Euston HS2 #10

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Being the one about Chris Packham and Stop HS2.

(And some of my own views I have not previously written about….)

Saturday 28 September 2019, a substantial demonstration was held by those who strongly believe HS2 should be curtailed in its tracks. The focus of the afternoon was the concern HS2 is doing to the environment. HS2 claims it has strong environmental credentials and it says it is replacing far more woodland than is being swept away.

The demonstration itself is of course one of many that have occurred against HS2 across the country, its however the first I have been to. The pictures and the text accompanying these tell the story very well. Other than that I would like to write a bit of something in relation to HS2 and the environment…

The concerns behind #StopHS2, #RethinkHS2, etc revolve around the fact its ancient woodlands (not only that its communities too) that are making way for the new high speed railway, and this is something that is totally irreplaceable.

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The demonstrations begin – with this large banner by Extinction Rebellion.

However many who live on or near the path of HS2 outside London are most concerned at the proposals and what these entail, and just how much woodland and wildlife habitat is actually being threatened. That besides the massive land grabs and compulsory purchases of property that are also making a lot of people quite resentful towards the idea of a new railway.

Of course with things like this there are going to be advocates who say HS2 is good – meaning faster trains, convenience, more connections, a greater powerhouse in the north etc – and thats versus the ongoing destruction as well as a needless acceleration of progress that is on the whole quite contrived (in terms of global warming and the need to use less energy, travel less etc) and so on. On a par for par basis, its pretty much the same for the third runway at Heathrow – a very considerable development that has so much potential damage despite once again the green credentials that have been put forward.

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Chris Packham and a young environmentalist pose for the cameras!

There is one thing we do know. HS2 is cutting a whole new swathe of railway across the country. Its even cutting huge swathes of land and displacing large communities in Central London too and the new railway is, to be bluntly truthful, not a very popular cause.

In short anything new (railway, airport, new shopping centre etc) has a considerable footprint – and no matter what is done there is an environmental payoff. Carbon, use of plastics steel, materials, concrete, furnishings, copper, you name it, there will be an environmental penalty somewhere in the equation.

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Chris Packham with a handful of acorn seeds from the ancient woodlands threatened by HS2.

At the moment the environment and global warming is big news and people are certainly very worried. Many are of course very concerned about HS2 – and since Euston is where HS2 will begin its journey across England to Birmingham and Manchester, Leeds, York – its also the location where most of the visible work has taken place so far, and that is why people are choosing Euston as a main focal point for most demonstrations.

Although I report regularly on HS2, so far I have been doing it impartially. I write about what is going on around the station and the locality, but I rarely express any leanings as to what I think about HS2. However in a personal sense I have reservations. I’m not exactly for it although I can see what people are saying when they claim HS2 is good for the economy. That is fine to claim this, however that too is the crux of the problem. ‘The economy.’ It requires growth and exploitation and subversion in order to be sustained.

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Chris with a sapling tree that will be used to replace any lost by HS2.

The buzzword HS2 uses is ‘Engine for Growth.’ You see, the word growth, they want the economy to grow and cities and towns and companies and factories and businesses to feel better in terms of the future because they are becoming part of a growth economy. I dont think that is a problem in itself, what is the problem really is the ways, means, and techniques used to achieve this growth.

The whole point of this is this then – just at which point do we stop exploiting the environment for the purpose of growth. Forests and renewable sources are not infinite. Oil runs out eventually. And so will shale gas (and bugger those who think its safe too!) On the way we will lose a lot of species, fauna, landscapes and the rest of it simply because people want growth.

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Chris speaking to the media. The interview can be seen here.

I actually haven’t got any objection to people wanting better technology, faster transport, better access, and the rest of it. The problem for me is the trade-off. Many vital and important things are being lost just so a human can get from A to Z in double quick time. Believe me, its a false economy. There is so much waste. Yes people benefit and the profits go up, and people can afford better and the rest of it blah blah blah, but its not so beneficial when we consider the long term effects, the damage, the clean ups that have to be done, the loss of diversity and so on.

As an example consider the costs, the long term work needed, the intensive husbandry that would be necessary to rebuild the Brazilian rainforest. Could anyone work out the cost of this work? Or anyone undertake the task? I dont think so. Its immeasurable. What has been destroyed is not repairable and then there’s the cost of creating a replacement forest (dont forget its of a massive size) and replacing all the different species, the plants. In fact its not a job that can be done. We could have a replacement rainforest but it wont be the same. It will be different. A cheap clone which has none of the huge diversity of the original.

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ReThinkHS2’s leaflet on the destruction of the woodlands.

