All work on the HS2 project must stop immediately, as contractors are mocking social distancing guidance and putting rural communities with largely elderly populations at risk by continuing work, says the Stop HS2 campaign. Stop HS2 has produced two videos, one made on 23rd March before the lockdown which shows contractors ignoring two-metre social distancing along the route of HS2, another the day later after Boris Johnson told people to stay at home, showing again that HS2 Ltd contractors have no interest whatsoever in complying with social distancing rules.
Many contractors are coming in to work on HS2 from all areas of the country, with compounds outside Kenilworth in Warwickshire known to have people coming in from Birmingham, Swindon, Preston, Liverpool, Peterborough and Bedford. This is a severe concern, as whilst the contractors themselves are largely in low-risk groups, they are coming into a hundred miles worth of small rural communities with high proportions of elderly residents. The lack of amenities in many of these isolated villages, with many areas having only one shop open for miles around, makes contractors and locals trying to occupy the same space inevitable.
At the moment, HS2 does still not have Notice to Proceed, so all of the work currently taking place is only preparation work, such as chopping down woodlands in nesting season, building access roads and knocking down buildings. Additionally, the
Stop HS2 Campaign Manager Joe Rukin said
“All work on HS2 must stop immediately. We have all seen the footage of contractors crammed together in London, but the same thing is happening in the rural communities where HS2 preparation work continues unabated. It is absolutely clear from the footage we have collected that HS2 Ltd and their contractors have absolutely no intention of imposing social distancing, in fact the nature of the work they are trying to carry out which includes felling woodlands in bird nesting season, makes distancing impossible. With contractors coming in from all over the country and ignoring all the medical advice, HS2 Ltd are creating the perfect environment to cultivate Covid-19 and dump it into rural communities with high proportions of vulnerable elderly residents. HS2 Ltd has always been a rogue organisation at the heart of Government, and everything they are doing right now shows that they simply do not care about either their own employees or the residents in the areas where they are operating. They are wilfully putting lives at risk and must stop all work now.”
“Not only must all work stop now, but with there being so many other things that now desperately need the money that has been earmarked for HS2, and the crisis demonstrating the increased viability of home working, work on HS2 should stop, and never start again.”
Penny Gaines, chair of Stop HS2, added
“At a time when Boris Johnson told everyone to stay at home to protect the NHS and save lines, it is absurd that HS2 Ltd is still working on a railway which won’t open for a decade. HS2 Ltd have long acted like a law unto themselves, but they are letting their staff ignore guidance issued by health authorities around the world to stop the spread of COVID19.”
“But HS2 Ltd are not only ignoring the health and wellbeing of their own staff, they are also putting at risk the lives and health of the people who live in areas where this HS2 work is happening. The minister for HS2, Andrew Stephenson, is telling his constituents to stay at home to save lives: but he has a blatant disregard for the lives of the people affected by HS2. This is on his head, and any illness that results is on his head.”
“There is a much more fundamental question that now needs to be answered about HS2. We’ve been told for years that the growth of mobile technologies and home working don’t change the business case for HS2. We have sadly found out in the last few weeks, that all sorts of things that we were told had to be done face to face can be done remotely. Before HS2 can possibly be given Notice to Proceed, the economic case must be proved again, because many of the underlying rationales have been proved false.”
Additionally, Extinction Rebellion have written to Boris Johnson, pleading for him to stop HS2 construction now.
Dr. Angela Wilson, GP and a member of Doctors for Extinction Rebellion, said:
“Today I am angry as I witness the behaviour of HS2 workers not adhering to the government guidelines set down for every UK resident on Friday to protect life. These guidelines from the government have clearly not worked. Both my husband and I are doctors on the frontline of COVID-19, I’m currently updating my will to make provisions for my daughter.
“Why should I put myself at risk, to save lives when HS2 continues work, risking people’s lives needlessly. General Medical Council guidance tells me that I must speak up when there is a significant public health risk. HS2 is such a risk.
“Other ongoing construction work around our country will also be causing unnecessary transmission of the pandemic. Delaying a full lockdown is putting lives, the functioning of the NHS and the safety of its workers at risk. Please stop this insanity of business as usual now.”
Below, is a letter from Lord Berkeley sent last night, calling for a six month pause on HS2 works.
Dear Prime Minister,
Time to pause HS2 for 6 months
I write on a day when you are rightly putting on further controls on people’s movement in order to reduce the infection of the Corona Virus.
HS2 project and design work seems to be continuing around Euston in spite of your decision to have the Network Rail and HS2 rail works integrated and a cheaper and less risky design sought. In spite of this, temporary works to demolish and clear building and properties which clearly will no longer be required to any sensible new design continue. (see my letter to Andrew Stephenson MP dated 15 March 2020)
Further up the route in Harefield I received a blog (attached) showing HS2 contractors manhandling two protestors. Other locations are shown on other photos attached, all with HS2 or their contractors’ staff are shown not complying with the social distancing rule, in spite of HS2’s reply (in yellow). Whatever the rights and wrongs of the issues, these are some of no doubt many more cases where HS2, in spite of its denial, personnel of the Company and its contractors are clearly being put at risk of infection by failure to observe the social distancing rule.
So as the construction sector magazine CN says ‘there is a strange irony in the strategies being pursued regarding the social distancing measures the government is urging people to adopt. As one contact pointed out to me this morning: “Most developers and construction companies have closed their head offices and sent the office staff home. But not the men on sites.’
Nicola Sturgeon has now confirmed that building sites in Scotland should close. I urge you to do the same, and include HS2 preliminary works contracts in this decision. As a former construction engineer, I am well aware that construction is a sector where worker health and safety is a daily concern. Unlike other industries, not following the rules can be a matter of life and death.
So I do urge you to close all HS2 construction sites including any temporary works sites for at least 6 months. Similarly, the project offices of HS2 and its contractors and suppliers are not critical works and I urge you to close them as well for at least 6 months.
I am also sure that ministers will want to look at the finances for HS2 and/or its cheaper alternatives in the light of the Government’s unexpected expenditure on supporting business and people as a result of the Corona Virus, before deciding whether to allocate over £100bn to HS2. Ministers may also wish to consider whether, as a result of people getting used to work from home or remotely, demand for transport in the future will be reduced to the extent that HS2 in its entirety is no longer needed.
I look forward to your comments, Yours, Tony
Minutes after this article was first published at around 11am on Wednesday 25th March, HS2 contractor Align confirmed that all their construction activities in Harefield will cease until further notice.