A committee set up to rule on extra mitigation for communities along the route of HS2 has rejected calls for the track to be buried deep in a tunnel as it passes Wendover.
Bucks County Council and other organisations had spent the week presenting the case for a ‘Chiltern long tunnel’ throughout the entire area of outstanding natural beauty.
But on Tuesday, the HS2 Select Committee took just an hour of deliberations to rule against the proposal, which would have added an extra £400m to the scheme’s cost.
Chairman Robert Syms, said: “On the long tunnel options we have kept in mind the potential non quantifiable effects of the project on the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
“On the evidence heared we are strongly of the view that the case for a long tunnel has not been made.”
However, he said the bored tunnel in south Bucks currently proposed by HS2 Ltd should be extended slightly further north to better protect South Heath.
He added: “For Wendover we are minded to recommend a southward extension of the currently proposed green tunnel unless HS2 reports back with a very convincing scheme of further mitigation.”
Currently the 1.3km green tunnel (where earth is built up around and over to lessen its visual and noise impacts) starts just south of Bacombe Lane. Its extension could help better protect St Mary’s Church and Wendover House School.
Martin Tett, leader of Buckinghamshire County Council said: “It is very hard to believe this decision. The Chilterns is a nationally designated AONB and a ‘lung for London’.
“The case was overwhelming for a full tunnel. Nevertheless, I welcome the decision to at least instruct HS2 to look at extending the current tunnel length northwards and the green tunnel at Wendover southwards and hope that some more of the precious AONB will be spared.
“Buckinghamshire County Council, along with our partners, will continue to lobby for the maximum mitigation possible for all affected.”
Kath Daly, acting chief officer for the Chilterns Conservation Board, added: “This is a devastating decision which completely disregards the strong evidence put forward of the benefits of a long tunnel for the Chilterns and for the nation.
“This regrettable decision to reject a tunnel under the whole of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty fails to recognise the true value of the AONB – an irreplaceable resource for the nation. It is particularly disappointing that the HS2 Select Committee took barely an hour to produce its recommendations.”
“We will be pressing for the maximum alternative mitigation.”
Aylesbury MP David Lidington said: “The committee’s statement was a real curate’s egg with both good and bad parts.
“On the good side, the committee has recognised the need for additional protection for Wendover. There is no doubt in my mind that the presentations at St Mary’s Church during the Committee’s visit to the village in June made a big impression on them. Since then, I have worked closely with Wendover and Halton Parish Councils, the Wendover Society and Wendover HS2 to reinforce those arguments to Committee members.
“I welcome the fact that the committee is now minded to require an extension to the green tunnel south of Wendover to protect the church and Wendover House School, as well as several hundred homes in the village. In the weeks to come, we need to do all we can to nail down that commitment.
“At the same time, I was deeply disappointed that the Committee ruled that it had not so far been persuaded by the arguments for a deep-bore tunnel. There will still be the opportunity in the autumn to persuade the Committee to change its mind and I shall be working with local petitioners ahead of their evidence sessions to mount the strongest possible case both for additional tunnelling and for other improvements to both mitigation and compensation.
“It is Wendover and the Chilterns AONB that have been in the Committee’s spotlight over the last couple of weeks but I am very aware too of the impact that HS2 will have on other parts of my constituency. I shall be meeting campaigners from Stoke Mandeville, Aylesbury and Fairford Leys very soon to discuss how best to support them in presenting their case.”