This report by Roger Broadbent is from the HS2 roadshow last month at the Stafford Showground.
I have come back from an event arranged by HS2 Ltd at Stafford Showground and would like to share my impressions with whoever might be interested. It was good to see so many friends there from my local village and others from within adjacent villages.
I decided beforehand that I wanted to specifically concentrate on environmental issues.
On arrival I was told that the management of Stafford Showground had taken the disgraceful decision not to allow Staffs Against HS2 campaigners to hold a parallel event at the venue. I understand that Stafford Showground is the only venue that has taken this decision and HS2 campaigners have been allowed to have representation at all other venues. I understand that my good friend Bob Gasch had earlier been asked to leave because he was wearing a Stop HS2 tee shirt. The right for peaceful protest appears to be denied when HS2 is in town. If true this is a disgrace and I personally will not be attending future events at the Showground in future unless campaigners such as me are made welcome.
On arrival we were met by a suave gentleman from HS2 Ltd who advised on the layout of the displays.
Following that advice I was drawn to a display that focused on Connecting to Stafford and the wider Region. The words that stuck out stated
“In Staffordshire,HS2 services could also be accessed from Birmingham or Crewe, which are expected to offer journey time savings of around 30 minutes.”
I pointed out to the gentleman that proved to me that HS2 offered the people of Staffordshire a very poor deal as it would take approximately at least an hour for me to get to either Birmingham or Crewe thus increasing my journey times by at least two hours plus additional parking costs. I stated therefore that I saw no benefits to Staffordshire people whatsoever. Given my age like many others all I saw was the pain and no gain. The construction programme might start within my lifetime and that really was going to be difficult. An attempt at a sympathetic response to my statement was the typical “ I know how you feel “
My response was how dare he suggest that he had any understanding of how I would feel as I am not sure how I will react when the diggers go in other than that I hope I will be dead by then ! The capacity issue had to addressed he stated to which I replied that both the capacity and business cases were flawed and that the case for HS2 was based on misinformation. It was clear that he and I had very little common ground so I quickly moved on . On the whole the displays concentrated on how HS2 can bring maximum benefits to Staffordshire. Fair and honest assessments were hard to come by with no downsides mentioned whatsoever.
Unsurprisingly I was drawn to environmental matters and I was soon in discussion with David Collins an Ecology Technical Specialist and a member of the HS2 Ltd Technical Directorate. I expressed my concerns about the construction of the 570 metre viaduct across the Tixall Road at Hoo Mill corner and how this might be constructed. My concerns firstly related to the logistics of how the work would be done and could he give any clues as to the details of the remodeling of the junction to Ingestre which presently is the only access to the village. The Tixall Road is narrow and frequently there are accidents with cars regularly going through hedges sometimes in what appears to be excellent weather. Only last week I had found a car off the road with a dazed driver in a state of shock. In a brief conversation I learned that he had been dazzled by the low sun as he rounded the bend adjacent to Tixall Manor Farm. Mr. Collins had no idea of the state of that stretch of road as it swings into the west and the hazard that low sun can pose for oncoming traffic. Early morning and late afternoons particularly in mid winter are the most dangerous times when these conditions can prevail. I expressed a concern regarding collisions with construction traffic and Mr Collins thanked me for pointing that out. These matters would be addressed once the route had been approved. That appeared to be a stock answer to most of my questions that I asked during my visit.
My main concern at Hoo Mill Corner was the salt marsh and particularly the birdlife as there were breeding Curlew there. I was assured that ground preparation across the salt marsh would be done when the Curlews would not be present. Mr. Collins appreciated the information about the Curlews and appeared to welcome any further details of wildlife local people such as me could give him once the route had been approved. He told me that HS2 could create alternative woodland habitats away from the track. Not wishing to be detracted from the salt marsh I pressed him on salt marsh relocation. His answer was very honest, “I would not even try”.
