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HS2: Opponents last chance to stop £55bn 'living nightmare' rail link

Staffordshire | News | Published:

It's the £55 billion railway hailed as linking the Midlands and the north with London and creating thousands of jobs.

But in hundreds of villages spanning 300 miles, communities have been mounting a six year battle against Britain's proposed high-speed rail line HS2.

Today, a crucial vote in the House of Commons could firmly dash campaigners' chances of trying to derail this proverbial gravy train – the first built north of London in 100 years.

A protest sign against HS2 high-speed rail link in Whittington, Staffordshire

MPs from all sides of the political divide are expected to overwhelmingly back the project, meaning it will be sent to the House of Lords to debate before returning for a final vote in the Commons later this year.

The end is nigh.

An artist's impression of the proposed Curzon Street HS2 station in Birmingham. It will compromise seven platforms – including one for possible international services. It will be the biggest building in central Birmingham
An artist's impression of HS2

Joe Rukin, campaign manager for Stop HS2, has been leading the fight against the project for six years working with around 200 action groups and parish councils.

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He said: "It has been a real eye-opener for a lot of people. We have won every argument but still the government machine is bulldozing HS2 through. It will be an environmental disaster and no-one in a position of power seems to care. It is a vanity project - one that the government is relentlessly pursuing because it delivers sound bites about investment in the Midlands and the North.

"But in reality it will be a living nightmare.

"For more than a decade hundreds of communities will be hell to live in as they become a decade-long construction site.

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Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin during a visit to the proposed site of the HS2 East Midlands Hub in Long Eaton on the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire border
Lichfield MP Michael Fabricant

"The dust, noise, road works, and thousands of extra construction lorries will impact far and wide and not just on those living near the track.

"All we can hope for now is that the Lords take this seriously."

HS2 will see a new high-speed train line built from London to Birmingham where it will fork off to Crewe and Manchester on one leg, and Toton, Sheffield, and Leeds on the other.

In total it will slice through 45 miles of Staffordshire countryside running from Lichfield to Swynnerton passing the villages of Whittington, the Ridwares, Colton, Great Hayward, Ingestre, Hopton, and Marston as it skirts Stafford and Stone.

It means villagers in these idyllic villages will have to leave or live with 225mph trains shooting past their homes every four minutes.

The Prinold family have farmed in Marston for more than 20 years. Under the current route their land will be cut in half.

Dozens of the neighbours will see their quiet country homes suddenly next door to Europe's biggest construction project.

Three Staffordshire Conservative MPs will be among the expected 50 rebels in today's vote.

Lichfield MP Michael Fabricant said: "The present route proposed by HS2 cuts a destructive swathe through previously unblemished countryside in the Lichfield constituency.

"It is an unnatural disaster facing rural Staffordshire.

"It is blighting the environment, blighting people's homes, and blighting people's lives. I shall not give up on this battle to save South Staffordshire, but it will be tough."

And Stone MP Sir Bill Cash added: "I have been opposed to HS2 from the outset. I shall be bring to the debate a whole list of amendments and will put a strong case for more compensation. We have to admit that those opposed to HS2 are in a minority but that doesn't undermine the fact that I believe this to be an enormous white elephant and the costs will go way above what is predicted. I will very much be continuing the fight."

A nine-mile link will see HS2 join up with the West Coast Main Line at Handsacre, just a short distance away from Rugeley.

The plans were first revealed in the final months of Gordon Brown's Labour Government in 2010.

On November 25, 2013, the Coalition Government deposited a hybrid Bill with Parliament to secure the powers to construct and operate phase one of HS2 between London, Birmingham and the West Midlands. The Bill would provide the powers for a new high speed, high capacity line from Euston to the north of Birmingham, where it will re-join the existing West Coast Main Line allowing fast services direct to destinations on the existing line including Stafford, Manchester, Liverpool, Crewe, Preston and Glasgow.

New high speed trains will also serve Birmingham city centre and an interchange designed to serve the wider West Midlands. At Old Oak Common in west London, a new interchange will be built connecting HS2 with Crossrail, the Great Western Main Line and the Heathrow Express.

Today is the third reading of the HS2 phase one Bill, the House of Commons will be asked to approve the Bill and give their approval to the grant of development consent for the HS2 phase one project.

The Government states: "HS2 phase one would deliver significant economic benefits, as well as benefits to transport users, by providing sufficient north-south rail capacity to meet long-term demand and the country'seconomic needs. It would also improve connectivity by delivering better journey times and improve resilience and reliability of the network. HS2 phase one is affordable and represents good value to the taxpayer."

The Government says the benefits of the project would include:

  • Benefits to transport users in excess of £20 billion and Wider Economic Impacts of over £4bn – the benefits of Phase One are estimated to outweigh the costs of building and operating the railway by a factor of 1.7.
  • Providing sufficient capacity to meet long-term demand, and to improve resilience and reliability across the network.
  • The potential to support the efficient movement of people and freight, which is essential for economic growth as enhanced capacity and good connectivity strengthen the links between businesses, workers and customers and remove geographical barriers to markets.
  • Create opportunities for regeneration and by improving connectivity and in effect bringing cities closer together – opening up new markets, new job opportunities, and new opportunities for growth.
  • Support up to 25,000 construction jobs, 3,100 operation and maintenance jobs and up to 100,000 jobs supported by development near HS2 stations.

It will allow hybrid HS2 trains to join up with the current rail line to serve Stafford station, meaning train journeys from the county town could be reduced to around 50 minutes. Currently the quickest time is around one hour 15 minutes.

In Birmingham, where the project has a great deal of support, the old Curzon Street station site will be redeveloped and become the second city's biggest building.

Journey times to London will be cut from one hour 20 minutes, to 49 minutes. And it will take just 41 minutes to travel from Birmingham to Manchester. It will be at the heart of the new train line.

There will also be a station at Birmingham Airport.

But critics say that as a result, stations like Wolverhampton could lose its quick direct services to London.

A proposed direct link from Birmingham with the Eurostar that would have allowed direct journeys to Paris and Brussels was axed as part of cost saving measures.

The only existing high-speed rail line in Britain is the Channel Tunnel Rail Link between St Pancras and Folkstone, now known as HS1.

Tomorrow's vote only deals with the London to Birmingham leg, which will include a northern spur to Lichfield to join to the second phase of the project.

Overwhelming approval by MPs will make it difficult for the Lords to block the project, resigning campaigners to the fact HS2 will be built.

Legislation for the line through the rest of Staffordshire to Crewe will quickly follow, as will the northern legs to Manchester and Leeds.

Transport Secretary and former Cannock miner Patrick McLoughlin expects spades to be in the ground early next year.

The route to Birmingham is set to be operational by 2026, the line to Crewe finished by 2027, and to Manchester and Leeds by 2033.

Transport Minister Robert Goodwill told the Express & Star: "I hope this week that MPs again give their resounding support to HS2, a project which will boost jobs and growth across the UK and rebalance our national economy. I have already seen cities gearing up for HS2 and the benefits it will bring to their areas before even spades hit the ground next year, and am therefore keen – as are passengers, communities, local authorities and businesses across the country - for this transformative project to proceed without delay."

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