The week the country woke up to HS2.

For 22 months HS2 has been a massive issue in the areas it will go through. Not as pro-campaigners continuously try to assert because of ‘Nimby’ and ‘Luddite’ attitudes, but because people up and down the route have not only understood the plans and lack of any justification for them, but they have seen the cuts going on in their own communities.

This piece is being written in the Stop HS2 HQ in Kenilworth, a building which Warwickshire County Council were stuck with after the Government refused to fund the building for a train station in the town. They couldn’t sell the building as it is part of their long term plans and couldn’t let it out as they might get the money for the station any time, so apart from leaving it derelict, letting Stop HS2 use it was the only option. Kenilworth is a small town of less than 30,000 and in the last year we have had to fight to save the nursery school and the fire station, have lost the police station (and the Warwickshire Police HQ just outside town) and the youth centre will no longer get public funding and has been left to fend for itself as a charity. Going ahead with HS2 is an insult to every local authority making cuts and every local authority supporting HS2 is insulting the people who live there.

This is the familiar story repeated not only along the line of HS2, but everywhere throughout the country. So it was no surprise to anyone –apart it seems for pro-lobbyists and Government- that when HS2 finally became national news this week that the country reacted with the same thoughts pretty much across the board:

“HOW MUCH? For that? What £17.8 billion, BILLION, just for a train from London to Birmingham? You are kidding? Have you not looked around this country? Oh and big business want it, well what a surprise! What, and it’s not even good for the environment? Oh come on, really!”

There have of course been a few misguided souls such as union leaders who see people in The Chilterns protest about HS2 and automatically think this is a part of some class war without being  realising that as ever if there is ‘Class War’, it is the ordinary people of this country against the business and political elite, and they are on the wrong side.

Having had the pro-HS2 strategy for the week leaked to us was quite an amazing thing. They had been worried that following the Transport Select Committee report a couple of months ago that “The HS2 opposition had dominated the press coverage and this must not be allowed to happen again”, so they had set in place a media programme that meant that wouldn’t happen. Of course, even before the announcement they scored a massive own-goal, and on FA Cup Third round day too. A conveniently timed Network Rail report, which incidentally undermined the consultation, had been produced and was top story last Saturday. But it was Saturday, and of course lobbyists, business leaders and MPs can’t be bothered on a Saturday. But we could. In all, there were five people interviewed against HS2 on the BBC News Channel before Maxine Mulwhinney said on introducing Deputy Shadow Transport Spokesman John Woodcock “We’ve had been trouble getting anyone to speak for HS2 today”. Woodcock then did his bit for us, being a bumbling ill-informed fool, before the BBC gave up and had no other option but to interview their own correspondent.

The day before the announcement then proved the point in Stop HS2 having an office, as the landline –we never actually publicise the number- didn’t stop ringing from the press. On the day of the announcement itself, the first press query came in at quarter to eight in the morning. There had been calls to activist from the media across the country and there was a wonderfully trained army ready to march into battle.

The first sign for most was Jerry Marshall leading the charge, on the sofa for BBC Breakfast as a shouty and ranty Pete Waterman was telling railway journalist and author of books on the history of railways Christian Wolmar that he knew nothing about trains. This outburst, much like when he was on Channel 4 News with me got ‘Pete Waterman’ trending on twitter, which was the first step to getting ‘HS2’ trending on twitter. Thanks again Pete!

Going back to that briefing, the Yes Campaign had planned to dig out their own historian to tour the studios, harking back to the industrial revolution and how railways fuelled it. Somehow they didn’t get one, maybe because the railways came about 100 years after the start of the Industrial Revolution.

Anyway, by now the whole thing was kicking off all over the place. Local radio stations were providing wall to wall coverage, but so were the nationals as the Radio 5 phone in started, where Mr Woodcock had been put up for another kicking. The thing was, although there were amassed ranks of supporters for the Stop HS2 campaign, they were not the ones on the radio, especially this station, it was the Great British public, from all over the nation. Besides the few who fell for the spin, the vast majority saw that HS2 is one of those projects, one of those political things that politicians do which doesn’t make sense and clearly isn’t going to fulfill it’s promises whilst coming with a massive price tag which will surely increase.

