While Leeds City Council Leader Judith Blake spends so much time lobbying for HS2, that you have to wonder just exactly who is figuring out where the £24.3m worth of spending cuts across the city will come from this year, it seems that the project isn’t as universally loved within the city as she would have the rest of the country believe.
On Wednesday, saying that “You have to look at the bigger picture”, Liberal Democrat Carmel Harrison proposed that Leeds City Council adopt a White Paper that stated:
“This Council does not believe that the potentially disastrous effects of sustained disruption on workers, students and families in communities is a “price worth paying” for the regeneration of the Leeds South Bank that the Council hopes to achieve through investment related to the proposed HS2 terminus. Council also notes the already escalating cost of the HS2 project, almost doubling to current estimates of £56 billion, and the resulting pressure to limit compensation and mitigation costs en route.”
That text did not pass, as it was not accepted by the ruling Labour group on the council, even though Labour Councillor Karen Bruce initially responded to the motion by saying:
“As a local councillor, it is clear to me that HS2 doesn’t care about its devastating impacts in my ward, health pollution, noise vibration, flooding, subsidence and more. It doesn’t have viable ideas about mitigating the massive disruption during the construction phase. Residents have been misled and mistreated from the start. I don’t know if its deliberate or incompetence, although I expect it’s both.”
“It is disgraceful how residents have been treated. Information and communication is abysmal, compensation a joke. I back the call for a select committee inquiry. It must be far reaching and comprehensive, it must look at the conduct of ministers in the Coalition Government and how they contributed to the current mess. It must look at the costs, predicted benefits, the alternatives. The select committee must look at the economic and social impact on local communities. We need absolute confirmation on the viability of HS2 and to know that everything possible is being done to protect our local residents. That is why a parliamentary select committee is the best way to get answers and hopefully action.”
Lib-Dem Councillor Stewart Golton, who like Harrison and Bruce represents the Rothwell ward, pointed out that while those were fine words, they did not match the attitude of the council:
“Everything that you’ve just pointed out shows how dysfunctional HS2 is. And yet, This [city council] administration puts complete trust in HS2 a significant level of mitigation for the residents that we represent. Now that doesn’t show any kind of rationality, to talk about how dysfunctional it [HS2] is, to talk about how their behaviour is just not up to scratch, and then in the next breath just go; ‘Well I’m sure everything will turn out alright and I’m sure that if we warn them that we want decent mitigation, I’m sure they’ll deliver it’, that is either naïve or complacent. It can’t be anything else. We know that this is a delivery of high speed rail that is not fit for purpose.”
At the end of his speech, Councillor Golton pointed out that the Liberal-Democrats had added this text: “This Council therefore calls on all Leeds MPs to support Ed Milliband MP’s call for a “proper examination and inquiry” into HS2, including a Select Committee hearing.”, purely so that Labour councillors such as Bruce could support it. But in what was clearly a politically charged debate, with elections coming up in a matter of weeks and the Lib-Dems gaining a seat in Rothwell last time, Labour had submitted an amendment to the proposed White Paper which replaced all of the substantive text with a diatribe against the previous Coalition Government, though it did retain the call for a parliamentary inquiry into Phase 2b of HS2, saying that the “Council therefore calls for the Government to ensure an appropriate parliamentary examination and inquiry into HS2 Phase 2B”, and that amendment would end up passing into policy.
Going back to the party politics, Conservative Ryan Stephenson pointed out that getting the inquiry the council is now demanding might not be straightforward:
“The crux of the problem is the configuration of the station which limited the options of the route into Leeds. You might have called in the amendment for a select committee inquiry, but our member of parliament wrote to the Labour chair of the committee and asked for that, and the Labour chair of the committee wrote back and said ‘you’re not having one’, so if you want to look about responsibility, look within your own ranks.”
The rest of the debate underlined the fact that when HS2 cheerleaders like Blake claim that everyone they speak to in their area to is all for HS2, it is increasingly evident that this is far from the truth. For The Green Party, Councillor David Blackburn said:
“I’ve always been an HS2 sceptic, I think it is a sop to the north of England. Is it the right way to invest? No it isn’t. Our railways are in the north are a mess, that is where the investment should go. Some people in this council are in love with the idea ‘Oh we’ve got this wonderful thing, it’ll bring us loads of economic profitability’. It won’t, it’ll favour London, it won’t favour us, we need a proper decent train system in the North of England, not this.”
Councillor Mark Dobson, who quit Labour to join the Garforth and Swillington Independents in 2017, pointed out: the idiocy of HS2s plans to move thousands of tonnes of earth; that they still can’t say if the plan is for a viaduct or a tunnel at Swillington; and that land in the former mining area where HS2 is meant to go near Garforth is still sinking. He said:
“I’ve been to meeting after meeting after meeting with HS2 and six years down the line, I still go to meetings and we’re asking the most basic of questions. It seems to me that six years down the line HS2 is still just a line on a map, but one that has cost £600m to get there.”
Summing up, Harrison said:
“Every day, anywhere around the ward, I see Stop HS2 posters, because the reality for the people living in the villages is that it’s a blight on their lives. The only thing they can be assured of at the moment is that if it goes ahead there will be a negative environmental impact. We also know that we’ve spent a fiendish amount of money and we’ve got nothing to show for it. That is unsustainable. There is going to come a point when even this government is going to stop talking about the b-word and starts thinking about HS2 and maybe even other matters like education and health and woe betide even the environment and says ‘enough is enough’.”
“It’s time to call a halt now. If they are serious in persisting with HS2, now is the time to have a full inquiry into the environmental impacts of HS2, the health repercussions, what it will do the existing generations and future generations Let people decide, put the full evidence in front of them. Already the environmental evidence is compellingly negative, but the financial cost analysis has been consistently destroyed.”
The full debate can be viewed here. The HS2 debate was item 16.