ANCIENT woodland in Warwickshire has been saved from the bulldozer – for now.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps has this week told HS2 bosses to assess which woodland removals can be halted while a review into the controversial high speed rail line takes place.
The review – headed by former HS2 chairman Douglas Oakervee – will look at HS2’s benefits and impacts, affordability and efficiency, deliverability and scope. It is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
And while the review is underway the brakes will be put on woodland clearance programmes unless shown to be ‘absolutely necessary’ to avoid major cost and schedule impacts should the project proceed.
The line – 54 kilometres of which will cut through Warwickshire – would include removing woodland in Cubbington – including a 200-year-old pear tree – Crackley Wood in Kenilworth, Long Itchington Wood and land near Stoneleigh.
Mr Shapps said: “There is no sense in hiding the challenges HS2 faces, or masking the difficult decisions that need to be taken.
“So, as the review continues, we must take a sensible approach and recognise that some works simply cannot be undone later.
“Having listened to the concerns of affected residents and parliamentary colleagues, I have ordered HS2 Ltd to consider what works affecting ancient woodland clearances can be delayed for the duration of the review. This ensures we avoid irreversible decisions without major impacts on cost and schedule.
“HS2 may be a complex project overall, but I think this request is just common sense.”
And HS2 said the move was the right one.
A spokesman said: “We are committed to reducing the new high speed railway’s impact on ancient woodlands, and welcome the announcement.
“We must strike a sensible balance between keeping the programme on track, and recognising some works cannot be undone. We are working with the department for transport and our contractors to assess these areas and their impacts while the review is ongoing.”
But in Cubbington – where preparation works are well underway – campaigners say despite being pleased they are concerned HS2 bosses still won’t be stopped.
Peter Delow, chair of Cubbington Action Group Against HS2, said: “It is good news and we welcome it. It is a tribute to everyone who made representations. We must praise MPs including our own Jeremy Wright, who raised the matter with ministers.
“The problem still is the secretary of state does allow habitat clearance. It gives HS2 carte blanche to what they want so despite being good news it is all still very worrying.”
The Woodland Trust – a charity which has campaigned against HS2’s development of the countryside – said the announcement was a ‘start’.
Ecologist Luci Ryan said: “This is a welcome step in the right direction for our ancient woodlands, but unfortunately these woods remain threatened as HS2 can still decide for themselves whether works continue or not. Until the outcome of the review all ancient woodlands should be off limits full stop. Our welcome is therefore cautious.
“The fact the secretary of state recognises clearing irreplaceable ancient woodland is irreversible is a huge step in the right direction.”