Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
My Lords, there are two amendments in this group, the first in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, to which I cannot agree, and the second in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, which, if she chooses to move it, I will be pleased to be able to support. Turning to the first amendment, this might at first glance appear to be very similar to the second amendment—indeed, some noble Lords have referred to it as being “soft” or “gentle”. I would like to reassure noble Lords that Amendment 13 is not in any way less good. From my perspective, I would like to highlight the important differences, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. In putting my perspective on them, I hope that noble Lords will agree—and I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, in particular will agree—that their fears are unfounded, and that Amendment 13 is certainly a very good amendment indeed.
First, Amendment 10 calls for the frequency of reporting to be every six months, whereas Amendment 13 proposes that it be annually. I will explain a bit later why that is appropriate. Secondly, the amendment restricts the reporting required to only those works authorised in this Bill—phase 2a—where we believe, and I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, believes as well, that all HS2 phases could be and should be included in this report.
Thirdly, in the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, the report required is narrowed by the definitions of direct and indirect impacts. Again, I will go on to explain how that will be covered in the report that we propose, because we believe that we can go broader than that. Finally, there is a difference with regard to the requirement for a mini-consultation associated with each report.
I do not believe that these differences augment the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb; rather, they restrict it and place limitations on the value that more reporting on the impacts on ancient woodland could bring. On this basis, and given the knowledge that I am able to support Amendment 13, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, will withdraw her amendment.
Turning to Amendment 13, one of the aims of the HS2 project is always to try to reduce its impact on ancient woodland. As has been said before, some impact is inevitable. The environmental statement gives an assessment of the reasonable worst-case scenario. Although impacts on ancient woodland cannot be fully compensated, losses will be addressed through a range of measures, as I have outlined previously.
Through extensive engagement on phase 2a, HS2 Ltd has already found ways to protect some veteran trees which were previously expected to be lost. Furthermore, through the redesign of embankments in the Whitmore Wood area, HS2 Ltd has been able to commit to some reduction in impact on the ancient woodland there. Wherever possible, the Government will continue to push HS2 Ltd to go further on this matter.
I am so grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, for her engagement on this matter; she brings vast knowledge and experience. I recognise that her amendment may not go quite as far as she would ideally have liked, but I hope she will agree that the outcome is a significant step forward. Her amendment places a requirement on HS2 Ltd to publish reports annually on the impacts on ancient woodland across the whole of HS2, not only phase 2a. This has the benefit of committing to reporting on phase 1 of the project as well as phase 2a, and, of course, on future phases. The annual nature of reporting fits well within the life cycle of trees, as the works undertaken follow the seasonal pattern of trees, as required by other legislation. But just because the reporting is annual, it does not mean that the monitoring is annual, or that lessons learned are put in place on an annual cycle—it can be more frequent than that.
Furthermore, by not defining the term “impacts”, HS2 Ltd will report on a wide range of issues relating to ancient woodlands, including those that could potentially be caused by non-compliance with the code of construction practice. The reporting will include measures undertaken relating to breaches of assurances for ancient woodland and lessons learned, should they occur—and, of course, we all hope that they do not.
The phase 2a draft code of construction practice sets out the management measures that HS2 Ltd will be required to follow during construction of the scheme. This includes measures designed to control and prevent the impacts on which noble Lords have raised specific concerns, including the protection of habitats such as ancient woodland, and the control of dust, water quality, noise, vibration and lighting. I believe that these are the sorts of indirect impacts sought by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb.
But, of course, there is more. There are also specific measures designed to minimise adverse ecological effects, including: developing a programme of ecological surveys to be undertaken prior to and during construction, including on bats; the relocation and translocation of species, soil and plants; the reinstatement of any areas of temporary habitat loss; restoration and replacement planting, for example of trees, hedgerows, shrubs and grassland; and using by-products of construction to enhance mitigation provisions, for example using felled trees to provide dead-wood habitats. There is also a requirement to consult with Natural England, the Environment Agency, local wildlife trusts and with relevant planning authorities prior to and during construction.
By committing HS2 Ltd to report on non-compliance with the measures set out in the code of construction practice, we are ensuring that all these impacts are captured and are not limited to the narrower definition of impacts in the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. Further, the reporting will include the variance between what ancient woodland the environmental statement has assessed will be lost or impacted by HS2 and what actually occurs. The environmental statement is a reasonable worst-case scenario; in effect, it is an educated estimate of the impact. I hope very much that reporting on the actual outcome in comparison to the baseline in the environmental statement will have a positive impact on helping future programmes and projects improve their assessments for their own environmental statements and reporting.
I will go further. I am pleased to commit HS2 Ltd to reporting on the volume of metres cubed of ancient woodland soils that have been translocated, and to reporting on the number of hectares of ancient woodland compensation and restoration that have been included in the detailed design of the scheme. I am also pleased to commit the company to reporting on the number of hectares of ancient woodland creation and restoration delivered through all HS2 funds that deliver woodland creation. The intention is to publish the ancient woodland impact reports in the annual environmental report. Ancient woodland mitigation and impacts are discussed in the ecology review group.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, tried her luck in seeing whether we could go further on wetlands and meadows. Of course we recognise the importance of those environments so, if she is in agreement, I will write to her on the steps being taken to make sure that those impacts are also minimised.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, for Amendment 13, and for taking me on a journey. I am not quite at the same point as she is on it, but I am not quite where I used to be. I hope that she will move her amendment when the time comes, and it will give me great pleasure to support it.