Field of dreams? HS2 machinery moves into Staffordshire countryside
This solitary drill may not look like much parked up in the picturesque Staffordshire countryside – but within a year its surroundings will be transformed into Europe's biggest building site.
The first signs of work on the £55.7 billion HS2 high-speed rail line in the county have started.
After a decade of planning, ground investigation work is taking place on fields along the planned route at Whittington, near Lichfield.
Engineers are drilling holes, or using radar, to determine what type of land the 225mph train line will be built upon when major construction starts next year.
When completed in 2026 this tranquil part of Staffordshire will be transformed with a huge embankment, deep railway cutting, and a massive viaduct that will carry the super-fast passenger trains.
HS2 Ltd, the government-owned company behind the project, is currently assessing some 9,000 sites along the route between London and Lichfield for preparatory work.
In February the first phase of the scheme from the capital to the West Midlands was granted Royal Assent.
It is claimed HS2 will create around 25,000 jobs during construction as well as 2,000 apprenticeships and support a further 100,000 jobs.
But campaigners in Staffordshire have warned the line will cause irreversible damage to the countryside.
Nearby Whittington Heath Golf Club will see its historic clubhouse knocked down so the railway can be built.
Rare heathland will also be affected, say campaigners.
Staffordshire Wildlife Trust said 160 wildlife sites will be affected by the first phase of HS2, as well as 129 acres of ancient woodland.
The Woodland Trust has also issued a new warning about how the entire line from London to Manchester and Leeds will hit ancient woodland.
Beccy Speight, Woodland Trust chief executive, said: "Any loss or damage to ancient woodland is a catastrophe for the natural environment, particularly when you consider how little we have left.
"Just two per cent of the UK's land area is made up of these precious and irreplaceable habitats, so for large infrastructure projects like HS2 to be riding roughshod over them, rather than setting an example to avoid them, is totally unacceptable.
"With the trail of destruction HS2 Ltd will cause to ancient woodland, it will never be able to call this project 'green' – so far, it's been an absolute disgrace.
"HS2 Ltd will say it's planting millions of trees along the route – that's all well and good, but no amount of new trees will ever recreate ancient woodland."
HS2 will cut through 45 miles of Staffordshire countryside diagonally from Lichfield to Stafford up to Stone and on to Crewe.
Work on the rail line started as a Staffordshire landowner won a court battle against HS2 at a tribunal.
The case at the Royal Courts of Justice in London involved a rural equestrian property in the county where a substantial part of the claimants' land was due to be acquired by HS2.
The property is bisected by a road and the owner asked for HS2 to acquire the entire property.
But the Department for Transport contended that the land should be treated as two separate parcels.
However, the court ruled the entire site would have to be bought by HS2.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said: "HS2 will be the world's most advanced passenger railway and the backbone of our rail network.
It is a step to significantly increasing capacity on our congested railways for both passengers and freight; improving connections between the biggest cities and regions; generating jobs, skills and economic growth and helping build an economy that works for all.
"By investing in infrastructure the Government is seizing the opportunity provided by leaving the EU to build a more global Britain.
"We will now press ahead with constructing the railway while continuing to ensure affected communities get appropriate support and are treated with fairness, compassion and respect."
The line to Birmingham will open in 2026 and the full high-speeed route is set to open by 2033.
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