HS2, our response

Posted on September 6th, 2011 by Charles Boot

The Society has made many contributions to protecting parks and gardens throughout its history and, as Mavis Batey reminded us at her recent 90th birthday party, even Petworth’s park was once under threat from a bypass proposed to run through it. The latest threat is that posed by HS2, and we combined with both The Association of Gardens Trusts and The Georgian Group in making our response to it.


Proposed High Speed Rail Link Consultation Paper, February 2011

This consultation response is submitted jointly by The Garden History Society, The Association of Gardens Trusts and The Georgian Group.

The Garden History Society is the national amenity society concerned with the conservation of Britain’s heritage of historic designed landscapes. It is also the Statutory Consultee charged with considering the impact of proposed development on designed landscapes of national significance which have been included by English Heritage on the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. The Society comprises some 2,000 members worldwide. Its Conservation Committee, which has reviewed the High Speed Rail Link proposals, is composed of landscape historians, landscape architects and landscape conservation specialists of national and indeed international standing.

The Georgian Group is the statutory national amenity society specialising in the understanding and conservation of our eighteenth and early nineteenth century designed heritage. It is the Statutory Consultee for development proposals which affect Georgian buildings and their designed settings. The Georgian Group comprises more than 3,500 members.

The Association of Gardens Trusts is the umbrella organisation for the county gardens trusts in England, which collectively represent some 7,000 members. The Association of Gardens Trusts is a respected voice in the heritage sector, responding to Government and other policy consultations; the county gardens trusts embody considerable locally-based expertise on historic designed landscapes and have a particularly valuable role in providing information about non-designated designed landscapes.

It is not the locus of these bodies to comment on the economic case for or against the proposed High Speed Rail Link. We note, however, the division of expert opinion on this case, and would comment that the economic imperative for this project appears far from established.
The Garden History Society, The Association of Gardens Trusts and The Georgian Group have given careful consideration to the revised proposed route for the High Speed Rail Link published in February 2011. We note and welcome the alterations made to the original proposed route published in 2010. However, we remain opposed to the preferred route on the grounds of its unacceptable impact on a significant number of nationally important designed landscapes.

We note with considerable concern that the impact of the proposed rail link on the various sites and their settings has not been assessed in detail as part of the process of developing this scheme. We consider this to be a fundamental and unacceptable methodological flaw, and would observe that it appears to conflict directly with the Government’s national planning policies for the historic environment set out in Planning Policy Statement 5 (PPS5). Similarly, it appears that the guidance of English Heritage on assessing the impact of proposed development on the historic environment has not been followed. It is inexcusable for the planning of a major infrastructure project closely associated with the Government not to follow planning and conservation best practice.

We append to this letter a more detailed list of designed landscapes which would be affected by implantation of the preferred route (see below). Of particular concern is the impact on three eighteenth century designed landscapes (Hartwell and Shardeloes in Buckinghamshire, and Stoneleigh Abbey in Warwickshire) which are included on the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest at Grade II*, indicating that these sites are of outstanding historic interest when considered in the national context. Each of these landscapes also forms the consciously designed setting for a Grade I listed principal building.

The route of HS2 at Hartwell House, Aylesbury showing potential damage to the views from the House, across the lake and up the North Avenue

The route of HS2 at Hartwell House, Aylesbury showing potential damage to the views from the House, across the lake and up the North Avenue, not to mention the houses just to the north-east…

A 1-2m deep cutting crosses the Avenue just in front of the hedge seen on the brow of the hill. Photo by Charles Boot (Jan 2012)

A 1-2m deep cutting crosses the Avenue just in front of the hedge seen on the brow of the hill. Photo by Charles Boot (Jan 2012)

The Register of Parks and Gardens is a highly selective designation comprising only some 1,600 sites in total (compared to c.360,000 listed buildings and c.18,000 Scheduled Ancient Monuments); of these sites, 10% are considered to be of international significance (c.160 sites), and 30% are identified as being of outstanding historic interest (c480 sites); the remaining 60% of sites are considered to be of ‘special’ historic interest (c.960 sites). It is clear, therefore, that sites such as Hartwell, Shardeloes and Stoneleigh are both rare and highly important surviving examples of eighteenth century landscape design – an aesthetic genre widely considered to be Britain’s greatest contribution to our international cultural heritage.