That is the same with Britain’s ancient woodlands. We’ve lost a lot of it over the centuries yes I fully understand that, but what we have left we shouldn’t even be cutting it down. Claiming it can be replaced is rather a contrived way of looking at things. Again replacement means a cheap clone of the original.

HS2 does say it is replacing woodlands and the rest of it and the claim its making a fantastic green corridor along the whole of its length is quite impressive. They are prepared to undertake a task of what they claim is replacement pro rata per what gets lost in the construction of the new railway. I’m sure its a great thing, but its clear to me it really is a considerable hypocrisy to even try and claim our biodiversity can be replaced that easily and in the very manner that is being advocated.

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Extinction Rebellion’s message is HS2 should be scrapped in respect of the environmental crisis we are facing.

I’m not sure we even have enough knowledge to know what we are doing. I mean one can uproot a tree and plant a new one somewhere else and people would argue that nature itself renews all the time so what’s the problem? Well there is a problem with that…..

The simple answer is nature doesn’t build railways, roads, airports and massive shopping developments! In other words its not cutting off its own two feet. We have to look at this in a deep philosophical sense in order to understand the paradoxes better and have a better idea of what the future holds – and how to approach that.

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Extinction Rebellion’s Red Brigade (aka Invisible Circus) turn up to support the demonstration.

I think we have a lot more work ahead of us before we can even say we have what seems to be a sensible balance between seeds and needs. We haven’t achieved any level of cultivation and understanding of the world yet that could perhaps permit a different sort of HS2 to be built, whilst at the same time maintaining the valuable things in life which are quality of living, community, environment, and the rest of it.

And that is essentially why we can say HS2 is a problem. Its not what we want. We have to work harder to find out what it is we want rather than depend on some old hoary economist ideas that do not really give us any progress. Build new airports! New railway lines! New mega developments! Its just the same relentless forward trend – and claiming something is sustainable and another thing doesn’t waste so much energy and something else or other is cleaner than before – well it really is a big joke.

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The Red Brigade passing one of Euston station’s best known pubs.

In terms of the Chris Packham/Stop HS2 demonstration, that’s what it is in a nutshell! I am sure if a different approach was used (for example a greater improvement of existing railway lines) and a completely different focus on transport and needs, we would quite likely find we do not even need HS2. And what that would mean is valuable habitats and woodlands will not be lost.

We know despite the recent review that has been ordered of HS2, its gigantic demolition machine is still marching on. There’s still lots of demolition going on around Euston and its not going to stop at any time soon. A huge part of Central London has been laid bare and thousands of people have been displaced, they have lost their homes, jobs, businesses. Where has the value been in all that? The true cost factor in terms of the entire HS2 budget?

Its thanks to Chris Packham – and of course the others, Extinction Rebellion, Invisible Circus, StopHS2 and the many who brought placards, banners, plants, saplings along – that people realise there is a problem with the HS2 machine and the intent is of course to get people to question the notion of HS2 and what it actually means.

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The Red Brigade by the HS2 hoardings in Euston Station Plaza, emphasising this is a problematic project we can well do without.

If the Government says HS2 can still go ahead at a reduced pace (or whatever) there are still going to be many questions that need to be asked. It wont just be HS2, it will also be the third runway at Heathrow, Crossrail 2, new things such as Hyperloop and the rest of it. Even the delayed Crossrail has enormous environmental penalties and it will no doubt create a major flow of people to Heathrow airport (thus more people taking flights.) In that respect I cant see for the life of me how the eventual Crossrail/Elizabeth Line is going to achieve some of its so called environmental claims. The other question is how much of this stuff can we build without even really considering the serious long term implications and sort of sweeping things under the carpet. Let me reiterate – there are going to be considerable long term implications we haven’t thought about yet!

At the time of writing, the current Government has said it is going to provide £25 million for the roads. Who knows, this could well be an early indicator they are looking to curtail the HS2 machine considerably…. However this is another side of the problem. Investing in roads is a smack in the face in terms of the environment and nature. Not only that it shows any balance is going to be very difficult to achieve despite the claims Britain will be carbon neutral by a certain date.

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Mr StopHS2 – Joe Rukin – in a costume depicting the woodlands which are on the route of HS2.

I know barely anything has been written of HS2 itself this time, its just that this post is actually a special one with a special focus which I felt was necessary. I haven’t forgotten the march of HS2 itself! In terms of recent work the Euston towers are now quite down in height and the Calumet warehouses, the Bree Louise pub, have all gone. Demolition is still continuing on the north side of the Euston site, and the outrageous plans for a cube (ventilation shaft) have been approved as one of the first of the new builds for the project. Dont worry, the next post on Euston HS2 will be about this relentless march and more.

