David Bennett, the Delivery Director of HS2 Ltd, has responded to the sixteenth Construction Commissioner’s report published in March 2021.
The report highlighted several objections towards the development of the high-speed rail network.
The Delivery Director explained that over the first quarter of this year, the company dealt with almost 16,000 enquiries, of which around 550 were complaints related to construction.
Some included: traffic related complaints, debris on public highways, verge conditions and damage, overcrowding of large vehicles on rural roads, road closures, and wildlife and vegetation clearance were some of the top concerns.
Following the report, in areas such as Hillingdon, contractors have improved vehicle washing site access points and increased the regular cleaning of hard standing on sites, whilst deploying road sweepers whenever necessary.
The company has also interacted with local stakeholders, including residents, to go over the measures put in place and the regular reviews taking effect.
With regards to construction traffic using rural roads, the rail network is working alongside Councils to minimise disruption. For example, in Chipping Warden, HS2 liaised with West Northamptonshire Council and opened a new relief road.
This approach allowed heavy goods vehicles, and other local traffic, to avoid the village centre and the local primary school.
The Director explained, “in instances where rural roads are used, our priority is ensuring they are used in accordance with the terms of the High-Speed Rail Act and any relevant highways consents.”
Recently, HS2 planted 700,000 trees to replace some of the woodlands which were removed to build the rail network, but the impact it is having on wildlife is one of the network's biggest controversies.
Many people have gone online to share their concerns, and the topic remains a heated debate, with hashtags such as #StopHS2 sweeping social media platforms.
@Hotlips0151 said “all lives matter, and everything matters. Stop hs2 ltd, stop ecocide stop wildlife crimes and environmental crimes and stop crimes against the woodlands. Stop hs2 ltd.”
@MomoMcLean said “Ecocide must be listed alongside genocide as an international crime. Hopefully this would put a stop to major infrastructure projects such as #HS2 – Their destruction of ancient woodlands, wildlife habitats is disgraceful.”
But supporters of the project are also having their say.
@Ecovier1 said “Stop listening to the car & oil contractors! We NEED better electric public transport like #hs2 to end reliance on roads, cars & oil. They are the real wildlife destroyers.”
@JackAllStations “It’s not about journey times, it’s about capacity, no room on existing lines so a new line makes room = more passenger services = fewer cars on the road. More capacity = more freight trains = fewer HGVs on the roads."
As a response to environmental concerns, David Bennett said “our ecological work is designed to protect wildlife and across the whole HS2 route we ensure that all works are carried out in accordance with the correct legal requirements. We are also delivering an unprecedented programme of tree planting and habitat creation alongside the new railway.”
He continued, “there has been illegal trespasser activity at locations along the route. We continue to keep residents informed about our works in these areas but, as you recognise, at times this will need to be carefully balanced with the risk of potential protest activity to the safety of our staff and members of the public.”
But despite concerns, work continues to push on.
In May, the rail network launched “Florence”, the first of the 10 tunnelling machines which will dig 65 miles of tunnels between London and the West Midlands.
Last month, work also began on the installation of the first permanent structure for the new Old Oak Common station in West London, set to become one of the top connected rail stations in the country.
So far, the major project has already supported over 16,000 jobs, which includes over 500 apprenticeships and throughout the next decade, and will provide around 400,00 supply chain opportunities.
The Director added, “these milestones demonstrate significant progress for the project, but we also recognise that, as work progresses, concerns will remain in local communities impacted by the construction of the railway.”
“We welcome your ongoing support in helping to ensure that we respect the people and communities we impact and the environment in which they live.”