“Essential to spreading prosperity”: An open letter from the rail industry on the importance of HS2

A field, along the route of HS2. Image: Getty.

Last Friday Friday, a coalition of executives from the rail and construction industries, organised by the Rail Industry Association, sent the following open letter to the government regarding the future of the HS2 rail link.

The Rt Hon Boris Johnson MP

Prime Minister, First Lord of the Treasury and Minister for the Civil Service

10 Downing Street

London

SW1P 4DR 

 

17 January 2020

Re: The importance of HS2 to Britain’s future prosperity

Dear Prime Minister, 

We are writing to you as senior leaders in the British rail and construction sectors to express our deep alarm at mounting recent media reports that put into doubt the future of HS2.  

We want to take this opportunity to reiterate not only the devastating impact any curtailment of HS2 would have on our industry, but the detrimental effect cancellation would have on UK Plc more widely in terms of jobs, manufacturing, investment and export potential. To date, we have very much welcomed the Government’s commitment to increased infrastructure spending and investment. However, by putting a project of such national importance at risk, future infrastructure plans will also be threatened, as will the Government’s desire to level up the UK economy. 

HS2 is essential to joining up the UK and spreading prosperity throughout the country. Latest figures show that the project is already supporting approximately 10,000 jobs, is set to support 15,000 jobs by year end and 30,000 jobs at peak construction and train building activity, as well as 2,000 apprentices. Were HS2 to be cancelled, job losses would be calamitous, as would the missed opportunity to train and upskill the next generation of young people who will deliver the future infrastructure and rolling stock projects that the Government is ambitious to complete.  


As the Government reaches its decision, it also needs to be mindful of the fact that the HS2 project is well underway. Indeed, it has been going for more than 10 years and contracts worth billions have been signed. The cancellation of a Government project so far progressed would be unprecedented in the history of British construction.  Should this happen, the industry will have to include additional consideration for risk when pricing for future contracts, to bear in mind the risk of the Government cancelling future projects in the middle of delivery. To put it as clearly as possible, future infrastructure projects will cost the Government more, should HS2 be cancelled at this stage. 

Finally, we often hear talk of replacing HS2 with other projects elsewhere. To be clear, there is no other ‘shovel ready’ project in the UK of a remotely comparable size. The Government’s commitment to infrastructure projects in the North of England is laudable, but these projects are many years behind HS2 in terms of readiness to begin work and most, like Northern Powerhouse Rail, require HS2 to be delivered to realise their full benefits. A hiatus of this duration in Government investment, at this time, would have a devastating impact on jobs in the sector and risk delaying the infrastructure revolution by a decade.

The project is essential, and irreplaceable, to the Government’s goal of fixing the north-south divide which has beset Britain for generations. We urge you to reach a final conclusion as quickly as possible. We urge you to save the jobs of 10,000 people already employed on the project. We urge you to get HS2 done.

Yours sincerely,

David Hughes, CEO, ABB Ltd     

David Barwell, Chief Executive, UK & Ireland, AECOM

Nick Crossfield, CEO, Alstom UK & Ireland

Mark Cowlard, CEO, Arcadis UK and Ireland          

 

Matthew Behan CEO, Barhale   

Matt Byrne, President, UK, Bombardier Transportation

Vincent Avrillon, Managing Director, Bouygues

Jean-Pierre Bertrand, CEO, Colas Rail Ltd               

Jim Brewin, UK Country Lead, Hitachi Rail

Tim Gray, Managing Director, Hitachi Information Control Systems Europe Ltd

Dyan Crowther, CEO, HS1 

Donald Morrison, Senior Vice President and General Manager for People & Places Solutions, Europe, Middle East & Africa, Jacobs

Paul Goodhand, Managing Director, Knorr-Bremse Rail Systems (UK) Limited

Mike Haigh, Executive Chair, Mott MacDonald Ltd

John Murphy, CEO, J Murphy & Sons Ltd

Kathryn Nichols, CEO, Nichols Group

Wayne Peacock, Managing Director Pandrol UK Ltd

Mike Hughes, Zone President, UK & Ireland, Schneider Electric       

John Whitehurst, Managing Director, Transport, Serco

William Wilson, CEO, Siemens Mobility Ltd

Raj Sinha, Managing Director, SSE Enterprise Rail

Nick Salt, CEO, SYSTRA Limited

Frank McKay, CEO, telent

Shaun Jones, Vice President, Thales GTS

Noel Travers, Managing Director, Unipart Rail and Unipart Manufacturing Group

Steve Cocliff, Managing Director, VolkerRail Group

Mark Naysmith, UK CEO, WSP   

Tim Jones & James Fox, Managing Director & Commercial Director, 3Squared Ltd

Pino De Rosa, Managing Director, Bridgeway Consulting Ltd             

Noel Dolphin, Managing Director, Furrer+Frey    

Malcolm Wilson, Managing Director, IPEX Consulting Limited           

Paul McSharry, Managing Director, Kilborn Consulting Limited

Richard Kelly, Managing Director, Loram Ltd        

Paul Priestman, Chairman and Designer, Priestman Goode Ltd

Rui Costa, Managing Director, SOMAFEL

Paul Costello, Managing Director, Wentworth House Rail Systems Limited     

Munir Patel, Managing Director, XRAIL Group

David Tonkin & Darren Caplan, Chairman & Chief Executive, Railway Industry Association         

Simon Babes, SME Group Chair, Railway Industry Association            

Mike Hulme & Justin Moss, Co-Chairs, Northern Rail Industry Leaders            

Professor Clive Roberts, Head of School of Engineering and Director, Birmingham Centre for Railway Research and Education, University of Birmingham          

 

 

Cc:          Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport

                Sajid Javid, Chancellor of the Exchequer

                Andrea Leadsom, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

                Rishi Sunak, Chief Secretary to the Treasury

                Douglas Oakervee, Chair, independent review of HS2

 
 
 
 

Here’s how we plant 2 billion more trees in the UK

A tree in Northallerton, North Yorkshire. Image: Getty.

