HS2 protest camps considered risk for emergency services in Staffordshire

Protest camps set up to fight the construction of a high speed rail line through Staffordshire have been deemed a risk for emergency services by the county's Chief Fire Officer.

HS2 Bluebell Woods Protection Camp. Photo: Kerry Ashdown
HS2 Bluebell Woods Protection Camp. Photo: Kerry Ashdown

Campaigners have been urged to protest safely by Staffordshire’s Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Ben Adams. And HS2 protester sites were described as an “emerging issue” in a report presented to this month’s Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service Public Performance meeting.

Mr Adams also says the HS2 project will also pose other challenges in the years to come.

Action has been taking place in recent weeks to evict protesters camped out in woods near Swynnerton. The Bluebell Woods Protection Camp was set up last year close to where the HS2 line is set to pass through Stafford Borough.

HS2 Bluebell Woods Protection Camp. Photo: Kerry Ashdown

The report said: “HS2 have issued a compulsory purchase order for land located at Swynnerton/A51 the land is currently owned by Lord Stafford. However, a group of HS2 protesters have moved onto the site to protest the planned HS2 excavation works.

“The protester site provides an additional risk to fire and rescue in this area of the county due to the camp being constructed on multiple levels including elements that are underground and also at height. Primarily the site is of wooden construction which increases the potential ignition sources from cooking and smoking, and is based in an area of woodland.

“Vehicles are also parked in this area, which is a potential risk to impeding emergency responder access to the site. There is a further risk to subterranean rescue from tunnel collapse, irrespirable atmosphere, confined spaces of operation, and the decomposition of organic matter that may be present at the site.

“In order to ensure that the service remains vigilant to the risk posed, a multi-agency tactical response plan has been developed around the site for emergency responders, which includes the use of specialist resources and rescue equipment.

“A secondary site has been constructed in the vicinity of the county show ground, which displays that protester sites within the county are increasing in number and this is recognised as an emerging risk for all emergency responders. Staffordshire Fire and Rescue service continue to engage in multi-agency briefings and assist in the development of tactical response plans to incident scenarios.”

Mr Adams, speaking at this month’s meeting, said: “I know we cleared a protest site at Swynnerton the other day and I gather we have still got people in tunnels. I’m still very concerned about the safety.

“I absolutely respect people’s right to protest. But please do it safely and not exhaust the capacity of services to look after them.

“HS2 is going to be an issue for Staffordshire for several years.”

HS2 Bluebell Woods Protection Camp. Photo: Kerry Ashdown

Chief Fire Officer Rob Barber responded: “The HS2 programme is going to have an impact on the county all the way through. We know that creates different risks for us as a fire and rescue service, whether it’s through supporting our police colleagues at protester sites, through the construction phase or right through to the delivery phase when the line’s running.

“We’ve got to be aware of that and we’ve got to make sure that we’re aware of the new risk that that’s creating. We’re going to have tunnels within the county – not protester sites but tunnels through the line we haven’t got currently – and we’ve got to be ready and we’ve got to have the appropriate resources to deal with that.

“Through the construction phase, which I believe is about five to seven years in length, we’re going to have large movements of HGVs throughout the county in some very rural locations. When you’ve got up to 1,500 additional HGV movements per day the infrastructure is going to be affected.

“The frustration of drivers being in long queues is going to mean that people do some silly things in vehicles and then we’re turned out to road traffic collisions. We need to think about that as we go through the Safer Roads Partnership and we’re making sure we have an eye on that.

“We’re fully involved with the HS2 programme. We have officers that are embedded in terms of development of the plans, but it’s one we need to keep focused on because it’s going to ebb and flow in terms of the impact within Staffordshire.

“There’s going to be a lot of working from height potentially if a train gets stuck on a viaduct that is 20m off the ground. We need to be aware and ready for that and we’re working with HS2 Ltd – they understand the impacts on our service and what we can and can’t do.”

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