Express & Star

HS2 campaign group celebrates victory and reveals next steps

A campaign group that battled against the construction of an HS2 railhead near Stone has celebrated the scrapping of the line between Birmingham and Manchester – and is now setting its sights on improving rail services elsewhere in the area.

HS2 train design

Stone Railhead Crisis Group (SRCG) has taken its campaign to Westminster where it represented local town and parish councils who spoke out against the controversial proposals for the high speed rail line through Staffordshire.

SRCG formed in 2016 and called for a proposed HS2 railhead and infrastructure maintenance base (IMB-R) earmarked for land near Yarnfield to be relocated to a site near Madeley. It may not have won the battle to relocate the railhead – but last month campaigners welcomed the news that Phase 2a of HS2, north of Birmingham, was being cancelled in the wake of spiralling costs.

This month the group hosted its annual meeting, where members described “how the western leg was won”. And they were asked to vote on changing the name of the group to Stone Railway Campaign Group (SRCG), to reflect the next stage of its work.

SRCG will now be pressing for the removal of HS2 safeguarding of land along the Phase 2a route which is no longer required for the rail line construction, so it can be returned to the previous landowners or sold. They will also be campaigning for alternative rail projects to improve transport services, such as the reopening of the North Staffordshire Line which once served Newcastle Borough.

The group has proposed an alternative “Phase One Plus” option, which incorporates the London to Birmingham leg of the line which is continuing to be constructed. This part runs beyond Birmingham to Handsacre, near Rugeley, where it could connect with the West Coast Main Line.

Group member Trevor Parkin said: “When we started back in 2016 we didn’t have any resources, we just had volunteers. We realised we needed to raise money and we hired a QC when we first went to Parliament, we shook the tin asking people if they would help us out.

“We’re going to the Transport Select Committee on November 30. We haven’t gone away and will still be here – there is still a lot of work to do to make sure HS2 doesn’t resurrect itself in the future.

“We analysed what HS2 was offering the whole country. It was circulated to Government and we circulated our alternative ‘HS2 Phase One Plus’.

“That culminated in a meeting with HS2 minister Huw Merriman in August and he gave us an hour and a half of his time. On October 4 came the announcement of the cancellation of HS2 Phase 2a – those events are not unconnected.

“The cancellation didn’t come out of the blue. It resulted from hard evidence that it was going to reduce capacity and mean less trains from the West Midlands – not only to London but also other destinations in the north, particularly Scotland.”

SRCG members thanked MPs Sir Bill Cash, Jack Brereton and Sir Gavin Williamson for their efforts in bringing its work to the attention of Government. And at this month’s Stone Town Council meeting community leaders paid tribute to the group’s efforts.

Borough and town councillor Ian Fordham said: “One obvious benefit of the cancellation of of Phase 2a is we don’t have to worry about the railhead, which is a massive relief for residents. We’re indebted to everyone who has had a part in that.”

County, borough and town councillor Jill Hood said: “If it wasn’t for the experts on the railhead group we would still be sitting here dreading the impact the railhead would have on our town. You know how grateful I am to the group – they have given hundreds of hours of their time to stop this.

“It’s amazing that the group have saved us from the fate of becoming clogged every day with (construction) traffic and the countryside being decimated. I would like to say on behalf of the council thank you for everything you have done for us.”

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