‘Sword of Damocles is hanging over businesses’

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The devastating impacts of HS2 on Wendover businesses have been outlined to MPs who have the power to order extra mitigation.

MPs on the HS2 Select Committee, which can order the government to provide more mitigation for affected communities, has been hearing evidence from people in Wendover over the last few weeks.

One was witness was Tim Guy, from Wendover Chamber of Commerce, who said businesses in the village ‘feel that we have the sword of Damocles hanging over us’.

He said: “Wendover is one of the most visited areas in the AONB. It attracts 438,000 day visitors and 28,500 overnight stays per year.

“This huge number has a massive impact, obviously, on the success of the town and the assessed value at £12.8 million, which in turn supports 520 jobs.

“So, it is really a critical part of the town. The famous Ridgeway walk will be temporarily severed during the construction and that brings about 40,000 to 50,000 people a year into the town.

“Why would all these visitors, who love the area so much, come to see an area which is being carved up? They are coming to the countryside. I don’t see why they would want to come specifically to us.”

He gave the examples of Sally Turner Antiques, which closed ‘simply because of the uncertainty’ and Lady Grey Tea Rooms, whose owner Debbie Bowden, has ‘put off her planned investment on updating the outside seating area and is very concerned that pollution and noise implications maymake the area unsuitable’.

“I would just say again as a businessman that we feel that we have the sword of Damocles hanging over us.

“The general consensus is we are very threatened.

“Does any business, wherever it is in the country, make positive investment decisions if there is so much uncertainty? I am afraid the answer is no. You put everything on hold.

“If you were going to invest in Wendover, would you really do that or would you think, ‘No, we’ll go to Thame or Berkhamsted or somewhere else in the country’. I am afraid at the moment you probably would.”

Mr Guy said that government had a duty to protect ‘innocent bystanders’ and that he was ‘convinced the only way to save Wendover’ was for the track to be contained within a fully bored tunnel as it passed the village. However, the committee has already ruled against extending a bored tunnel which is planned for south Bucks to Wendover.

James Strachan, QC, counsel for the Department for Transport said they would ‘try to ensure there is minimised delay on the roads’ while the line is being constructed, ‘and we don’t see why people shouldn’t continue to visit Wendover and the wider area to enjoy the benefits there are’.

He said a green tunnel (where earth is built up around and over the line to lessen its visual and noise impacts) would mitigate its effects and that routes for construction vehicles will not pass through the centre of Wendover.