Armed with banners (including our own campaign poster), an inflatable 'Stop HS2' white elephant and even one person dressed as a tree, the crowd chanted “Save our wildlife” and “HS2 - enough is enough.”
The protest was lead by councillors Charlie Clare, Frank Mahon and Paul Firth, who all spoke to the crowd and gave interviews to the various media present.
Speaking to this paper, County councillor Charlie Clare said:
“My big concern is that Steeple Claydon is going to have the heart of its countryside ripped out and it's going to be left as a brownfield site – and do you know what, there is a chance its just a total waste.
“HS2 is in such chaos that they don't know what they're building yet, so they can't answer the questions because the designs aren't there.”
We asked some local residents about their experiences consulting with HS2. The feedback we received was entirely negative. Resident Craig Decent summed up the general sentiment:
“The word consultation – they don't know the meaning of it.”
His wife Adele, who is also a parish councillor for Calvert Green, added:
“It's the pretence that gets me – the pretence that you'll be listened to.”
In an interview with this paper, chairman of Steeple Claydon parish council Paul Firth said:
“What we are objecting to is the way that the public engagement activities associated with the project have been handled recently,” adding, “what we're really aiming for is better communication from HS2 because if they can't manage this element of the project correctly, what chance do we stand when the whole project gets really moving?”
It was reported in January this year that HS2 chief executive Mark Thurston had said at a meeting with MPs that trains may have to run slower to keep within budget.
We took the opportunity to ask HS2's senior communication manager, Clive Green, who attended the Calvert Green drop-in, if slower trains belie both the project's name and its raison d'etre.
He replied: “No it doesn't. The key point about HS2 is actually the new capacity it introduces onto the network.”
When asked if it was mis-sold, Mr Green said: “No it hasn't been mis-sold – it's a very fast railway,” adding, “HS2 line speed has not changed.”
While enthusiasm for the protest was high, the information provided at the drop-in centre appeared to be less well received.
Upon exiting the village hall, one attendee, Steve McGregor, quipped: “I've seen more useful information than that on a primary school wall – it's a farce.”
HS2 provided the following official statement:
“HS2 aims to be one of the most environmentally responsible infrastructure projects ever delivered in the UK, with 35,000 trees being planted in this area. We are committed to reducing the potential impact on the environment and to holding regular information events to update the public on the project’s progress.
“The railway has been developed with great care and attention to detail over several years to ensure the long-term environmental effects of building it are kept to a minimum and its operation is mitigated as much as reasonably practicable.
“HS2 holds regular drop in sessions like the one scheduled for Wednesday at Calvert Green where residents can talk to our team about HS2 works in the area including the scheme’s developing design. They can also find out how our ecologists have carried out detailed surveys and will ensure all agreed measures and standards are followed. Before works begin trained ecologists will do a full site inspection to ensure the area remains free of wildlife. During the works programme more inspections will be carried out to monitor for the presence of wildlife.”
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