Anti-HS2 campaigners have been dealt a huge blow after the “devastating” decision not to tunnel underneath the Chilterns.

The HS2 Select Committee yesterday decided not to support the campaigner’s proposal for the Chilterns Long Tunnel, despite what county council leader MArtin Tett called an “overwhelming” case in its favour.

However, the committee did agree that additional protection should be given to Bucks’ area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) and have accepted there should be more tunnelling in areas including Chesham and Amersham.

Isobel Darby, leader of Chiltern District Council said regarding the decision: “Whilst we are disappointed that our own option, the Chilterns Long Tunnel, has not received the support of the select committee, we appreciate that some of this outstanding area will be getting protection through an alternative tunnel option.

“We stand by our evidence that the equally valuable AONB to the north requires a similar measure of safeguarding and will continue to do everything we can to ensure the whole of the Chilterns AONB receives the statutory protection it rightly deserves."

Kath Daly, acting chief officer for the Chilterns Conservation Board, was not impressed with the decision, saying: “This is a devastating decision which completely disregards the strong evidence put forward of the benefits of a long tunnel for the Chilterns and for the nation.

“This regrettable decision to reject a tunnel under the whole of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty fails to recognise the true value of the AONB – an irreplaceable resource for the nation.

“It is particularly disappointing that the HS2 select committee took barely an hour to produce its recommendations.”

She added: “We will be pressing for the maximum alternative mitigation.”

Bucks Free Press:

Anti-HS2 campaigners in Great Missenden last month - ARM Images.

Martin Tett, leader of Buckinghamshire County Council, was also not happy with the decision, saying: "It is very hard to believe this decision. The Chilterns is a nationally designated AONB and a 'lung for London'. The case was overwhelming for a full tunnel.”

He added: “Nevertheless, I welcome the decision to at least instruct HS2 to look at extending the current tunnel length northwards and the green tunnel at Wendover southwards and hope that some more of the precious AONB will be spared.

“Buckinghamshire County Council, along with our partners, will continue to lobby for the maximum mitigation possible for all affected.”

The decision from the select committee comes after their visit to Buckinghamshire earlier this month.

Speaking of the decision, Cheryl Gillan, MP for Chesham and Amersham said: “I am delighted that the HS2 Select Committee have accepted that there should be more tunnelling to protect South Heath, Hyde Heath, Potter Row and the Chesham & Amersham constituency.”

“The committee members have asked HS2 Ltd to work up the case for additional provisions based on what I have described as the bare minimum to protect the area.

“I know if this goes ahead it will bring great relief to more of my constituents for which I am very grateful.

“This announcement today means we can enter the summer with more hopes in our hearts about gaining the protections which we need for the communities and the environment and we still have further petitioning after the summer recess.”

However, Mrs Gillan added: “Today’s hearing was bitter-sweet as the committee rejected the arguments for a full tunnel, which would have protected the whole of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.”

The decision from the Select Committee comes after their visit to Buckinghamshire last month.