What’s the challenge?

The UK’s energy and transport infrastructures are ageing. Is it time to put national infrastructure projects ahead of local concerns? How can we meet growth without disrupting communities?

HS2 (High Speed 2) facts

  • Will travel at 250mph
  • Estimated to cost £60bn
  • The biggest rail project in Britain for over a century.
  • High Speed One has already been established and now connects London St Pancreas International to the Channel Tunnel and to the wider European high-speed train network
  • The first high-speed train was the Shinkansen in Japan, which opened in 1964. France followed with its first TGV line in 1981.
  • Other countries with high-speed railways now include Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, Italy and Korea.

Suggested opportunities of HS2

  • Capacity:Provide additional rail capacity to pressured rail network
  • Faster journey times
  • Potential to link to Heathrow Airport
  • Cheaper and less disruptive than upgrading existing lines
  • Improved economic competitiveness of areas outside London
  • Links to European high-speed rail network
  • Stimulus for tourism
  • Support inward investment
  • Ensure Britain keeps pace with other leading European countries.
  • Link city regions such as the Midlands, the North East and Scotland to international gateways and help to benefit areas outside of the wider south east
  • Provide viable alternative to domestic flights and car travel
  • Contribute to lower carbon emissions and meet national targets

Suggested challenges of HS2

  • Threat to landscapes including the Chilterns and Lake District
  • Noise pollution to neighbouring communities
  • Threat to local habitat and wildlife
  • Higher ticket price means new line will mainly benefit the wealthy
  • Areas of the country that are not serviced by the new high speed line could lose business and investment
  • Train line will pass by local communities and residential areas but will not benefit from a local station
  • Could reduce house prices of neighbouring residents
  • Fears that the trains will be under used
  • Increased carbon emissions per passenger to run services

Plans to address these challenges include:

  • Sinking the train tracks 3ft below ground to reduce noise
  • Trees to line parts of the route to reduce noise
  • Tunnelling considered for section of route passing substantial settlements
  • Governments are considering grants to pay for noise proofing of nearby homes

Wind farms: Harmful or harmless?

Wind farms are increasingly becoming the focus of debates on the UK’s committment to a low-carbon energy future – dividing both local and national opinion.

The two broad groups opposing each other essentially want the same thing: protection of the environment

The difference is scale – with some looking to safeguard their local environment while others are looking to the wider national and global benefit.

The challenge is not over who is right or wrong but how best to balance these two differing opinions.

It is a complex and highly opinionated problem which needs to be resolved. The UK has committed to a target of cutting carbon emissions by 80% by 2050.

“Compared with many other forms of development (like new housing, shopping, or commercial buildings), the benefits of wind energy developments tend to be much less concentrated in the area around the development. For example, the benefits of reduced carbon emissions are global and the contribution of wind energy to improving the security of energy supplies is nationwide.”

Those who oppose wind farms can be from both local communities (based on a geographical location) as well as communities of interest, who have a shared outlook with regard to priorities, politics and commonly held beliefs.

There is great difficulty in defining the ‘local benefits’ of a wind farm – some advantages may only be of benefit to part of the local community.

Local people often have very different points of views about what constitutes a benefit or even an impact on their area. This can be based on aesthetics or principle; location or effectiveness.


• Clean carbon-free energy source

• Less of an eyesore than traditional energy plants

• Contributes to UK commitments to low-carbon energy

• Provides opportunity for local and regional employment (construction and maintenance)

• Investment opportunity for residents and businesses

• Uses relatively small amount of land

• Educational opportunities for local schools

• Visitor centres and tourist facilities

• Opportunity for establishing a developers fund which benefits local residents


• Visually damaging to the local environment and landscape

• Harmful to the character of the area

• Noise pollution from the turbines can be intrusive

• Shadow flicker from turning blades

• Potential damage to local wildlife

• Adverse effect on local house prices

• Consider wind energy to be ineffective and costly, as they are whether dependent.

• Inconvenience to residents during construction

• Think wind farms are better located off shore

On land or offshore?

Questions have been raised over whether wind farms would be better sited offshore rather than on land in Britain. In January 2010, Prime Minister Gordon Brown launched a £100bn programme to build more offshore wind farms. It is hoped that a third of Britain’s energy will be provided by these new wind farm zones by 2020.

Benefits of offshore:

• Less visually harmful location, therefore less objection to projects

• Areas have faster wind speeds and therefore have greater potential capacity

• They can be built bigger and produce more energy

Problems with offshore:

• More expensive to construct wind turbines offshore

• More expensive to maintain turbines offshore due to corrosive effect of salt water

• Turbines could be out of action for months at a time if they fail during winter months, due to the remoteness of their location

Lessons from other countries

Comparing European countries with high levels of wind energy development – such as Spain, Denmark and Germany – highlight that community benefits could be successful within UK wind developments.

Communities in these countries typically enjoy some of the benefits of local wind farms as a matter of routine. Local benefits are effectively built into the fabric of any project, usually taking the form of the local tax payments, jobs and economic benefits from regional manufacturing, and, for Denmark and Germany, opportunities for local ownership.

Panel discussion

21st Century Challenges held a panel discussion on 3 March 2010 to discuss the issue.

Julian Glover, Chief leader writer for The Guardian



Dame Fiona Reynolds, Director, The National Trust
Dame Fiona Reynolds has been Director-General of the National Trust since January 2001. Before taking up the post she was Director of the Women’s Unit in the Cabinet Office and was previously Director of the Council for the Protection of Rural England and Secretary to the Council for National Parks.

