The Transport Secretary, Justine Greening, this week announced a delay in the government’s final decision on the high-speed rail route (HS2) in order to consider the pros and cons of a 1.5 mile tunnel beneath the Chiltern Hills.
If the HS2 rail link goes ahead, the controversial rail route will stretch over 100 miles and provide a fast link between London and Birmingham, reducing the travelling time for commuters to 49 minutes. However, HS2 has been deeply divisive and has threatened to split the government down the middle with many ministers deeply against the scheme, particularly those with constituencies around the planned route.
The main problem most people have with the planned high speed rail link is the adverse effect construction work will have on some areas of outstanding natural beauty. The planned route runs through the Chiltern Hills and those against the scheme say the area would be forever scarred if HS2 goes ahead.
The new tunnel currently under consideration would link two existing tunnels on the route and divert the HS2 link beneath the Chilterns, which would reduce the environmental impact on the area. However, it would require extra funding to the tune of £500 million, which is why the Transport Minister is looking for more time to see whether the money is likely to be available. The delay in making the final decision on the HS2 scheme will also allow the government to carry out some feasibility and environmental studies on the proposed tunnel.
Environmental groups, including the Campaign to Protect Rural England, are firmly in favour of extra tunnelling as they believe it is the only way to protect the Chilterns from the catastrophic effects of construction work. However, they have expressed concern that the extra funding could be gained by reducing environmental protection measures elsewhere on the HS2 route.