When I first heard about plans for the new HS2 rail link, I was uncomfortable. Although much needed improvements to the rail network sound like such a good idea, it seemed like overkill to instigate such a huge project in order to save less than an hour on the journey time between the north of England and the capital. Everyone is already in such a rush to get everywhere. Quite why remains unclear. We all complain about how fast time (and life itself) flies by and yet we continue to find ever more means to make it go even faster. And I was suspicious that the whole project might be more beneficial to those who live in London and the south than to those in the north....with property prices so high in London, it would make sense to some to widen the commuter belt and enable those who work 'down south' to live 'up north'.
And now that the project is going ahead – work begins next year – I feel very uneasy.
Not least because it is estimated to cost 56 billion pounds – and we all know that this is likely to increase, some estimates putting the final figure at 104 billion pounds! Personally I just feel that the money might be better spent elsewhere. Pumping this amount of money into the Health Service, for example, would surely benefit a far greater number of people than will the fast(er) trains.
First and foremost in my mind however is the effect all this will have on the environment, the countryside and the wildlife – all of which are already struggling to exist alongside the relentless march of 'progress'.
According to the StopHS2 website, the project will be an environmental disaster, “HS2 threatens 350 unique habitats, 98 irreplaceable ancient woods, 30 river corridors, 24 Sites of Special Scientific Interest plus hundreds of other sensitive areas. The ultra-high design speed of 250mph, dictates HS2 tracks have to be as straight as possible, and cannot curve round these important sensitive sites or communities.”
The Woodland Trust is battling to save ancient woodlands that lie in the direct path of the new rail links. Phase One of the project will destroy no less than 34 individual woods, together with all the wildlife that they support and it will impact on another 29. Phase Two will destroy a further 24 woodlands. These are not just any old patches of land, these are ancient, established woodlands that will for ever be lost, they are irreplaceable.
The impact this will have on wildlife cannot be underestimated and HS2's promises to create new areas of forest can in no way compensate for the ancient woods that will be lost. The woods that will be destroyed by HS2 have been established for centuries and as such are a unique feature of our ever diminishing countryside. To replace them in any significant way would take hundreds of years and they cannot be restored by simply planting more trees as HS2 have suggested. When I heard Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, announce that affected communities will receive a 70 million pounds sweetener from the project, I became even more cynical. As soon as big business or Governments try to 'buy' local communities with financial sweeteners then one has to question why this would be necessary if the benefits were clear to see. This divides and destroys formerly close-knit communities as we have seen from similar incentives offered by the shady wind turbine industry.
In addition to the woodland and wildlife affected, a large number of homes, including many newly built houses, will have to be demolished, leaving an uncertain future for residents affected.
All in all, this whole project appears to be a giant fiasco. If it goes ahead, which seems inevitable now, then it might be the biggest waste of money and resources this country has ever seen. It will be an environmental catastrophe and, by the time it becomes finally operational, an anachronistic white elephant.
More information: www.stophs2.org
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