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5 Responses to “Euston HS2 #10

  • Alex Mckenna
    2 months ago

    If HS2 gets a lot more gas guzzlers off the motorways, then it might be worth doing; although the switch to EVs is coming at last, and maybe the government could accelerate that change too. Electric cars and trucks will rely much more on renewable sources, and are in any case far more efficient than petrol or diesel. Those red-clad people though – so amusing – so theatrical. I suppose it’s one way of getting attention if you crave that sort of thing..

  • As a counterpoint to this, the ianvisits blog is highlighting the beneficial impact HS2 will have to local commuting by train (not on HS2 trains) in the south Midlands and improved connectivity for secondary towns/cities to London. That will help encourage people to make fewer car journeys.

    This is because the express trains to Birmingham and the north would be on new lines, releasing capacity on existing lines.

    There could be cheaper, less impactful ways of creating additional rail capacity to achieve the same goal, so I’m not saying that HS2 is the desirable solution.

  • I’m fairly sure I could make a reasonable case for HS2 without necessarily talking about growth or even the economy.

    That’s what I don’t get about environmental campaigners. You oppose 3rd runway at Heathrow, fine. Probably agree in all honesty. But HS2 is not more aeroplanes, its fewer cars and better public transport.

    The population of the UK is increasing. I believe its set to hit 100 million somewhen this century. With all those extra people, we have three options for intercity travel. The first is to expand the roads, great, instead of a railway, you want massive tarmac areas right through the countryside that is more expensive and likely won’t be put in as much tunnel. Even with EV’s, I know that’s not great for the environment. The second is to expand public transport, without large projects like HS2, the capacity of the existing lines will be overwhelmed and will not encourage more people to ditch their cars, but will likely entail the opposite. The last of course is to do nothing, leave us with both congested roads and rail. Gridlock on the roads I hear does wonders for air quality and botched rail service can really help isolated communities between cities.

    The worst thing is that I can sort of understand the critics, especially those with less knowledge of the rail network. What totally turned me off this piece was that last attack on Crossrail. Improving the public transport of large cities is exactly the way to reduce environmental impact. If your goal, as is mine, is to switch every journey in the capital off the road then we need the infrastructure in place to handle those passengers.

    By all means, criticise the link to Heathrow. I won’t, even though my leaning is not to approve a third runway, if you plan to reduce flight numbers then do it legitimately, not by encouraging people to drive to the existing airports, causing congestion then blaming those going on holiday for not using public transport to get there.

    • alondonblogger
      2 months ago

      Crossrail would have been better linking other communities, not an airport. It seems the idea of linking Heathrow was really to serve those in the City and at Canary Wharf. There is already two rail links there so I cannot see how I could have suggested people drive to the airport instead.

  • It cannot be said often enough, the case for HS2 first, foremost, principally and has always been (right back to the 2010 command paper proposing it) to solve a transport problem. The west cost main line is full, the east coast main line is nearly full and passenger demand has significantly exceeded that predicted in the aforementioned 2010 command paper.

    Economic re-balancing, modal shift to rail, decreased journey times etc. are all very “nice to haves” but by far the most significant reason for HS2 is to massively increase rail capacity.

    A lot of NIMBY’s have reached for the “green” fig leaf to disguise their NIMBY’ism. The middle aged and middle class who have spent a lifetime popping down to Morrison’s and the gawf clab in their 4×4’s have suddenly discovered their inner green and become “terribly concerned about” all the bats, badgers, bluebells, flooding, carbon emissions and anything else they can think of now HS2 is coming to a field near them. But they fool no-one – except Mr Packham and his friends who have become their sockpuppets and given environmental campaigning a bad name.

    There’s plenty for the greens to focus on that would have a much bigger impact that a nice clean electric railway – removing ICE road vehicles of course, population growth, the fashion business (which always gets a free pass for some reason,) intensive farming and turning off the UK’s natural gas supply in favour of electricity to name just a few. But of course, they don’t want to do the latter as it would scare the fish too much. HS2 is a much easier target.

    Despite the claims, objection to HS2 is very small. The latest petition calling for HS2 to be scrapped has a mere 23,000 signatures, the last one got less that 30,000 and most of them are from the shires along the line of route. The best performing constituency manager to get only 2% of it residents to sign.

    For 10 year we have been asking HS2’s opponents what they would do to solve the rail capacity problem for less cost, less disruption, less pollution and provide the same or better capacity increase, but answer comes there none.

    I did like Mr Rukin’s costume though – nicely done.

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