Technology

British public demands a halt to HS2 devastation during the corona pandemic

You can join the surging movement to protect workers, communities and wildlife at this crucial moment

Scientists, health experts, local communities and concerned citizens up and down the country are linking up and calling for the government to immediately halt construction work on the HS2 rail line while the country focuses on urgent coronavirus responses. New photo and video evidence shows HS2 Ltd contractors working on site blatantly ignoring the Covid 19 social distancing requirements ordered by the government. This endangers the lives of frontline NHS staff who may have to treat workers who fall ill. Continuing this work during lockdown threatens to help spread the pandemic endangering the lives of contracted workers, their families as well as local communities and the wildlife protectors occupying the threatened woodlands.

Multiple photos and videos show HS2 workers in flagrant breech of government social distancing rules

A wide range of senior figures have called for all but essential construction work to be stopped. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has ordered work to be halted on Crossrail and said he thinks government advice isn't strong enough. Nicola Sturgeon also called for tighter rules in Scotland. 50 MPs wrote to the business secretary today calling for tighter rules, backed by the "Federation of Master Builders."

The HS2 project has already been widely criticized for being expensive and unnecessary. The government initially estimated that HS2 would cost £37.5bn in 2009 prices. The predicted cost has spiralled to £110bn. As well as being over budget the project stands accused of being reckless ecological vandalism and diverting funds from important projects that would benefit more people. It now seems as though HS2 executives are using the cover of coronavirus to swerve the inevitable protests that will erupt as construction continues. It massively offends people’s sense of decency that HS2 is endangering people's lives by continuing with this work because the pandemic frees their hands to destroy irreplaceable woodlands.

Crackley Wood is among those to be destroyed by HS2. Photo credit: Philip Formby / WTML

The new rail line is driving the biggest deforestation event in this country since World War 1. 693 local wildlife sites, 108 Ancient Woodlands and 33 legally protected Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) are in the firing line; endangering rare species such as the Small Blue Butterfly, Long-Eared Owl, Stag Beetle, Great Crested Newt, Purple Hairstreak Butterfly and Bechsteins Bat. Destroying woodland habitats at this time of year is considered especially bad because it is bird nesting season. HS2 Ltd are flouting critical laws set in place to protect sites of scientific interest and the protection of nesting birds.

There is huge opposition from the British public and all of the UK’s major environmental organisations are also standing against the project. Dr Darren Moorcroft, CEO of the Woodland Trust, said:

“To say we are disappointed by this outcome is an understatement. This decision is catastrophic for these irreplaceable ancient woodlands and the hundreds of species that call them home. Instead if bursting into life they will now be destroyed. The flawed and invariably unsuccessful process of translocation will be carried out at completely the wrong time of year, flying in the face of professional standards and HS2’s original assurance that they’d do it when they should - when everything is dormant. Nature and the environment are the big losers today.”

Plans for HS2 has sparked furious protests along the proposed route (Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Nikki Williams, The Wildlife Trusts Director of Campaigns and Policy says:

“The Wildlife Trusts have long argued that the vast scale of destruction to wildlife and wild places resulting from the construction of HS2 does not comply with the Government’s commitments to nature’s recovery and that we need to stop and rethink the whole HS2 programme.”

Other critics point out that there is a much greater need to upgrade existing rail services up and down the country rather than creating a whole new line that will get business executives from London to Birmingham twenty minutes faster. John O'Connell, the chief executive of TaxPayers' Alliance, said that his organisation had long-argued that HS2 was -

a waste of taxpayers' money.

If you want to understand why some politicians are so keen for the project to go ahead… follow the money. HS2 Ltd was already paying 26 executives more than £100,000 a year in 2015. Chief executive Simon Kirby is paid £750,000 a year which makes him the country's highest paid public servant.

The broadcaster and environmental activist Chris Packham raised £100k in a (still active) crowdfunder to legally challenge the project. The High Court just rejected this judicial review and interim injunction. In response Packham said -

“And yet what’s going to happen this weekend, is people will fire up chainsaws and cut down trees that have been growing for hundreds of years. Some of the most beautiful organisms that we have in the UK. And living within them some of the most beautiful birds and plants. And they will be gone forever. What a waste. What a terrible waste. Just for money and this vain, glorious, vanity project that’s going to pollute our planet.”

Suzanne Savage of Extinction Rebellion Midlands questions where the money is going -

“The NHS is facing its greatest challenge and yet the government is wasting over £100 billion on HS2. It is utterly reprehensible that our frontline health workers are going without adequate PPE and basic testing kit while money flows endlessly into the spiralling costs of HS2.

We say choose life rather than HS2.

