Now that the HS2 Environmental Statement submission deadline for responses has passed, the wait begins for any further news about additional environmental compensation. At the very least, an attempt should be made to quantify the environmental and health impacts – as so many questions still remain unanswered.
According to the Collins English Dictionary, cost:benefit analysis is an accounting noun that describes the analysis that takes into account the costs of a project and its benefits to society, as well as the revenue it generates.
However, when it comes to the mammoth construction job that is HS2, there is no mention of a cost:benefit analysis for London, as we asked for a regional breakdown at the outset. Ok, so we would get to Birmingham 30 minutes faster but from what we’ve seen so far, the government’s cost:benefit analysis does not cover, or does not cover adequately, a number of environmental issues – most of which will add up to considerably more than currently predicted and may well overturn the low cost-benefit ratio of 1:1.5 for the project anyway.
Some impacts can be costed – some cannot, as they fall into the indirect cost box – difficult to place a monetary value on. But to inform the decisions of HS2, they must be costed in order to guarantee a realistic and accountable summary of the impacts of this sprawling construction.
Central London locations like Euston already has some of the worst air pollution in Europe – it appears the extra deaths and health effects of this added pollution have been ignored. DEFRA well know this already, but does not appear to be talking to their colleagues in DfT, instead promoting HS2 despite the threat of legal action against the UK government by the EU. As for noise, in the draft Environmental Statement, it assesses average noise levels over a period of time, yet several consultees have said this is misleading because of the impact of peak noise levels; when a high speed train goes past, peak noise levels will be considerably higher.
What about the destruction of homes, city parks, ancient woodland and wildlife habitat? You only have to look at the impact of outer London surface track of HS2 going through Hillingdon, where the viaduct in the Colne River Valley would pass through a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), including sites of national importance for bird conservation. This stretch of track alone would destroy parts of the borough with valuable stocks of wildlife, including bats, breeding birds, terrestrial invertebrates and great crested newts. During the construction process, 0.2 hectares of ancient woodland in the SSSI including power lines and 12 hectares of vegetation from a site of metropolitan importance for Nature Conservation will be destroyed.
As for compensation for the destruction of homes, it is both unjust and obscene that far higher levels of compensation are being offered to households where HS2 will run down the bottom of long gardens in the Chilterns then the hundreds of residential homes in the Regents Park Estate, immediately West of the Euston terminus where the project will tear through the front rooms.
It may be relatively simple to calculate the value of land and homes purchased for the project, but London has a severe housing shortage! What comparative value has been applied to reducing London’s housing stock in exchange for cutting 30 minutes off the time it takes to get to or from Birmingham? And just as importantly, where will people whose homes have been demolished, find new homes? Private renters look set to lose their homes without help or compensation.
The loss of green and open space in central London will also be keenly felt as the area is already heavily urbanised. HS2 Ltd values the loss of urban open space at a standard £54,000 per hectare but, with the lack of other local green space and the high land values in the area, Camden Council estimates that it would cost up to £82 million to re-provide a site like St James’s Gardens and Euston Square. HS2 Ltd acknowledges that its valuation lacks robustness – it is therefore excluded from the main business case, and covered only in separate value-for-money advice provided by the Department for Transport (DfT). Parliament should be aware of this unquantified cost.
Think of the cost to local small businesses like the renowned row of restaurants to the west side of Euston, on Drummond Street, who will suffer the disruption of a construction site on their doorstep for years. Will they be able to rebuild their clientele once the dust has settled, or will they shut up shop and walk away?
The government has not adequately added up these sums, or accounted for these costs in the final bill for HS2 and it certainly hasn’t shown enough of its working out to us. Who judges if they’ve added them up correctly? The complexities of getting this cost:benefit analysis right are worse than a quadratic equation.
They must do the sums properly and prove that the cost:benefit analysis justifies going against the widespread public disapproval of this divisive project.
If you consider the environment cost to London alone, l suspect it would at least tip HS2 away from Euston and terminate it at Old Oak Common. Perhaps that would explain why it is that HS2 have not been forthcoming with the environmental cost figures in the first place, as the environmental sums just don’t add-up.