As honesty appeared to be a refreshing change with anything to do with HS2 Ltd I mentioned the threat to Barn Owls. His answer was equally blunt Barn Owls within 1.5miles of HS2 would be wiped out but never mind HS2 could erect Barn Owl boxes further away from the line ! There is much that Mr. Collins and I will disagree about but at last within the HS2 Company I thought that there was a person could understand my concerns but he could only consider them once the line had been built. That is the problem with where we are with HS2 at the moment . The consultation is flawed because basically all that is being considered is a line on a map. The effects of that line once it is agreed to construct will only be up for discussion once the route is approved. Parliament will then scrutinize the proposals in detail and decide whether mitigation measures are reasonable or not. Even if the Hybrid Bill is passed HS2 will face many hurdles. Construction of HS2 Phase 2 is not set to commence until 2023 (approx) I hope that I will not live to see it! Today the message from HS2 Ltd was “Trust us”. Nothing I have heard from them leads me to believe that they deserve that trust.
I briefly looked at a display that mentioned the Cannock Chase AONB. HS2 claim that the route has been designed to avoid potential impacts on the AONB. The lady that stood by this display agreed that the construction of a 570 metre viaduct on the edge of the AONB would of course impact on the AONB as it would be clearly visible from within the AONB as a very close structure to the AONB. No recognition of this is mentioned in the HS2 literature which generally is at best economic with the truth.
Worryingly the literature states thatHS2 has confirmation from Environmental Agency and Natural England that routes to the south of Pasturefields SAC “could be screened out of requiring a Habitats Regulations Appropriate Assessment”. I must confess that I have not got a clue what that statement means but I think I know a stitch up when I see one. With friends like them do we need enemies?
Regarding water management including the Trent and the Trent Management Canal HS2 claim that “ any impacts would be kept to a practicable minimum.” No details are available on how they will minimise the effects on watercourses, its wildlife and associated wetland species. The design would also take into account flood risk. These matters will only be addressed after they decide to build. Decisions will therefore be made on the hoof to address problems as and when they occur. The problem is that in the real environment such policies if approved lead to irreversible damage to the environment. The truth was beginning to sink in. This event was nothing more than a window dressing exercise . None of the concerns real people had were going to be addressed here.
Finally I made my way to the area where the sound booths were. Here I was looking forward to hearing a train that was yet to be built. A nice man told me that I could listen to a recording of a very similar train that had been made in Germany. This recording had been made 600m from the line similar to a spot in Great Haywood across the A51. Amazingly the A51 will be noisier than HS2! No recognition seemed to be made in the recording that the trains will be 10 m or so higher than the surrounding fields as it crosses over the Trent on the viaduct. No information was available regarding time of day when the recording was made or the prevailing wind, temperatures and other factors that affect how noise travels. The sound will be absorbed by boards that will absorb the sound of the wheels. No need to worry about the noise then.
What happens to the sound waves was neatly avoided but HS2 would not want to talk about that even if this is a genuine concern but such matters were not to be addressed today. I would envisage that if these waves are “absorbed” they would have to go to ground and that would at the very least disturb the ballast requiring regular night time maintenance.
I was told that the noise from the pantographs will be less than on trains presently running as they will be designed to reduce. Any comparison to HS1 is irrelevant.
Night time noise was neatly glossed over even though I referred to it during the construction phase. I was told that pile drivers are not used to the same extent as they were when the M5 was built near where I lived in the mid sixties and that screws now extracted the soil more quietly but all of that could be discussed during construction.
In a brief conversation the HS2 Ltd Community liaison officer assured me that once approval is given they will release further details regarding construction and community issues will be dealt with then.
Finally the most worrying incident occurred as I left the event. My departure coincided with the arrival of a parish councilor who clearly believes that he can use the evidence provided to him regarding the salt marsh to move the line to the east which was apparently the other major option. I very much oppose that approach as moving the route just moves the misery and denies the destruction of the business , capacity and environmental cases forwarded by H.M. Government and now so badly discredited. Today did nothing to change my mind. The best thing to do with HS2 is to stop it and the sooner the better !