “If HS2 is to go ahead, any government responsible for this project should provide the maximum protection for the AONB through a full tunnel. This special environment is valuable for future generations and should not be destroyed where extra tunnelling could provide a solution to its safeguarding.”

Leader of Chiltern District Council, Isobel Darby: “HS2 would create a huge and ugly scar through parts of the AONB. Our proposal represents a massive improvement over the existing government proposed scheme and avoids the reckless damage that the rail line would cause.”

Kath Daly, Acting Chief Officer at the Chilterns Conservation Board said: “The Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is one of England’s finest landscapes, subject to the highest levels of protection. We expect those responsible for designing the HS2 railway to take seriously their duty to conserve this special place. A long bored tunnel is the only acceptable mitigation. “

Martin Tett, Leader of Buckinghamshire County Council, said: “The Chilterns are a nationally-designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a treasure for the whole country. Protecting and enhancing them is one of our key responsibilities we owe to future generations.”

Councillor Neil Blake, Leader of AVDC, said: “While we accept that investment in our rail infrastructure is required, I don’t feel that the proposed HS2 project is the best use of public money, nor is the cost of damaging irreplaceable natural heritage acceptable. However, if the project is to go forward, I urge the government to consider our alternative tunnel options that help to avoid permanent environmental damage.”
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Notes to editors
• Copies of the report summary and the presentation made on 26 March are available.

For further information please contact:
Policy, Performance and Communications (Chiltern and South Bucks District Councils)
Tel: 01494 732903/01895 837204
Mobile: 0771 1040 758

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