Environment fears amid high speed Sheffield rail joy

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CONFIRMATION this week that high speed trains are coming to Sheffield delighted civic, business and transport leaders - but prompted concerns over the environment that the line could destroy.

Amid predictions that the second phase of the high speed rail link, from Birmingham to Leeds, would bring a huge economic boost, a study of the proposed route set alarm bells ringing among local environmentalists.

“We recognise that the proposed high speed link could potentially benefit local people and the local jobs market, and a sustainable transport network could have a positive impact on the drive for a low carbon economy,” said Liz Ballard, chief executive of the Wildlife Trust for Sheffield and Rotherham.

“However, even if we were confident of these benefits and supported them in principle, we are convinced that they must not be achieved at the expense of the natural environment and our local wildlife.

“Our main concern is obviously for the wildlife in our region. With so many areas potentially destroyed or damaged, our vision for a connected network for nature and all the work we’ve done over the last few decades towards this vision, will be under threat. Local ancient woodlands and wildlife sites could be lost.”

The trust has analysed land within 50 metres either side of the proposed route for HS2 and identified 12 wildlife sites that could be directly affected, including three ancient woodlands - Smithy Wood, Hesley Wood and woodland at Hesley Tip.

Other sites include Holbrook Marsh, Woodhouse Washlands and Treeton Dyke. The trust says more wildlife locations may also be affected in South Yorkshire during track construction.

“Nationally we are encouraging HS2 Ltd to make decisions based on the best available environmental evidence,” said Ms Ballard. “To help with this we are carrying out a detailed analysis of the likely impacts of the scheme on important wildlife sites and landscapes in a broad corridor along the HS2 Phase 2 route.”

The proposed high speed line through the Sheffield area largely skirts Oxclose, Holbrook, Sothall, Beighton, Swallownest, Treeton and Catcliffe in reaching Meadowhall. It then heads north passing near Chapeltown towards Barnsley.

It is thought that few houses in the Sheffield area will be in its path. In the main, the route uses existing rail beds and spare industrial land.

The council and the business community have been pressing for years to be part of the £33bn network, which promises to reduce journey times between Sheffield and London from just over two hours to 75 minutes.

Richard Wright, executive director of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the Chamber was delighted that the Sheffield city region was getting one of the five stations for HS2. “We now need to focus hard on connectivity from the station across the whole of the region, and integration with the existing transport network, to deliver the maximum economic benefits.”

Deputy Prime Minister and Hallam MP Nick Clegg predicted “a transport revolution” and said Monday’s announcement was “wonderful news for Sheffield.

“It will create thousands of jobs and attract businesses and housing, with the faster link to London helping to close the north-south divide.”