Replacement trees

High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 8th March 2016.

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(1) The Nominated Undertaker shall secure suitable replacement trees to replace the same number of lost trees during design and construction.

(2) The Nominated Undertaker is required to maintain a record of the number of the lost trees and of those replacement trees planted by the Nominated Undertaker.—

This new clause shall ensure that there is no net loss of trees as a result of the design and construction of HS2.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Minister (Transport)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I hope this will be a relatively straightforward matter and that it will give Committee members the opportunity to consider a commonly supported environmental issue: the need for there to be no net loss of trees as a result of the design and construction of HS2.

The Minister will be well aware of the concerns that have been raised by environmental groups, local authorities and community groups about the adverse impact of the construction and operation of HS2 on trees. Trees form a vital part of the heritage of our countryside and brighten the streets.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns Conservative, Chelmsford

The hon. Gentleman raises a very important issue that concerns many people. To put his new clause in perspective, does he have any estimate of how many trees might be lost?

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am afraid I do not have the answer in terms of the raw number. I am pleased to note that there will be a commitment to plant a significant number of trees—I will come to that in very short order. The new clause gives us the opportunity to acknowledge the work that has been done by HS2 to ensure that up to 2 million trees, I think, will be planted. That is very much to be welcomed, so I entirely agree with him.

Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns Conservative, Chelmsford

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the commitment is 2 million trees. The point I was trying to tease out is that I cannot believe that 2 million trees are going to be destroyed in the building of HS2, so why is the new clause needed?

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Minister (Transport) 2:45 pm, 8th March 2016

For the simple reason that although there may be that commitment, we may find that there is a removal or destruction of trees that is very detrimental, and that we have a net loss of trees over a significant period of time. I note the ambition and the intention to restore forests and altogether about 2 million trees, but it is what happens in the interim that might be of interest to the right hon. Gentleman. I trust that I shall address his point as I conclude my brief comments.

Trees brighten the streets and public spaces of urban areas throughout the country. It is a necessary evil that some of them will be cut down as part of the design and construction of HS2. It is a great shame that trees such as the Cubbington pear tree near Warwick will be lost. It was the 2015 Tree of the Year and is believed to have been growing for more than 250 years, but it will be cut down to make way for the line. It is necessary to lose some trees to facilitate phase 1 of HS2, but it is important that we do not suffer a net loss of trees because of the construction.

The Minister is committed to ensuring that the biodiversity of our country is maintained; ensuring that we do not lose trees is an important component of maintaining that biodiversity. The new clause would require the nominated undertaker to secure suitable replacement trees to replace the same number of lost trees during design and construction. It would also require the nominated undertaker to maintain a record of the trees planted in place of those lost.

I understand that some 2 million trees will be planted as part of the mitigation in connection with phase 1. That in itself is a fantastic achievement, but will the Minister assure the Committee that we will not suffer a net loss of trees? Earlier in Committee he mentioned a recent meeting with the Woodland Trust to look into how best to choose the species of tree to introduce in the planting programme. Can he reassure local authorities, environmental groups and community groups that trees will be suitably replaced?

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Transport)

I am more than happy to give the hon. Gentleman the assurances he seeks. Indeed, we will be not only replacing the trees but planting many more times the number removed. The planting of 2 million trees should have a major positive effect on the environment and contribute to our pledge of no net environmental loss from the delivery of HS2. The code of construction practice means that the nominated undertaker will be required to set out the number of lost trees and the replacement and monitoring plans that will be developed going forward. Indeed, wherever possible we will try to source trees from the United Kingdom, if for no other reason than phytosanitary purposes.

Section 12 of the code of construction practice that accompanied the Bill states:

“Appropriate controls will be put in place to protect the landscape and visual receptors in rural and urban areas from construction activities including designated landscape areas, heritage assets, parks and, open spaces and smaller green spaces in urban areas. Controls will include, as appropriate…a plan showing areas of existing trees and vegetation within the construction site to be retained (and protected), and those to be removed…a schedule of plant species and planting mixes to be used and provision of sufficient stock of specified species and provenance that typify the local area, including details of plant suppliers to be used…a programme for undertaking planting works…inspection, maintenance and management of existing and new planting”.

The Cubbington pear tree was indeed Tree of the Year 2015. It is true that unfortunately the tree will be a casualty of the delivery of the scheme, although I am told by the experts who have looked at the tree that it is very old and is probably getting to the end of its natural life. I have ensured that we take as many cuttings as possible, and take any other possible measures to try to propagate this tree and ensure that a number of communities up and down the line of route will be able to have one of the daughters of the Cubbington pear tree as part of their community. We are doing whatever we can to try to ensure that while, sadly, this tree may fall to the chainsaws of the HS2 construction teams, there will be life after death for the genetic material ensconced in the pear tree.

In addition, section 12 states that the nominated undertaker will require its contractors to employ an arboricultural consultant to oversee work relating to the protection of trees. Trees intended to be retained that are accidentally felled or die as a consequence of construction works will be replaced where reasonably practicable. The size and species of replacement trees will be selected to achieve a close resemblance to the original trees, in line with the HS2 landscape design approach document, taking cognisance of any management plans for immediately adjacent areas of woodland. The code of construction practices is binding under the environmental minimum requirements, and therefore the Secretary of State would be accountable to Parliament should there be a breach.

As part of the development of the scheme and the Select Committee process, we have provided the London Borough of Camden with assurances on trees, the wording of which is identical to that put forward by the hon. Gentleman in this proposed new clause. As with all assurances, the Secretary of State is accountable to Parliament should this not be delivered. With this in mind, I do not believe that there is a need to include the new clause within the Bill. It would duplicate existing obligations for which we are already accountable to Parliament. I therefore hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw this proposed new clause.

Photo of Andy McDonald Andy McDonald Shadow Minister (Transport)

I am delighted to hear that there will be life after death for the Cubbington pear. The Minister has persuaded me that trees will be replanted in very significant numbers. I agree entirely with him that the new clause is now not necessary, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 33