Fiona has been involved with the Trust for many years on Council, the Thames and Chilterns regional committee and she chaired the local committee for Sutton House in Hackney. On arriving at the National Trust Fiona outlined three priorities for the organisation: to show leadership in the regeneration of the countryside and where we can in our towns; to develop our work in education and lifelong learning and to deepen our understanding of the meaning and value of cultural heritage. Fiona was awarded the CBE for services to the environment and conservation in 1998. Fiona later received a DBE at the beginning of 2008 for services to heritage and to conservation.



Jim Steer, Steer Davis Gleave
Jim Steer is a chartered engineer, and one of the country’s leading authorities on transport with over 35 years consultancy experience. Jim was founder and Managing Director of Steer Davies Gleave until March 2002, before being seconded to the Strategic Rail Authority as one of three Managing Directors. His secondment ended in July 2005 and, now Jim has rejoined Steer Davies Gleave, and is now taking a personal interest in the development of high-speed rail lines in Britain, which he sees as an essential component of a sustainable integrated transport strategy, given the growth pressures ahead.

Jim is also Founder and Director of Greengauge 21, a not for profit organisation, who’s aim is to research and develop concepts in order to drive the debate on a high-speed rail network in the UK.



Antony Oliver, Editor, New Civil Engineer
Antony Oliver has edited New Civil Engineer, the best read weekly magazine in construction, for nine years and recently led a highly successful redesign to bring the magazine and website bang up to date with readers needs.

A chartered member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Antony spent six years working as a civil engineer with Owen Williams and Balfour Beatty before jumping the fence into journalism. He started on NCE as a junior reporter and has worked on all sections of the magazine covering some of the biggest and most interesting stories in construction over the last 15 years. As the profession’s flagship publication Antony is dedicated to ensuring it reflects and leads the whole industry and is passionate about ensuring the next generation views the profession as a sound career option. Antony was named Business Magazine Editor of the Year 2008 by the Periodical Publishers Association in June.




Maria McCaffery, Chief Executive, Renewable UK (formerly known as The British Wind Energy association (BWEA))

Maria McCaffery was appointed Chief Executive of BWEA in June 2006. Prior to this she was Director General of the Institute of Export, and previously international Director at The British Chambers of Commerce. Both of these roles required close and regular contact with government, and she has also served on a succession of government advisory groups, including an ongoing role with UK Trade & Investment. She was awarded an MBE for services to British exporters in the 1999 New Year Honours.

Between 1978 and 1988 Maria worked in the chemical industry and obtained a joint honours degree in Management and Chemical Sciences from UMIST, specialising in alternative and renewable energy systems, and has remained passionate about the subject ever since.

“Local objection is carrying far more weight than would be reflected if it were representative of public opinion” Maria McCaffery, Chief Executive, Renewable UK

Ken Livingstone is a Londoner born and bred. He was the elected Mayor of London in 2000, the first person to hold this office. He was a Labour councillor in Lambeth and in Camden. He became a Labour member of the Greater London Council in 1973 and became its leader in 1981, a position he held until March 1986 when Margaret Thatcher abolished the GLC, ending an era in London government. The GLC’s campaign against abolition was one of the most popular political campaigns in London’s history. London-wide government was only restored in 2000.

From 1987 to June 2001, Ken was the Labour Member of Parliament for Brent East. He was elected to the position of Mayor of London in 2000 as an Independent. In 2004 he won re-election to a second term as Mayor as the Labour candidate. He was defeated in the London Mayoral elections by Boris Johnson in 2008. He will be running again for Mayor in the 2012 London elections.


Shaun Spiers has been Chief Executive of Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) since 2004. From 1999 to 2004 he was Chief Executive of the Association of British Credit Unions Limited (ABCUL). From 1994 to 1999 he was the Member of the European Parliament for London South East. He has a degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from St. John’s College, Oxford University.

CPRE is a registered charity with over 60,000 members and supporters living in our cities, towns, villages and the countryside. CPRE operate as a network with over 200 district groups, a branch in every county, a group in every region and a National Office. Over 2,000 parish councils and 800 amenity societies belong to CPRE. This makes CPRE a powerful combination of effective local action and strong national campaigning.

CPRE campaigns for a sustainable future for the English countryside, a vital but undervalued environmental, economic and social asset to the nation. They highlight threats and promote positive solutions. In-depth research supports active campaigning, and through reasoned argument and lobbying seek to influence public opinion and decision-makers at every level.

CPRE led the campaign to create the town and country planning system, National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) and Green Belts. Even so, the countryside continues to face a multitude of threats. CPRE campaigns to protect and enhance our landscape heritage for the benefit of all.

“If you look generally at history and how change happens; it happens through small groups of very passionate people” Shaun Spiers, CPRE

Your questions

(00:00) Q1 Who decides the applicability of ideas such as the ‘eco-town’ in addressing key UK issues? And how do they decide? [Answer follows straight away]

(4:17) Q2 What are the issues with adhering to local needs and national interests in nuclear projects? [Answer follows straight away]

(9:00) Q3 Talking about HS2 local councils have a duty to make decisions for their local areas, more discourse is needed. Is it private or public interests? [Discussion commences]

(13:35) Q4 With regards to HS2 and its route; how do you justify protecting the countryside when we have a growing population with growing needs? [Answer follows straight away]

(00:00) Q1 Is rail demand growing more than car demand? [1:05-2:22]

(00:26) Q2 Do you not feel that certain pieces of infrastructure will always have local disadvantages somewhere but have positive spill-overs from their national benefits? Involving too many people in a decision just means nothing will get done. [2:23-3:39]

(3:40) Q3 Do you not think more energy-efficient or renewable schemes should be considered over HS2? [Answer follows straight away]

Further Reading

Surrey Hills, Geographical Magazine, August 2015

UK approves world’s biggest offshore wind-far, Geographical Magazine, February 2015

When the wind blows, Geographical Magazine, April 2013

Preserving the rural idyll: Surrey Hills, Geographical Magazine