A welcome boost
It was good to see the Village Hall fairly full for our public meeting in early February. Such a visible indication of support in our village for the fight against HS2 has given a welcome boost to those who are giving up their time to back the campaign.
There was also a fairly lively debate that evening and it was helpful to hear the views that were expressed. One of the most hotly contested topics was whether, now that the formal decision to proceed has been made, our group should be talking to HS2 Ltd about local impacts and “mitigation”. Some of those present felt that we should remain in outright opposition to HS2 and that if we take part in any discussions about the local impacts of the HS2 proposal we will be effectively conceding defeat.
The fight goes on
I have some sympathy with that view. Although it has the backing of all of the main political parties, HS2 remains a half-baked proposal that represents very poor value for the taxpayer. There is a long way to go before the hybrid bill allowing HS2 to be constructed will have completed its passage through Parliament; time that may allow the truth about HS2 to sink in with our political masters. It is essential that the national fight against HS2 goes on, including making legal challenges where the opportunity arises, and we intend to support this national campaign in any way that we can. This will necessarily include financial support, and here we can all play a part.
Need to push for mitigation
So your group remains implacably opposed to the HS2 proposal. However, we are also very conscious that, if it is built to the revised plans that were published in January, there will be serious impacts on the Parish. We have to be realistic and accept that if we are not successful in stopping HS2 then the next best option is to seek to minimise its impacts. Further, any opportunity that we may have to negotiate changes to the route design is likely to be gone if we do not start talking now. I say this because HS2 Ltd will want to finalise the design of the route as soon as possible and also any funds available for mitigation are likely to be used up quickly. Both of these factors indicate that the window of opportunity for seeking improvements will not be open for long.
HS2 Ltd has proposed a structure of “forums” to help “build a relationship with local communities”. This structure includes more than twenty “Community Forums”, each covering a small local area, which together will cover the whole route. Current plans are that our local Community Forum will cover Offchurch, Cubbington, Weston and Stoneleigh. Membership of each forum has not yet been confirmed, but I expect that invitations to take part will be extended to both our action group and Cubbington Parish Council.
Although I have a number of reservations about how effective the Community Forums will be, I propose to take part, if invited, for the reasons that I have outlined.
HS2 Ltd and local matters
However, I do not think that the Community Forums will, on their own, be a sufficient mechanism to allow full discussion of local issues and mitigation proposals. A meeting of perhaps twenty or more people is hardly the place to discuss problems and proposals in the required detail. With this in mind, I am pleased to see that the HS2 Ltd engagement structure proposal also makes provision for “ongoing bilaterals”, external to the forums. HS2 Ltd has explained that these “bilateral meetings and engagement” will supplement the forum meetings “particularly in relation to bespoke issues and localised matters”. I intend, therefore, also to take advantage of any chances to talk “bilaterally” with HS2 Ltd that may arise.
Still waiting …
However, so far HS2 Ltd appears to be reluctant to take part in any such talks. Offchurch and Cubbington have had a joint request to meet with HS2 Ltd engineers lodged with its Chief Engineer since last September. So far we have only had the promise of a meeting, but with no date being offered, despite the best efforts of Jeremy Wright MP to make it happen.
I am sorry if this talk of “collaboration” offends the more hard-line of our supporters, but I feel that I will be letting our community down badly if I allow this potential opportunity to seek to reduce the local impacts of HS2 pass by taking a more principled stand against HS2.
I promise to take a very long spoon along with me when I go to sup with the Devil.
Read Peter’s blogs on HS2 and the environment.