Thank you for getting in touch with me on the issue of HS2.
HS2 will play an important role in the UK’s transition to a net-zero carbon economy by 2050. I understand that HS2 will offer some of the lowest carbon emissions per passenger km, seven times less than passenger cars and 17 times less than domestic air travel in 2030. HS2 will dramatically reduce the number of people and freight making equivalent journeys in cars and lorries which will have a huge upshot for our air quality and long-term public health. Air pollution is projected to cause 2.5 million new cases of acute health conditions such as heart disease, stroke and asthma if current levels persist.
A move to electric vehicles will also save considerable costs to government. In 2017, health conditions caused by air pollution were estimated to cost the NHS £157m; this is expected to rise to as much as £18.6bn by 2035 on a, ‘do nothing’, scenario.
In fact, it is estimated that the total carbon emissions produced by both constructing and operating Phase One for 120 years would be the same as just one month of the UK's road network. This forms part of the Government’s wider approach to reducing emissions from road transport, which contribute 4/5 of all emissions from the sector.
Further, HS2 was also the first major transport infrastructure project in the UK to commit to achieving ‘no net loss’ in biodiversity. I am pleased that a green corridor will be created alongside the railway. This will involve the planting of seven million new trees and shrubs, including over 40 native species, along the Phase One route from London to the West Midlands. The Government recognises the important contributions that high biodiversity and beneficial ecosystem services deliver to our health and wellbeing. This is why it has included provisions for soil quality, tackling air pollution, sequestering carbon and combatting climate change in the 25-year Environment Plan and a £640 million Nature for Climate Fund in the 2020 Budget.
An overall £70 million funding package has also been made available to enhance community facilities, improve access to the countryside, and help improve road and cycle safety in towns and villages along the HS2 Phase One route. HS2 is using a combination of approaches to compensate for the ancient woodlands lost during construction. This includes translocation of soil to other woodlands to improve their biodiversity, planting new woodland and restoring existing ancient woodland. I am informed that £1.6 million of the £5 million provided for the Fund for Phase One has gone towards supporting approximately 121 hectares of new native woodland creation, and the restoration of 174 hectares of plantations within ancient woodland sites under the HS2 Woodland Fund. Further, I welcome that a Permit to Clear System applies for all birds during the nesting season, involving an ecologist with appropriate qualifications assessing existing survey data and then verifying this with surveys of the site in advance of the vegetation clearance taking place. Once the area has been confirmed to be free of nesting birds then clearance can commence.
500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat outside the protected site series will be created in the 25 Year Plan.
Excluding HS2, the Government will still make a record £47.9 billion available for the rail network between 2019 and 2024. Indeed, this is the biggest investment in the railways since Victorian times.
The independent Oaktree review recommended proceeding with HS2, but with reformed scrutiny and oversight to protect the interest of passengers and taxpayers. A dedicated Minister with specific responsibility for oversight and accountability of HS2 has been appointed and they will present regular reports to Parliament to enhance transparency.
You can read more about the project in this HS2 key facts booklet. I will continue to provide updates as the situation develops.