And that was the thing, the British public now knew about this thing, for so much money and for so little benefit at this time of cuts. The calls kept coming, social media went off the scale and the even the Daily Star had it’s fill of texts against HS2. The most telling that I encountered was BBC WM, which serves among other places, Birmingham. If there were any platform for public opinion which was expected to be all for HS2 it was that one. Well it wasn’t.

It wasn’t that there were significant questions during the hour phone in I was involved in, but driving that night to Central, the station was broadcasting live from Middleton Village Hall. The main thing that got me though wasn’t that, it was on the way back. They were on their regular programming, with the regular phone in contributors. They, the regulars on the Birmingham BBC radio station were making the points the Stop HS2 campaign has been making for two years. Even the woman who comes up with poems rang in, with a poem against HS2.

In many ways it was amazing the Government didn’t see what was surely a natural reaction coming. Controversy has always courted HS2 and now it is a national issue, it won’t go away, it will only get bigger. Unless HS2 gets cancelled of course. You were warned!

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20 comments to “The week the country woke up to HS2.”
  1. In the national interest, is one of things we keep getting told. No, we say, it will mainly benefit London, if anyone. Now they say..

    The Department for Transport (DfT) has stressed that London will be the main beneficiary from the plan, which will see trains travelling at 225mph between London and Birmingham from 2026.

    “London will be one of the big winners from HS2. It will deliver improved connectivity with our great northern cities, extra space on the existing lines for more commuter services, a completely revamped Euston station, a brand-new interchange station at Old Oak Common and more than 20,000 jobs for Londoners,” a DfT spokesman said.

    • Thats a shift from all those statements about solving the North South divide…and statements about improved commuter travel, I’d love to see their integrated transport strategy. I also see in the news there will be a consultation about a new Airport in the Thames estuary another carbon reducing project from “The Greenest Government Ever”. The whole thing is a mess we need an overall transport strategy that addresses the significan issues that exist with our aging rail network not a shiny new railway….I am really angry with this Government about their lack of joined up thinking around transport.

      • There is unlikely to be any joined up thinking regarding transport policies.
        We are dealing with a government that contains people like the previous transport minister and the current incumbent.
        Let us not forget that she likened this project to the “great Victorian railway projects” the last one of which was apparently the “Grand Central Railway”.
        Two points here,
        1) Victorian thinking to address the “lack of capacity” and
        2) She cannot even get the simple facts right so what chance is there of her having made a rational decision based upon the “facts” presented to her?

        I am glad to see and hear the fact that a lot of people in this country have (albeit way too late) woken up to this nonsensical idea.

  2. I have asked 38% again to help us fight ,perhaps if others do to we may get somewhere.The Lords are holding up a lot of Bills so hopefully
    they will slow thegovernmets progress.If I have understood correctly the hybrid bill doesnt go to the Lords.I really in disbelief how the M.P.s
    are behaving with so many against Hs2 and so negative data.

    • I’ve asked 38º a couple of times as well, Elaine. Perhaps now the media have been full of HS2 we might get somewhere.

      • @rose / @Elaine

        Take if from me – you’ll get nowhere with 38 degrees, they campaign on issues of Social Justice and despite your feelings in this matter, HS2 doesn’t fit with their criteria

  3. Nice post, Joe.

    Let’s also not forget that the government still haven’t published the full details of the Y route, although it’s a critical part of the justification. More people will suffer, they just don’t know about it yet.

    Whilst I now live in Bucks (and am therefore, no doubt, a NIMBY, or a luddite), I’m originally from Yorkshire and Derbyshire and spend a lot of time working in both those counties and the North West. Justine Greening on BBC QT, patronisingly said, “The people in the North and the Midlands say they want this”, yet the people I speak with really don’t care about HS2. These people work locally or already benefit from decent rail services (remember, the “pain point” is really between London and Southern towns, so alleviating the links to MK, Bedford, etc, would actually solve most of the congestion), and don’t see why they should see their local services being cut, bins not being emptied, and care for the elderly reduced, in order to subsidise a flawed commuter service between London and Birmingham. Most of them don’t believe they’ll ever use the service anyway, and there’s a *lot* of cynicism about whether the ‘Y’ will become a reality.

