Stop 'white elephant' HS2 - Campaigners take protest to Parliament
They came in their droves. Congregated in Old Palace Yard against the imposing and iconic backdrop of the Houses of Parliament, they numbered around 500 and their message was clear. Stop HS2.
Frantic placard-waving campaigners were joined by two philosophical otters - 'it's otter madness' and the symbolic giant white elephant which has become a mainstay of the fight.
This was the latest leg of the long and protracted fight against HS2 and yesterday it was taken to the seat of government on the same day the £50 billion project took one giant leap forward.
The scheme's opponents descended on the capital as the Hybrid Bill - essentially the Government's planning application - was published for the first time.
The rally drew hundreds of people from locations across the proposed route of line.
- Star comment: Caution needed on HS2 plans
Chanting and song was followed by emotive battle cries from leading campaigners and political figures.
Notably MEP Paul Nuttall, deputy leader of the Eurosceptic UKIP party, was well received.
"HS2 is a white elephant. A white elephant we will stop," he told the gathering.
Reporter Rob Golledge tweeted live from the HS2 rally outside Parliament:
He believes the huge infrastructure project - dubbed the biggest in Europe - will be defeated.
He told the Express & Star: "It has been a terrific turnout from the campaigners today and their message needs to be heard by the Government.
"I think the majority of people in this country think HS2 is a white elephant.
"It makes no economic sense. It will only suck wealth into London. You only have to look at the Black Country to see the negative effect. Birmingham will see its time to London slashed and as a consequence, Wolverhampton faces losing its direct route. How does this help the Black Country?"
Retired Richard Dyott travelled from Whittington, near Lichfield, to join the campaign in the capital.
Holding a Stop HS2 banner, the 68-year-old said: "I hope David Cameron will see some sense. It would be nice to see what his answer to the problem is. No one from the Government or HS2 can seem to identify where the problem with capacity is."
Mo Smith from Drayton Bassett added: "We are hoping the Government will listen and our presence here today is aimed at making those other MPs question the whole scheme."
Setting off from Stafford at 6.30am was the contingent from Marston.
Among their ranks was Richard Williams, 58, who lives behind the Staffordshire County Showground where he runs a successful B&B, caravan park, the Stafford Horse Trials and has built barn conversions.
He grew up on the site which his father moved to in 1941. He had wanted to pass it on to his daughter and grandchildren but HS2 will slice the land in two, meaning the demolition of several buildings.
He said: "Compensation will do nothing for me. I can't do what I do anywhere else. I have been looking for new land for six months and am yet to find anything near suitable. This will devastate my lifestyle and destroy my businesses and what we do."
Frank Peach, 71, will see his home of 35 years vanish as part of the second phase of HS2.
"It was completely devastating when we found out we were on the route in January," he said.
"Our lives have been on hold ever since. There is nothing we can do."
Protesters setting off to London, to join the Marston Against HS2 protest
Around 100 campaigners packed inside Lobby Committee Room 11 for the first of two discussions with MPs and Lords, hosted by Stafford MP Jeremy Lefroy and Stone MP Bill Cash.
Mr Lefroy accused the Government of 'dreaming up HS2 on a fag packet'.
He said: "To address the airline industry we have set up a commission to examine and report to Parliament about where expansion should be.
"In this case the Government has done it the wrong way round. It has come up with the solution before identifying the problem."
Mr Cash said campaigners had to be ready for a 'war of attrition' and that there were hundreds of MPs who were yet to make up their minds.
Robert Oxley from the Taxpayers' Alliance said that Stop HS2 campaigners were winning the 'PR battle' and accused HS2 Ltd of 'fudging' the benefits.
Philip Lund, a former public member of Network Rail, dismissed the Government's argument that the West and East Coast Main Lines were 'rickety old Victorian' railways.
He said: "The Victorians would not recognise them. They are modern and are actually considered as high-speed services. After all we use Roman roads every day."
Trevor Forrester, chairman of Staffordshire Against HS2, said he was pleased with the turnout and the impact of the day.
"It has gone really well," he said.
"It is clear we are winning the publicity argument. Now we have to put all our efforts in making MPs see HS2 for what it is - a colossal waste of £50 billion."
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