We note and commend to your attention the comments submitted by the Chilterns AONB Board; we also commend the response submitted by Bucks Gardens Trust and those of other county gardens trusts in affected areas: these embody a very high level of locally-informed expert comment which serves strongly to underline the absence of an appropriate impact assessment in the consultation documents.

The Garden History Society, in its role as Statutory Consultee for nationally designated historic designed landscapes together with The Georgian Group and The Association of Gardens Trusts, advises that the preferred route for the proposed High Speed Rail Link would have an unacceptably detrimental impact on the historic environment and particularly on historic designed landscapes and their settings along its route by reason of physical impact on the historic fabric, or impact on views, vistas or by scale, movement, noise and light effects.

We further advise that there appears to have been a totally inadequate assessment of these impacts on the historic environment as part of the planning process for the preferred route, and comment that this represents an unacceptable approach to planning in this sensitive area.
For these reasons, all three bodies urge you most strongly to withdraw this damaging preferred route for the proposed HS2 rail link.

If, however, despite these and other considered objections this route is adopted, The Garden History Society and The Georgian Group (as Statutory Consultees), and individual county gardens trusts will wish to comment upon, and where appropriate offer advice on mitigation measures. However, it is our collective view that mitigation will not negate the terrible harm which would be inflicted on these fragile and outstandingly significant elements of our historic environment and inheritance.

Jonathan Lovie

Principal Conservation officer

Appendix

Outline Schedule of Historic Designed Landscapes and their Settings affected by HS2 Preferred Route

1.0 Nationally Designated Designed Landscapes

1.1 Sites in Buckinghamshire
•    Shardeloes, Amersham (Grade II*; Grade I listed principal building) – considerable damage amounting to the destruction of this outstanding landscape designed by Humphry Repton.
•    Hartwell House, Aylesbury (Grade II*; Grade I listed principal building) – the setting to the north and east will be particularly adversely affected with damage to the historic fabric including Park Lodge and the North Avenue; the opportunity for the reinstatement of the historic (early eighteenth century) designed view to the spire of St Mary’s, Aylesbury will be lost forever, as will historic designed views from the North Avenue and the Wilderness to open country.
•    Eythrope House (Grade II; Grade II listed building) – impact on the setting of the landscape through noise and visual impact on views.
•    Waddesdon Manor (Grade I; Grade I listed principal building; National Trust) – impact on the setting due to the elevated position of the house and surrounding designed landscape. Designed views north from the park will be particularly affected.
•    Quarrendon, Aylesbury (Scheduled Ancient Monument) – earthwork remains of Sir Henry Lee’s garden; the setting will be adversely affected.

1.2 Sites in Warwickshire
•    Stoneleigh Abbey (Grade II*; Grade I listed principal building) – the proposed viaduct across the River Avon to the north of the Abbey will compromise designed views within the eighteenth century landscape. The route through the former National Agricultural Centre will serve further to blight this area of the designed landscape, ensuring that the full aesthetic concept for Stoneleigh will never be appreciated.
•    Castle Bromwich Hall (Grade II*; Grade I listed principal building) – while the setting to the north of the Hall is already compromised by transport routes, the addition of HS2 will create additional noise and visual impacts, intensifying the degradation of this setting. The existence of harmful development should not be taken as justification for further adverse development.

2.0 Regionally and Locally Significant Sites
NB Due to the incomplete nature of the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens, some of these sites below may be of suitable quality and historic interest to merit national designation.
This list makes no claim to be exhaustive, but serves to highlight the inadequacy of the approach adopted to the historic environment in the Consultation document.

2.1 Sites in Buckinghamshire
•    Barton Hartshorn Manor – an important example of the work of the Scottish Arts and Crafts designed Sir Robert Lorimer, which remains more or less intact.
•    Chetwode Manor, Preston Bissett – impact on the setting of the garden.
2.2 Sites in Northamptonshire
•    Edgcote House – the proposed viaduct to the north of the lake will have an unacceptable impact on the eighteenth century landscape designed to form the setting of this important Grade I listed eighteenth century house (1747–52).
2.3 Sites in Warwickshire
•    Stoneythorpe Hall, Southam – the line to the south of the house and landscape may have a detrimental impact though increased noise levels.


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