“The government has declared that all non-essential work should be halted during the coronavirus emergency, yet with this High Court ruling HS2 is set to continue its spree of wildlife crimes as it destroys ancient woodlands. This means the people around Kenilworth face the prospect of the sound of chainsaws felling trees near their home any day now while adding to their fears about coronavirus.”

Could corona virus be an important signal the global economy needs to change?

The corona pandemic has slowed down the global economy and in the pause, people are taking their time to evaluate what society is all about and what it is most important for our economy to deliver. Alongside the trauma and sadness of the pandemic, there are silver linings. People have been appreciating less air and noise pollution; a break from the daily grind and the constant need to travel. Naturally people are asking if things have to go back to exactly how they were before. Wouldn’t we all benefit from learning some key lessons and reshaping the economy to better suit more natural ways of fulfilling human health and happiness?

For decades, flawed economical theories and neoliberal dogma have asserted that the solution to all of humankind's needs is more development and economic growth. We have been told time and time again from a series of increasingly corporate politicians that “there is no magic money tree” and the only way to improve human well being is to drive ever more rapid economic growth. Coronavirus has turned all of this nonsense on its head. Of course, there is a magic money tree - money is something we invent and distribute as we see fit. Economic growth isn’t just - not the solution to everything - it is actually the engine driving our civilisation off a cliff. 2 million citizens of earth just called for a global ceasefire. What else can we achieve is this unprecedented time of transition?

A £100 Bn new high speed train line in the UK didn’t make sense before coronavirus. It makes absolutely no sense now.

Jonathan Pie has described HS2 as 'a giant f*cking train set that sh*ts money while tearing up the countryside'

Things you can do while on Lockdown

Petition 1 -

Repeal the 2013 and 2017 HS2 Hybrid Bills halting all HS2 works immediately -

https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/300170

Write to your MP -

https://www.writetothem.com/

Email secretary of state for health and social care

matt.hancock.mp@parliament.uk

Dear Matt Hancock

As the conservative secretary of state for health and social care, I'm sure you can understand why I'm writing to you at this time concerning HS2 Ltd and your government’s support of the biggest deforestation project that we have seen in this country since World War 1.

HS2 Ltd contractors are blatantly ignoring the Covid 19 social distancing requirements as ordered by your government which is also illegal and therefore endangering the lives of innocent people and the spread of a life threatening pandemic, for the contractors workers and their families. I can't believe that as secretary of state for health and social care that you have overlooked these issues and allowed deforestation work to start at this time. I have heard that there are contractors currently coughing and breaking the distance guidelines enforced by yourselves at this time which is hugely worrying in terms of contractors traveling to and from the site, the dangers of taking the virus home to their families as well as putting the local communities lives at risk, which are full of elderly people. HS2 Ltd must surely stop work immediately, at least until we are through this pandemic.

It is at times like this when we, the public look to politicians such as yourself to stand by the legal guidelines and thoughtful care that you have promised. You look like a caring family man so it genuinely surprises me that you are blatantly ignoring all of your conservative ideologies and laws concerning health and covid 19 social distancing by allowing this to go ahead at this time without further discussion.

Kind regards.

Email secretary of state for the environment, food and rural affairs

george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk

Dear George Eustice

As the conservative secretary of state for the environment, food and rural affairs, i'm sure you can understand why i'm writing to you at this time concerning HS2 Ltd and your governments support of the biggest deforestation project that we have seen in this country since World War 1.

At this time of climate change and planetary crisis, i am sure you agree that it is more important than ever to protect our ancient woodlands, trees, wildlife and habitats for diversity of flora and fauna, animals, insects and birds.

This project puts 693 local wildlife sites, 108 Ancient Woodlands and 33 legally protect Sites of Special Scientific Interest all in the firing line, endangering rare species such as the Small Blue Butterfly, Long-Eared Owl, Stag Beetle, Great Crested Newt, Purple Hairstreak Butterfly and Bechsteins Bat.

As you also will be fully aware this is also bird nesting season which means that as tree felling has started at this time, you are supporting and giving the go ahead to a project that is both devastatingly irresponsible and illegal.

HS2 Ltd contractors are also blatantly ignoring the Covid 19 social distancing requirements as ordered by your government which is also illegal and therefore endangering the lives of innocent people and the spread of a life threatening pandemic, for the contractors workers and their families. I can't believe that as secretary of state for the environment and rural affairs that you have overlooked these issues.

It is at times like this when the public look to politicians such as yourself to stand by the legal guidelines and thoughtful care that you have promised. You look like a caring family man so it genuinely surprises me that you are blatantly ignoring all of your conservative ideologies and laws concerning health and covid 19 social distancing as as well as your environmental duties, by allowing this to go ahead at this time without further discussion.

Kind regards.

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