Opposition to HS2 grows

Renewed protests sparked by scale of environmental destruction

There’s something strangely reassuring and even comforting at seeing “Swampy” back on the protest scene. A hint perhaps that in a world turned upside down over the past twelve months life can still return to some sort of normality – contradictory as that might sound. Swampy, real name Dan Hooper, first made national headlines in 1996 when he was last to emerge from a tunnel in an A30 road extension protest at Fairmile in Devon. Further campaigns and a lot of tunnelling followed, but then Swampy dropped out of the public
eye for a number of years, living quietly with his family in an eco-community in west Wales. Now, though, Hooper has returned to
frontline environmental campaigning, joining the anti-HS2 high-speed rail link protest outside London’s Euston station. And the veteran protester is back with a bang, claiming that this could be “the tipping point” in the climate-emergency battle.

Activists have dug and inhabited a network of tunnels outside the station, protesting against the construction of the link between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. The protestors back a comprehensive Wildlife Trust report on the impact of the project, which concludes that it will destroy or irreparably damage hundreds of ancient woodlands and wildlife sites, five of those internationally important and protected, and more than 30 legally protected sites of special scientific interest. HS2 disputes these figures and counters by saying it will deliver an unprecedented programme of tree planting and habitat creation, with seven million new trees and shrubs set to be planted between London and Birmingham alone. The scheme has been environmentally controversial since the beginning back in 2009, and construction delays have led to growing concerns at the ever increasing predicted cost of the project, now reckoned to be over £110bn, more than triple the original estimate. The Government remains committed to HS2, backing economic predictions that it will help create jobs and stimulate the economy away from the capital. But with typical directness Hooper said in a recent interview: “Just think what the NHS could do with all those billions.”

Perspective looked at the HS2 debate in a poll last October, but with protests growing and costs steadily climbing we decided to revisit the issue with a further poll in February, asking a very specific question to those opposed to the project. The replies were revealing.

What our surveys show

Anumber of polls, including our own, show that public support and belief in HS2 is diminishing. And since our October survey there has been a marked increase in the numbers either “strongly” or “somewhat” opposed to the project. In October the total figure opposed to HS2 going ahead stood at 43%, but now that figure has risen significantly to 54%. There has been some slight erosion in the numbers either “strongly” or “somewhat” supporting HS2, with the totals dropping from 25% in October to 22% now. There is, however, a marked
increase in the numbers who neither support, oppose or don’t know where they stand on the controversial rail link, with the number rising from 24% to 32%.

Our follow up survey question put only to those opposed to the project brought a significant response. While 33% were against HS2 because of the cost, a huge majority, 64%, were against it for environmental reasons. By far and away the main concern of those polled was the massively detrimental impact they believe HS2 will have on the environment – clearly outweighing, for them, any predicted economic benefits the rail link will deliver.

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