Collateral damage

Originally published on HS2 and the Environment, here. If you don’t read Peter’s blog, we definitely recommend the in-depth articles he publishes.

I was very sad to learn, from an article in the Camden New Journal, that widower George Phillips passed away recently in his flat in the Eskdale block on the Regent’s Park Estate in Camden. He was the “George” that I quoted in my blog Grabbed by the throat (posted 26 Jul 2012), with his words being taken from a short video, Our Street , made by director Jane Gull (see footnote 1).

George had led a long life – he was 97 when he died – so perhaps we need to celebrate a life, rather than mourn a death. It is obvious that George was a survivor: he makes the simple statement in the video about his wartime experiences, “I was in a horror camp, but I survived it”. George was a Far East prisoner of war, and I know only too well the impact that this dreadful experience must have had on him, as my father was also a FEPOW. The unimaginable depredation, starvation, disease, brutality, exhaustion and extreme physical discomfort that he had to endure left an indelible mark on the rest of my father’s life – he was only a young man in his twenties when he was captured, as George would have been – and the physical and mental scars that my father bore, such as recurring bouts of fever and vivid nightmares, are an enduring memory of my childhood. I expect that George had similar difficulties; most FEPOWs did.

What is so heart-breaking about George’s death is that his final half-a-dozen years were blighted by HS2; the extension of the throat to Euston Station to accommodate the new HS2 platforms requires the block in which he lived to be demolished. He would, of course, have been rehoused by Camden Council, but moving to a new neighbourhood was an extremely daunting prospect for George (footnote 2):

“Who’s going to help me to pack my home up and that and where are they going to send me? It’s a worry every day.”

The Camden New Journal article reveals that George, survivor that he was, had tried to anticipate the trauma of moving and “had boxed up his belongings in anticipation of being forced out of his home” – bearing in mind his age, this would have been, I think we may safely assume, the work of many months. The article goes on to tell us that these boxes of his possessions were “ready by the door”.

How I wish that George would have been left to live out his final years in peace: we have certainly seen proposals promoted that would have allowed this. Forceful arguments have been put forward that HS2 should terminate at Old Oak Common, rather than building the expensive, and disruptive, extension to Euston, and apparently viable schemes have been advanced that would allow Euston Station to be rebuilt on the same footprint. Perhaps even more compelling are the arguments that HS2 should not be built at all.

But if Camden really must be subjected to the hell that building HS2 will create, then, surely to God, some assistance and counselling could have been given to people like George, whose whole world had disintegrated around them due to the HS2 threat.

In this connection, I have read another recent newspaper article about HS2, this time in the Daily Telegraph. This article reports that HS2 Ltd “has earmarked up to £900,000 to spend on a team of behavioural psychologists who are already overseeing team-building and assessment exercises” to vet the staff of would-be contractors. Very à la mode I’m sure, but perhaps efforts of this type would be better directed in helping the victims of HS2 come to terms with their plight.

Film-maker Jane Gull is a victim of HS2 herself. According, to the Camden New Journal article she “lived in the same floor as Mr Phillips but has been forced to leave because of the demolition plan”. The article adds that she “had to move out of Camden to Essex because the sale of her ex-council flat is not enough to get a new place in the area”. Ms Gull, who now lives in South Woodford, told the Camden New Journal that she is “desperate to get back to Camden” as she “miss[es] it so much”.

This difficulty that Right to Buy owners of properties scheduled for demolition, or badly blighted, face is a thorny one and, as far as I know, no satisfactory solution has been found. Still at least Ms Gull appears to be a slightly better position than, Stephen Chapman, the licensee of the Victory public house in Albany Street found himself. In a letter to the Camden New Journal, Mr Chapman claims that he has been rendered jobless and homeless by Camden Council, who plan to demolish the Victory to build flats to rehouse tenants who will be displaced by HS2. Mr Chapman claims that the Council have, effectively washed their hands of him, on the basis that they have “no legal, moral, or ethical right” to house him. As a consequence of all this, Mr Chapman is currently residing in the “Salvation Army homeless people’s accommodation”.

You might have thought that HS2 Ltd would feel some obligation towards Mr Chapman, but apparently not. It appears that Mr Chapman has been told that the reason that the Company feel unable to assist is that “HS2 hasn’t been officially sanctioned yet”.

Funny that, because a recent blog posted on the Stop HS2 website describes the chaos that resulted from HS2 Ltd carrying out ground survey work in Fairford Leys. It seems that, despite HS2 not being “officially sanctioned”, HS2 Ltd appears to feel authorised to carry out quite disruptive and environmentally damaging site works, but doesn’t feel able to offer much-needed assistance to someone who finds himself in dire straits as the result of the HS2 plans.


  1. Jane’s first full-length feature film, My Feral Heart, goes on general release in November 2016.
  2. These are George’s own words, transcribed from Our Street.
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