Local writer and historian Martin Sheppard brings us up to date on the worrying – and confusing – issue of HS2:
“The Government, or at least George Osborne, still seems crazily committed to HS2. It is an irrational project being pushed through by power, rather than reason, which makes it hard to combat. A great deal of trenchant and apposite criticism, including by the House of Lords, has simply been ignored, as have most sensible suggestions for improving it. The current botched version of Euston, AP3, is accurately described as ‘half the station for twice the cost and twice the damage’.
There is still some time to go until HS2 gets royal assent (probably late 2016 or early 2017). The House of Commons Select Committee has heard well over two thousand petitions against it (including a whole day of petitioners from Primrose Hill on Tuesday 15 December), but has yet to reach or report its conclusions. These may bring some amelioration, but the Select Committee, which has no power to oppose the principle of the bill, cannot simply tell the Government DON’T DO IT. A second process, perhaps of equal length, of petitions to the House of Lords is about to begin.
The Select Committee heard most of the petitioners from Primrose Hill attentively. The dominant figure on the committee is Sir Peter Bottomley, whose sharp questioning of both petitioners and HS2’s lawyers proves that the proceedings are not simply a glorified rubber stamp. It is unclear, however, whether the committee is made up of poodles or terriers. I suspect them of being poodles with a dash of terrier blood. As petitioners, we have tried to appeal to their inner terrier. Let’s hope Sir Peter lives up to his reputation for being independently minded.
The petitioners from Primrose Hill share many of the same concerns as those, much worse affected, living and working in Euston, Park Village and Camden Cutting. Several Primrose Hill petitions made the common sense argument that the alignment of HS2’s tunnels should run centrally under railway land between the Painted Bridge and the canal crossing. The vent shaft scheduled to be built on the nature reserve on Adelaide Road should be moved to the empty piece of ground where Primrose Hill overground station once was. This was due to have housed the portal of the infamous, but thankfully abandoned, HS1 Link portal and to have been the principal HS1 construction compound. If the committee agrees, this will save Adelaide Road from being shut for four months and stop the destruction of a rare piece of unspoiled greenery in central London.
The committee has heard a great deal about compensation. At present there is to all intents and purposes none on offer. This is absurd when construction in Camden will last twenty years or more and will inevitably blight people, property and businesses. Apart from anything else, those who pay the cost now won’t be those who benefit in twenty years’ time. The committee is aware of this.
On the most important question, the removal of three million tons of spoil, HS2 has come to an agreement with Camden on traffic, though the details of this agreement are still unclear. The aim is to remove up to 75 per cent of the spoil by rail. An unwelcome variation on this is HS2’s last-minute suggestion of a mile and a half long conveyor belt, carrying spoil to the carriage sidings behind Gloucester Avenue for removal by train. This would do nothing to solve the problem of delivering construction materials to Euston.
A number of Primrose Hill petitioners stressed the critical importance of keeping the seven junctions at the top of Parkway flowing, and also the threat to health from air pollution, notably NO2. The committee, having heard a great deal about traffic and air quality earlier in the hearings, showed little interest in either, or indeed in HS2’s seizure of the whole of the Zoo Car Park for seventeen years.
HS2 continues to pose a major threat to Camden as a whole. This includes a threat to the wealth, health and amenity of everyone in Primrose Hill. There are hopes that there will be some mitigation. There ought to be compensation. In a reasonable world, however, HS2 would have disappeared long ago. Unfortunately, George Osborne’s fixation with China seems to override responsible or responsive government. We all need to keep fighting. Something must give.”