    There’s also this argument that it’s not an increase in expenditure because Crossrail will finish and the HS2 costs will be roughly the same. In times of austerity, only an idiot would work on the principle of, “I no longer have to pay a this loan; I’ll use this money to service a new loan”; the sane amongst us, who are having to tighten our belts (“we’re in this together”, remember) would say, “Thank goodness I no longer have to pay for this, I can use this money to pay of my other debts more quickly”).

    Whatever the outcome, I think the most important thing is that we make sure the country has long memories on this one. Too often, politicians make claims and fthen orce things upon us, knowing that whatever the outcome, they won’t be in office to face the consequences.

    In the face of the educated, skillful and broad opposition to HS2, why don’t we demand these MPs gamble their gilt-edged pensions against their decisions in office, using a formula which measures the value of their decisions against public cost and benefit? If all the main parties are 100% convinced that HS2 is the right thing to do, then there’s no reason why they shouldn’t commit something of their own to demonstrate they’re working for us rather than themselves.

    • Totally agree Stu
      Taking the first point about the Y how can it be lawful that many people are required to surrender their homes/businesses/environment sometime in the next decade for a Lon to Bham link which is the only proposition to be covered by the hybrid bill?

    • Very eloquently put sir!
      The reason that the Y shaped route has not been tackled is, I am afraid to say, obvious…..there might have been more than 100,000 signatures on the e-petition which may have forced a debate.
      Thus when the debate occured, some “anti-HS2” MPs may have actually had to attend and voice their constituents’ concerns.
      Doing the job piecemeal allows MPs (mine in particular) to suggest that mitigation has eased her concerns despite the fact that the building of the extra tunnel will make a section of the Chilterns nothing more than a builder’s site and a pretty big one at that!
      As a result of this decision, I am sorry to say that I shall no longer be voting for any of the main parties as they just do not listen.
      Threats of resignation appear to mean nothing when there is a danger that the gravy train may pass them by!

    • I agree with Stu on 14th January, MP’s should be held responsible for these major decisions, if their pensions were at risk they might pay more attention! what an extremely good idea. However, next time I shall not vote for any of the 3 main parties and I believe many people will do the same.HS2 will benefit consultants and the construction industry and ruin the environment and ancient buildings along the route. We are so short of money spend where needed for the benefit of society today. High Speed 1 lost 3 billion for the tax payer.

  4. We were told that we should be cutting back on air travel so why should Bham airport be even trying to be an alternative to Heathrow?The MPs that have turned have obviously only been on the side of their constituents for an easy ride.Now they can say oh we’ll try to get the best for you,hoping that the voters won’t see they are intent on saving their jobs.I wont say they are all the same ,but the majority are.It is a sad state of affairs.Just keep writing letters to them and the press .Eventually they may come to realise that their constituents are not stupid and
    if they want to keep their jobs thenthey must listen to them.

  5. Well said Joe and it was just the same on Question Time last night – a line up of politicians saying HS2 is good for us and not a single positive comment or even a smattering of applause from the audience – no the public had only one point of view – why the hell are we planning to spend this money when real people are struggling to just live.

  6. This might be on here already but I just wanted to leave a link to an interesting articel I found online about how the new high speek rail in Netherlands had to be recently bailed out to stop it going bankrupt, I cannot believe that this government is going ahead with this nonesense and I urge everybody to never vote again for any of the 3 main parties, they can not be trusted ever again and there needs to be a massive shake up in English politics to get the people heard again.

  7. Why are some MP’s who say they are against HS2 now talking about mitigation and compensation and not getting together to fight it

    • Fear of falling off the gravy train?
      As a resident who will be affected by this white elephant I received the latest spin document in which the goalposts for building it have changed form the “consultation” roadshows reasons.

  8. Time saving to Bham International from Euston would be 12 minutes so I can’t see bham airport being an alternative to Heathrow

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