Controversial HS2 injunction being heard at High Court branded 'affront to democracy' by Wildlife trust

HS2 has been accused of threatening peaceful protests as it seeks a high court injunction tomorrow (26 May).

By James Lowson
Wednesday, 25th May 2022, 2:52 pm

Environmental group the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust (BBOWT), believes the injunction will stop people from being able to protest the controversial rail link peacefully.

HS2 has countered saying it is seeking the injunction to deter those who enter the rail service’s construction sites illegally and says it also wants protection from ‘violent activists’ that ‘endanger’ the health and safety of its workers.

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HS2 security at Calvert Jubilee in 2020, photo by Mark Vallance

Thames Valley Police reported that activists became violent and threw urine at officers, during the operation to remove people from the gigantic protest tower built near Wendover.

Activist groups did not respond to approaches for comment made by the Bucks Herald, following the police force’s allegations.

The wildlife trust has highlighted that HS2’s injunction aims to prevent “slow walking in front of vehicles in the vicinity of the HS2 Land”.

Calvert Jubilee closed by HS2 in 2020, photo by Mark Vallance.

Matthew Stanton, head of planning and advocacy for BBOWT, said: “This injunction would stamp on people’s right to protest peacefully against this environmental disaster.

"This is an affront to democracy, undermining people’s legal rights to make their voices heard.

“HS2 Ltd has continued to fail in its duties to protect nature and while we do not support illegal protest, people must be allowed to protest against this peacefully, without fear of breaking the law.”

But HS2 is adamant this injunction is not aimed at curtailing peaceful protests.

HS2 security at Calvert Jubilee in 2020, photo by Mark Vallance

An HS2 Ltd spokesman told The Bucks Herald: “We can confirm that HS2 Ltd has applied to the High Court for an injunction along the HS2 line of route.

"If granted by the court, we hope that this injunction will act as a significant deterrent to often violent activists, and reduces the incidences of trespass and obstruction on our worksites that endangers the health and safety of our staff and those protesting.

“The construction of HS2 is playing a vital role in Britain’s economic recovery from the pandemic, with almost 25,000 people already working on the project and tens of thousands of additional jobs supported through our supply chain.

"We urge everyone who cares about our natural environment to support a project that is providing work across the UK today, and in the future will get people out of cars, off planes and onto zero carbon rail travel.”

The injunction covers land between London and Crew that HS2 believes the secretary of state owns, or it is entitled to.

The wildlife trust’s issue with the project are longstanding.

It states that popular nature reserves have been directly impacted by HS2 construction.

Staff and visitors also now have to cross land under HS2 possession to get into the Trust's Bacombe Hill reserve near Wendover, BBOWT states.

BBOWT warns that security staff hired by HS2 has been accused of being heavy-handed in the past.

Mr Stanton added: “Emboldening security staff with such an injunction risks making the situation worse".

The trust also opposes criminalising entering HS2 property due to claims that HS2’s fencing in some areas is so poor that visitors to some of the trust's nature reserves were able to freely wander onto ‘HS2 Land’ without realising it.

Mr Stanton concluded: "As a Wildlife Trust we do not support illegal protests, but people are protesting because HS2 Ltd has continued to fail in its duties to protect nature, and people must be able to protest peacefully.

"The proposed injunction goes too far and would not just stop illegal activities, but make peaceful protest illegal itself.

"It seems somewhat ironic that an organisation that has caused its own delays at the cost of billions of pounds, want others who cause delays to be fined or imprisoned. The court should refuse to grant the injunction HS2 Ltd have applied for."

HS2 minister Andrew Stephenson recently announced that just under £122 million of taxpayer money has been put towards quashing protests since the project started.