A view from The Chilterns

Although this month’s 3RDi is about Sustainability I thought I would write about destruction of beautiful countryside, the disappearance of ancient woodlands, and thousands of years of history wiped out in the name of progress. This is in the UK government’s plan for a sustainable transport system, but it also represents the ongoing problem of addressing the needs of an expanding population while respecting and protecting our environment.

I live in The Chilterns, an area to the northwest of London. My house is approximately 25 miles from Trafalgar Square as the crow flies, though substantially longer by road and over an hour by rail.
The small town I live in is in a narrow valley with a commercial centre at the bottom and schools and houses facing each other on the hill on either side. As I look out of my study window I can see (and hear) the busy town below, but at eye level in the air between I watch birds flying and settling on rooftops. Red Kite, introduced to the Chilterns twenty years ago, are prolific in this area and are frequently in my eye line. The buildings on the hill opposite end with a community centre, which was once a girls’ school, before giving way to green fields, grazing cows, and an occasional tree. Somewhere behind the community centre is the town rail station where the Metropolitan line ends and a train that can be heard regularly delivering and collecting passengers.

The Chilterns has many similar towns, some larger like High Wycombe, and others much smaller and really only villages. These towns and villages are mere dots on a rolling landscape of hills and woodlands that have been a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Most of us feel fortunate to live in this delightful area and yet be so close to London.

But the last few years has been very unsettling. News that HS2, a high speed rail link between London and Birmingham, plans to cut through the Chilterns has caused alarm, particularly amongst those whose homes will be affected. Community groups, businesses and politicians whose constituencies are included in the 120 mile route have voiced their opposition, but it would appear that the Dept of Transport is determined that it will go ahead.

The facts about HS2 divide opinion depending on where you live. The purpose of the proposed line is to ‘provide additional capacity on the rail network from London to the Midlands and the North’. The Government has forecast that the existing Victorian rail system is insufficient to serve the demand from a growing population and that HS2 will not only address this issue but it will also shave 35 minutes off the current journey time between London and Birmingham. At a cost of £18bn.

Lord Adonis, Secretary of State for Transport under the previous government, looked at the cost of updating the current rail link but estimated that this would be around a third more expensive than HS2 and will only add two-thirds of the required capacity.

The Dept of Transport has found support for the scheme in Birmingham and London where the benefits will be most felt. They say that it will add £40bn to these economies, generate thousands of new jobs and will contribute £20bn in additional fares (the cost of fares will increase to help pay for the new line).
There are no obvious benefits to the population who will live alongside the line, after all HS2 has no intermediate calling points along the way. Instead people will be served with compulsory purchase orders, properties will be devalued, and that is aside from damage to the environment and the sight and noise of the trains running at high speed along the line.

The Chilterns will be ripped apart, losing ancient woodland, and beautiful countryside. Recent proposals to reduce the visual impact with a number of ‘green tunnels’ and a series of cuttings will still result in tonnes of spoil heaped along the rural landscape. It is overwhelmingly unwanted and not simply by small community voices and tea-shop terrorists, but by the majority of the population of people who live and work in the Chilterns. And this anger is repeated all the way along the line to Birmingham. A regional newspaper polled 78% opposition to the scheme. Our local (Conservative) MP Cheryl Gillan opposed the scheme until she was promised green tunnels.

Perversely, I understand the need to improve and bring up to date our rail network. We need to meet the growing capacity of users somehow and our railways are too old to cope with high speed trains. Stations need longer platforms, more rails need to be laid, and rolling stock updated.
It is hoped that the dire state of the economy as it currently stands will eventually make the Government see sense and shelve the HS2 project. Yet this Government, like the previous one and no doubt the governments yet to come are arrogant in their power when they fail to listen to the people who elect them. It is thought that HS2 will be pushed ahead.

If you want to find out more about HS2 from both sides of the argument visit http://www.hs2.org.uk/

1 Comment on A view from The Chilterns

  1. Jeffrey Newman // January 27, 2015 at 6:29 am // Reply

    Apologies – should have read Margot Grantham http://www.the3rdimagazine.co.uk/2012/03/a-view-from-the-chilterns/

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