The UK’s official climate advisor, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), recently published a report outlining how to reduce the 12 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions that come from land use by two thirds by 2050. Alongside recommending cutting meat and dairy consumption by 20 per cent, the report calls for the annual creation of up to 50,000 hectares of broadleaf and conifer woodland for the next three decades. This would increase forest cover from 13 per cent to at least 17 per cent – a level not seen in Britain since before the Norman invasion.

Reforestation at that rate would mean creating roughly the area of the city of Leeds every year for the next three decades. At typical stocking densities of 1,500 stems per hectare, the ambition is to establish some 2.25 billion additional trees. Given that the UK, as with most of Europe, is in the grip of ash dieback, a disease likely to prove fatal for many millions of native ash trees, the scale of the challenge is massive.

On a crowded and intensively farmed island like Britain, unlocking a million and a half hectares of land will be no mean feat. But it’s not impossible – and is an unprecedented opportunity not only to tackle the climate crisis but also the biodiversity crisis that is every bit as detrimental to our wellbeing.

Trees and farms

One million and a half hectares is just 6 per cent of the mainland UK’s land area. To give some sense of perspective on this, 696,000 hectares of “temporary grassland” were registered in 2019. So if land supply is not the problem, what is? Often it’s cultural inertia. Farmers are firmly rooted to the land and perhaps understandably reluctant to stop producing food and instead become foresters. But the choice need not be so binary.

The intensification of agriculture has caused catastrophic declines in many species throughout the UK by reducing vast wooded areas and thousands of miles of hedgerows to small pockets of vegetation, isolating populations and making them more vulnerable to extinction.

Integrating trees with the farmed landscape delivers multiple benefits for farms and the environment. Reforestation doesn’t have to mean a return to the ecologically and culturally inappropriate single-species blocks of non-native conifers, which were planted en masse in the 1970s and 1980s. Incentivised under tax breaks to secure a domestic timber supply, many of the resulting plantations were located in places difficult or in some cases impossible to actually harvest.

Productive farmland needn’t be converted to woodland. Instead, that 4 per cent of land could be found by scattering trees more widely. After all, more trees on farmland is good for business. They prevent soil erosion and the run-off of pollutants, provide shade and shelter for livestock, a useful source of renewable fuel and year-round forage for pollinating insects.

The first tranche of tree planting could involve new hedgerows full of large trees, preferably with wide headlands of permanently untilled soils, providing further wildlife refuge.


Natural regeneration

Where appropriate, new woody habitats can be created simply by stopping how the land is currently used, such as by removing livestock. This process can be helped by scattering seeds in areas where seed sources are low. But patience is a virtue. If people can learn to tolerate less clipped and manicured landscapes, nature can run its own course.

A focus on deliberate tree planting also raises uncomfortable truths. Most trees are planted with an accompanying stake to keep them upright and a plastic shelter that protects the sapling from grazing damage. All too often, these shelters aren’t retrieved. Left to the elements, they break down into ever smaller pieces, and can be swept into rivers and eventually the ocean, where they threaten marine wildlife. Two billion tree shelters is a lot of plastic.

The main reason for using tree shelters at all is because the deer population in the UK is so high that in many places, it is all but impossible to establish new trees. This also has serious implications for existing woodland, which is prevented from naturally regenerating. In time, these trees will age and die, threatening the loss of the woodland itself. Climate change, pests and pathogens and the lack of a coordinated, centrally supported approach to deer management means the outlook for the UK’s existing treescape is uncertain at best.

An ecologically joined-up solution would be to reintroduce the natural predators of deer, such as lynx, wolves, and bears. Whether rewilding should get that far in the UK is still the subject of debate. Before that, perhaps the focus should be on providing the necessary habitat, rich in native trees.

A positive response would be to implement the balanced recommendations, made almost a decade ago in a government review, of creating more new habitat, improving what’s already there, and finding ways to link it together. Bigger, better, and more connected habitats.

But the UK is losing trees at increasing rates and not just through diseases. The recent removal of Victorian-era street trees in Sheffield and many other towns and cities is another issue to contend with. As the climate warms, increasing urban temperatures will mean cities need shade from street trees more than ever.

Trees aren’t the environmental panacea that the politicians might have people believe – even if they do make for great photo opportunities – but we do need more of them. Efforts to expand tree cover are underway across the world and the UK will benefit from contributing its share. Hitting the right balance – some commercial forestry, lots of new native woodland and millions of scattered trees – will be key to maximising the benefits they bring.

Nick Atkinson, Senior Lecturer in Ecology & Conservation, Nottingham Trent University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.