Buckinghamshire Council’s Deputy Cabinet Member for HS2 has expressed his extreme disappointment at the decision by the Planning Inspector to allow an appeal by HS2 Limited, who were seeking consent for development next to Sheephouse Wood in Charndon, Buckinghamshire.
Councillor Peter Martin, Deputy Cabinet Member for HS2 at Buckinghamshire Council, said: ‘We believe HS2 Limited is unnecessarily damaging Sheephouse Wood, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and Ancient Woodland. The Planning Inspector’s decision is desperately disappointing and yet another kick in the teeth for local people and the environment severely impacted by the construction of the rail line.‘
Back in March 2023, Buckinghamshire Council became aware of HS2 cutting back trees in Sheephouse Wood and asked them why this was happening. HS2 stated that the works were needed for safety / technical reasons, to protect both the Bat Mitigation Structure they had decided to construct and the railway line when it became operational.
The Council served a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) to protect trees at risk from being cut down. The TPO ensured the trees were not touched for up to six months, giving the Council more time to discuss with HS2 why they believed such brutal action was needed, find alternative options and to mitigate the impact of their works. HS2 continued to say that the removal of the trees was necessary.
Despite Buckinghamshire Council asking for more detailed information from HS2 Ltd, about the proposed work to the trees, the flood risk associated with the construction of the Sheephouse Wood ‘Bat Mitigation Structure’ (SWBMS), and a footpath underpass, HS2 Ltd chose to appeal the Council’s ‘non determination’ of the application.
The Council submitted a robust case to the Planning Inspector asking HS2 Limited to amend its application in the interests of avoiding harm to Sheephouse Wood. The key aims of the Council’s case included:
- Limiting the tree loss within Sheephouse Wood.
- Limiting the potential for flooding.
- Ensuring the Bat Mitigation Structure design met high quality design standards.
- Ensuring the earthworks and fencing were sensitive to the area
The Planning Inspector upheld HS2 Limited’s appeal so consent has been granted and development will now go ahead. In granting consent, the Inspector has deemed that tree management, including felling, is necessary and can start. This removes the protection afforded by the TPO. HS2 Ltd must, however, ensure that any works to trees is undertaken with great care and avoids harm to nesting birds. Buckinghamshire Council will check activity to ensure proper methods and safeguards are followed.
Buckinghamshire Council has said that it still considers that the work being done at Sheephouse Wood is avoidable harm, and the Council have announced that they are pleased that the Inspector has applied a condition to the planning consent that ensures further scrutiny by the Council on the appearance of the SWBMS; and improved landscape design of the watercourse that runs through the site.
In response, a spokesperson for HS2 Ltd, said: ‘All leading environmental organisations agree that climate change is the biggest future threat to wildlife and habitats in the UK. By providing a cleaner, greener way to travel, HS2 will help cut the number of cars and lorries on our roads and help the country’s push to reduce carbon emissions. Instead of wasting public money trying to delay the project, we’d call on the council to work with us to get construction finished as soon as possible and reduce disruption for local residents.‘
In terms of background, HS2 Ltd, released a statement which said: ‘HS2 Ltd and our contractors have been engaging with the council for more than 4 years and held dozens of meetings on the design for the Sheephouse Wood Bat Mitigation Structure. We proposed an appropriate design supported by sufficient information to allow the council to make a decision under Schedule 17 of the HS2 Act – which they then failed to do. The Planning Inspector agreed and we welcome that decision.
The ‘woodland edge management zone’ includes pruning and coppicing a small number of trees that are at risk of falling within the railway area – and the planting of a wider range of smaller trees and shrubs to improve biodiversity.‘
*Source of information : Press release from Buckinghamshire Council and a statement from HS2 Ltd.
*UPDATED on 16/02/2024 : The “response” and “background” from HS2 Ltd were added.