Does HS2 have a blind spot?
A few months ago, HS2 Ltd published a 32 page document entitled Landscape Design Approach. It has been reviewed and approved by the HS2 Independent Design Panel. The document presents a very positive picture regarding HS2 including such expressions as “add beauty to the landscape” and “encourage positive integration of structures”. However there is one element that is not mentioned at all: overhead gantries.
Those familiar with the Great Western route will be aware of the ongoing rail electrification programme. These gantries have much more metal in them than almost any other rail overhead gantry design. An engineering professor from Southampton University has suggested that the amount of steel in the gantries could be reduced by 40%. The excessive amount of metal used creates much more of a visual intrusion.
These gantries have created a most unwelcome eyesore for people living close to the Great Western Route. In Goring, the Railway Action Group has been formed and this group is “dedicated to the protection of the beautiful Goring Gap from the desecration of the landscape by Network Rail’s bulky, environmentally insensitive and one-size-fits-all electrification design”. In January, Network Rail apologised for the Goring Gap gantries and acknowledged that they should have consulted with nearby residents. Since then, Network Rail has confirmed its commitment to retrofitting a suitable new design of electrification gantries on this part of the route. There are several images of these gantries in the link provided.
In these circumstances HS2 Ltd might have considered it appropriate to discuss how they would minimise the visual impact created by the gantries above the high speed rail lines. This is all the more important as most of the proposed route of HS2 will not run next to existing transport corridors between the Chilterns and Cheshire. While the Chilterns is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, there are many other parts of Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire, Warwickshire, Staffordshire, Cheshire and Yorkshire through which HS2 is planned to run which are peaceful, attractive and unspoilt rural areas.
There is concern that the design of gantry used for the Great Western route could be used for HS2 as well. This is certainly a landscape design issue which so far does not appear to have been addressed. To omit any such discussion of this critical element from what is now a mandatory technical standard appears to be turning a blind eye to the most visually intrusive part of the HS2 design. The gantries, which will be approximately eight metres high, will be visible every day for the next 100 plus years. HS2 staff also appear reluctant to engage in dialogue about the gantry design for HS2.
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