HS2: Destruction and broken promises

The first day of the Report stage of the High Speed Rail (West Midlands–Crewe) Bill saw four votes on amendments, three of which Jenny voted for in an attempt to improve the project if it cannot be stopped:

High Speed Rail (West Midlands-Crewe) Bill – Report (1st Day) – Amendment 1
Voted no (division #1; result was 265 aye, 274 no)

High Speed Rail (West Midlands-Crewe) Bill – Report (1st Day) – Amendment 4
Voted aye (division #2; result was 276 aye, 259 no)

High Speed Rail (West Midlands-Crewe) Bill – Report (1st Day) – Amendment 5
Voted aye (division #3; result was 57 aye, 234 no)

High Speed Rail (West Midlands-Crewe) Bill – Report (1st Day) – Amendment 6
Voted aye (division #4; result was 38 aye, 222 no)

Jenny spoke twice during the six hour debate…

I support the amendment in the name of Lord Berkeley, because it is important to hear from local groups, from those with a lot of expertise, from people with specialist skills and from those who really care about their immediate environment. It is valuable.

An earlier speaker said that the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, was back in the Victorian age. I have known the noble Lord for a long time, and I was told long before I met him that he was a real fanatic, if I may say that, who loves railways, as I do. I do not have a car; I go everywhere by train, and my partner works on the railways. There is no doubt that I like railways and trains. I want to make that clear, in case any aspersions are cast against me by later speakers. The Victorian age was the most incredible time for building railways, so that was a very inapt historical comment—a bit shaky on the history.

I am sorry for people who cannot keep up with the change in society that is happening so fast. Have we really learned nothing from the pandemic over the past year, when people have taken to remote working and have loved staying at home and seeing more of their kids, having more time and working and shopping locally? From that point of view, it has been a real success. From my point of view as a big opponent of HS2, HS2 has caused, and will cause, untold damage to our natural environment. It is being built for a market that will not exist in a future that will not happen.

It is worth saying yet again that we are in a climate emergency. Gone is the time for mega projects like this. It is not the time for new airports and new roads. We have to cut down. It is a time for creativity, adaptation and transformation, as well as keeping things local, whether buying or producing. Amendments 5, 6 and 7 would, at least, protect against some of the worst damage and legally require effective mitigation of the damage.

I know HS2 makes lots of promises, but unfortunately, it often breaks its promises. It is down to the Government to make sure it does not. For example, last night, in Camden, there was a motion to try to reclaim £129 million for rehousing from HS2 because it gave all sorts of assurances about noise and construction, dust and debris, all of which has made life absolutely impossible for hundreds of Camden residents. Every single political party unanimously agreed that HS2 was at fault and they would try to reclaim the money. We have to accept that HS2 does not live up to its promises. We, here and in the other place, have to try to make sure it does.

The Bill has shown the limits of what parliamentary democracy can achieve. The parliamentary arithmetic is against us in the other place and in this House. Preventing this destruction is something that just a few of us cannot manage. I realise that the Green Party is the only political party that is against HS2, alongside some notable rebels from other parties. I am very sad that Labour is not, I gather, supporting these amendments today. Surely everybody cares about biodiversity; it is the basis of our health as humans. I pay a special tribute to all the campaigners against HS2, some of whom are exposing themselves to great physical, mental and financial risks. Their work, like that of activists on so many issues, is what inspires me and keeps me fighting in this Chamber, although it is wonderful to have the support of other political parties today.

The Conservatives ran a shameless election gambit last year, claiming to put HS2 on hold. They did not so much kick it into the long grass as hide it in the grass until after the election—then they went ahead with it. They had full support for it once the election was over, not understanding what the loss of ancient woodland means. I have heard the arguments: it is only a few; there are lots more; we can replace them. That is all absolute nonsense. The loss of ancient woodlands creates gaping wounds in Britain’s nature. These amendments will, at least, force the Government to face the reality of the destruction that is being inflicted.

I very much hope that the Government are in listening mode on this and that the Minister can take it back and get some sort of support for it.

Read the whole debate on Hansard