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HS2: Transport secretary halts clearance of ancient woodland

Transport secretary Grant Shapps has ordered an immediate halt to the cutting down of ancient woodlands along the HS2 route.

Felling of the trees is on hold while the future of the infrastructure scheme is reviewed by Doug Oakervee and his panel.

The trees can only be cut down in the meantime if “they are shown to be absolutely necessary to avoid major cost and schedule impacts”, the government announced this morning.

The ban was “common sense”, according to Mr Shapps, and necessary because “some works simply cannot be undone later”.

“This ensures we avoid irreversible decisions without major impacts on cost and schedule.

“There is no sense in hiding the challenges HS2 faces or masking the difficult decisions that need to be taken.”

A HS2 spokesman said the project “welcomed” the new measure.

“As highlighted by Secretary of State, we must strike a sensible balance between keeping the programme on track, and recognising that some works cannot be undone,” he said.

Earlier this month, Mr Shapps rejected calls from MPs for HS2 early works to be halted while the Oakervee review is under way.

Today, the government said preparatory works for HS2 will be allowed to continue, but only if delaying them would increase costs and the timeframe for the project.

The Woodland Trust claims 34 ancient woodlands will be destroyed by the early works required for phase one between London and Birmingham.

HS2 will now review each individual woodland site to determine whether tree felling is required for critical path activities.

Such activities would include setting up a site for a tunnel boring machine or other key civil engineering works.

Protection of nesting birds along the route means any tree felling would not take place for a number of weeks until autumn has set in.

If phases one and two go ahead as planned then 108 ancient woodlands will be damaged or lost entirely, according to the Woodland Trust, though HS2 plans to plant new trees to replace those being felled for the project.

Around 7 million new trees and shrubs will be planted along the route for phase one to “compensate” for the loss of ancient woodland and other natural habitats, according to HS2.

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