Not the best of years
Looking back over 2016 it is hard to find too much encouragement. The change in Prime Minister brought what seemed like the best chance by far that the HS2 project could be cancelled, especially with the pause that was announced for the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, but Theresa May gave her full backing to HS2 in her speech to the Conservative Party Conference.
Progress in Parliament
Throughout the year the hybrid Bill that must become law before the HS2 Ltd will be able to seize the land required for the railway and start construction has been progressing to the, now inevitable, point where it will receive Royal Assent and become an Act.
The year started with the Bill still in the House of Commons. The Select Committee there completed its gargantuan task of hearing petitions from those “directly and specially affected” by HS2 Phase 1 and published its final report. Towards the end of March the final stages of procedure were completed in the Commons, and the HS2 Bill moved to the House of Lords, gaining its Second Reading there in April.
Between May and December the Lords Select Committee sat to hear petitions, going over much of the ground that the Commons committee had, and published its report just before the 2016 Christmas recess. The remaining Lords stages are expected to all be completed by the end of January 2017, clearing the way for Royal Assent.
Cubbington Lords petition
Despite a lot of effort in January 2015, Cubbington got absolutely nothing out of the Commons Select Committee, so it was necessary to have another go in the Lords. There were strong indications that grounds for petitioning, known as locus standi, would be more actively contested by HS2 Ltd in the Lords, and that petitions from action groups, in particular, were likely to be rejected. With this in mind, it was decided that Cubbington Parish Council would petition on behalf of our community, with the full support of Cubbington Action Group against HS2, of course, and with me acting as the Council’s agent on the day. This proved to be a prudent course, as nearly all petitions from action groups along the route were rejected.
The Lords petition was slightly more successful than the Commons one. Although no improvement in the South Cubbington Wood/pear tree situation was secured, we did get a promise to look at alternatives to construction traffic using Rugby Road/Kenilworth Road.
HS2 remains controversial
Although HS2 appears to have strong support in Parliament, love of the project is far from mirrored in the country at large. Two separate opinion polls, conducted towards the end of the year, revealed that half of Brummies think that HS2 is a “bad use of money”, and nearly sixty per cent across the country regard £56bn as not a price worth paying for HS2.
The year has seen a succession of reports critical of HS2, from expert groups, think tanks, committees of MPs and the National Audit Office, but all get shrugged off by the Government, which is secure in having the backing of Parliament.
It’s not all bad
Despite the disappointments that my involvement with the fight against HS2 has brought, it has not been an entirely negative experience. It has been a great pleasure to have met so many people who are united in the belief that HS2 is not a good way to spend taxpayers’ money. I have two particularly fond memories of 2016.
The first is the great pleasure of helping guide walkers around South Cubbington Wood in the spring, where many of the participants were visiting the wood for the first time. I hope that HS2 Ltd will not have taken possession of the wood by this spring, and that we will be able to run these walks for one last time.
The second was visiting Cubbington Primary School to talk, with Rosemary, to a class there about South Cubbington Wood and the pear tree, and share our love of this special part of our countryside with them.
On the whole, although the fight against HS2 has been a long one – the Cubbington Action Group made is first public appearance in the summer of 2010 – it has been a time full of good experiences, including the pleasures of working with great people, both in our own gang and in other action groups up and down the route. We are also all very grateful for the support that we have enjoyed from Cubbington residents and those from wider afield, both moral and financial.
Is there a role for the action groups going forward?
Inevitably, Royal Assent will mark a watershed in the campaign that we have been conducting, with its nature changing from primarily one of protest group to a position of monitoring a developer’s activities to ensure that Cubbington gets the best deal possible. Inevitably, those constructing HS2 will want to work through official channels, and we hope that this will include the Parish Council.
I still think that this will leave a role for a pressure group outside of local government, like us, to keep the pot nicely stirring and try to hold HS2’s feet to the fire. However, the future of the Cubbington Action Group against HS2 will be for our supporters to decide, and once Royal Assent is out of the way, and the view of the road ahead is possibly a bit clearer, we will hold a general meeting to see what you think.